Summer Camp, Hold The Religion

TOPICS: religion, summer camp, popular press

As a child, I was truly puzzled by the religious beliefs of family, of friends, and of adults in general. The beliefs and belief systems seemed so . . . blatantly irrational, and the vigor with which people espoused their fantastic beliefs seemed inversely correlated with the humanity with which they lived their lives and treated those around them. But as a youngster, this was difficult to articulate.

Difficult in part because I was too young, too inexperienced, to understand what I was seeing and feeling, often leading me to simply dismiss the beliefs and associated behaviors as unimportant — because (my innocent self thought) how could such irrationality have any great force in the world? Wouldn't that be bizarre? So (my naive self concluded), such irrational beliefs and related behaviors must not, could not, be terribly important or influential in the day-to-day “real world” of people and things and schools and governments, etc. It must be merely some odd quirkiness of human society, so I thought. Older now, but not much wiser, I still feel that pull of amazed disbelief. How could someone be so … blatantly irrational? Surely such irrational beliefs and related behaviors couldn't (and couldn't be allowed to) influence society in any but the most superficial ways? But the amazed disbelief is increasingly tempered with outrage, disgust, and discouragement: how can people be so … blatantly irrational? And how can such irrationality be so pervasive, insidious, and so forceful?

My concerns as a youngster were difficult to articulate also because I never, ever encountered anyone else questioning such things. Friends, family, children and adults around me … the only criticism I witnessed of religious belief was leveled by others with a different religious belief. Our irrational belief system, they seemed to say, is better than that irrational belief system over there. As a kid, who was I going to talk to about my lack of belief? And why did I feel embarrassed when confronted with weird religious beliefs and rituals of my friends? I wasn't embarrassed for them — I was truly embarrassed myself.

I think I would have really appreciated an escape to something like Camp Quest, described on the Camp Quest website as “The Secular Summer Camp” founded explicitly to

… provide children of freethinking parents a residential summer camp dedicated to improving the human condition through rational inquiry, critical and creative thinking, scientific method, self-respect, ethics, competency, democracy, free speech, and the separation of religion and government guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States.

USAToday picked up a piece on Camp Quest by Valerie Bauman of the Associated Press.

Camper Caitlin Fox, 16, said the camp has helped her build confidence.

“Before I attended I used to feel really embarrassed,” she said. “I was afraid my friends would reject me if I didn't believe in some higher power.”

Bauman points out, of course, that

Critics say the camps appear to espouse a particular point of view.

Erika Chopich, a psychotherapist, chaplain and founder of the nonprofit Hope America Ministries Foundation, said the invisible creatures in the exercise are obvious metaphors for God. "It's clearly meant to teach that God cannot possibly exist," Chopich said. "... There's obviously some teaching going on, there's some philosophy there. It's not completely neutral."

Chopich has a good point, of course, although it's not the point she intended. Rational thought is never neutral when used to confront nonsense.

And I wish I had such support when I was a kid.

Quick note: try a Google search on this topic — it's amazing (and encouraging? I don't know) how many sites have picked up this news item.