At Camp Quest, atheism is the rule

At Camp Quest, campers may not believe in God, but they do have faith in their community.

NEVADA CITY, Calif. — At Camp Quest, campers may not believe in God, but they do have faith in their community.

This week, 49 children from across the western United States arrived at the camp nestled in the hills outside Nevada City. It is one of five summer camps in the country for the children of atheists and other nonbelievers.

In a campground in Malakoff Diggins State Historical Park, the campers have many of the traditional summer experiences. They practice archery in the meadow, participate in team competitions and gather around the campfire at night to sing.

Their activities, however, have a decidedly secular twist.

Campers play games that encourage critical thinking such as one called Evolution and another where they are asked to prove something invisible doesn’t exist.

Before meals, they learn about freethinking heroes such as Margaret Sanger and Isaac Asimov. Many of the camp songs promote rational thought such as this version of a children’s classic:

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

You’re a ball of gas that’s very far

32 light years in the sky

10 parsecs which is really high…

Here, it’s all about celebrating the belief in not believing.

“It’s important for them to have a place to learn how to investigate the world and to not accept what they hear,” said camp director Chris Lindstrom. “Plus the kids enjoy meeting other kids from similar families.”

It makes them feel part of a larger community.

Atheism has been a subject of several recent best-sellers, including Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion and Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.

Nonbelievers make up a small part of the population. According to the Pew Forum’s 2007 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, 1.6 percent of the adult population considers themselves atheist; 2.4 percent call themselves agnostic.

Camp Quest, which started in 1996 in Ohio, is now offered in Minnesota, Michigan, Tennessee, Ontario and California. Attendance at the California camp, officially called Camp Quest West, has gone from 14 to 49 in four years.

Campers attribute the growth to positive word of mouth on atheist chat sites.

Soon after the campers arrived Sunday, they gathered outside the dining hall.

The children’s ages range from 9 to 17. Most campers are from California; some traveled from as far as New Mexico.

After a brief introduction, they heard how Socrates questioned the religion of his day. Afterward, the campers headed inside for a spaghetti dinner. One joked aloud that here, at least, they wouldn’t have to say grace.

Everyone who heard him laughed.

Many campers said they were relieved to be with kids from other atheist families.

“I live in a small town and at my school a lot of the kids will flaunt their religion,” said Cameron Musser, 16, who wanted to attend the camp to be around other nonbelievers. “We don’t have to worry about that here.”

Alexa Garcia, a 13-year-old from Albany, Calif., has attended the camp twice. She likes the camp philosophy but also the activities.

“I don’t consider myself anything right now. I just like the camp,” she said.

At 10, Lili Thorson is one of the youngest campers. Her father picked out the camp for her. Lili does not know what she believes or doesn’t believe, though. “My dad told me I’m too young to decide yet.”

Just Posted

Sport of axe throwing growing in Red Deer

True North Axe Throwing wants sport to be ‘Canadian version of darts’

Optimism remains for Red Deer hospital expansion

Red Deer’s incoming UCP MLAs both have been strong supporters of expansion

RDC cancels championship-winning golf program due to tight finances

Short season, small number of student golfers were also considerations

Fire investigators comb through industrial fire wreckage looking for answers

Industrial building in north Red Deer was completely gutted in Wednesday morning fire

WATCH: An ‘Eggstemely Fun Easter’ at Bower Place in Red Deer

Bower Place mall made sure Red Deer families were able to have… Continue reading

Notre Dame rector: “Computer glitch” possible fire culprit

PARIS — A “computer glitch” may have been behind the fast-spreading fire… Continue reading

Former journalist pleads guilty to robbing two banks in Medicine Hat

MEDICINE HAT, Alta. — A former journalist arrested almost two years ago… Continue reading

Austria fears for three top climbers missing in Banff National Park

BERLIN — Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said Friday his thoughts are with… Continue reading

As Vancouver fights over 4-20, Seattle’s Hempfest enjoys tolerance, some support

VANCOUVER — They both came from humble beginnings: small protests against marijuana… Continue reading

All eyes on the surging Greens as Prince Edward Island goes to the polls

After a brief provincial election campaign devoid of drama, voters on Prince… Continue reading

North Dakota company where 4 were slain seeks normalcy

MANDAN, N.D. — Camaraderie was so important for the “coffee club” at… Continue reading

Trump blasts ex-advisers who say he tried to stop Mueller

WASHINGTON — A day after celebrating the release of the Mueller report… Continue reading

Sanders claims she didn’t lie, despite Mueller finding

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s spokeswoman Sarah Sanders pushed back Friday against… Continue reading

Most Read