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Advocatus Diaboli

by Tom Flynn

The following article is from the Secular Humanist Bulletin, Volume 12, Number 2.

The contact information for Camp Quest found below is out of date. Please see the Camp Quest Web Page for updated information.

Happy Campers

REQUIRED TRUTH-IN-EDITORIALIZING DISCLOSURE: I am childfree by choice. Long ago, even before I became a secular humanist, I contemplated our overpopulated world and decided that for a few generations reproduction ought to be (to paraphrase words President Clinton wouldn't utter for a couple of decades) "safe, legal, and rare." Next, I resolved to set a good example. In the years since, I've lost count of how many times fellow atheists have come up to me and said, "Tom, every night I drop to my knees and thank God you don't have kids." On a more serious note, I am sometimes deeply puzzled why so many of my fellow humanists rushed to marry, buy homes, fill them up with children, then grumble about how "somebody ought to do something about the population problem."

END OF REQUIRED DISCLOSURE. Having demonstrated my complete lack of qualifications to offer opinions regarding children and their upbringing, I now offer several hundred words of parenting advice.

With all these secular humanists bringing kids into the world, it was high time somebody did something about it. As we report elsewhere in this issue, Free Inquiry Group (FIG), Inc. (Cincinnati, Ohio, and northern Kentucky), has risen to the challenge. From August 11-17, FIG will sponsor Camp Quest, the first secular humanist summer camp. At this writing, FIG has assembled what promises to be a comprehensive all-American summer camp experience. FIG retained (actually, liberated from the Baptists) a fully-equipped campsite in Bullittsburg, Kentucky, just ten minutes from the Greater Cincinnati Airport. It's lined up experienced counselors and created a balanced program that blends traditional outdoor activities with stimulating exposures to entomology, botany, astronomy, magic, and more. Oh yes, now and then there will be age-appropriate discussions about humanist issues. (The organizers assure me it won't resemble a weeklong seminar in any way; what fun would that be?)

In other words, Camp Quest promises to be really cool. If I weren't an inveterate city boy who still thinks milk comes from cartons, I'd want to go myself. If you're one of those secular humanists who ignored my advice and had children between ages eight and twelve, inclusive or if you ignored my advice a long time ago and now your children have children in that age bracket even if you simply know someone else's humanist kids Camp Quest is an opportunity not to be missed. If you or said child(ren) happen not to live near Cincinnati, it's worth packing the small fry onto an airplane. The FIG folk offer free supervised airport pickup and return.

Of course, nothing good in humanism is ever achieved without carping, and the carping about Camp Quest has already begun. I've seen an advance copy of a column scheduled to appear in another local group's newsletter (never mind which one) which excoriates the very idea of a secular humanist summer camp. The writer worries that a humanist camp would be some narrow, doctrinaire, withdrawing kind of place where humanist kids would go to hide from the world. You know, the atheist equivalent of a Bible camp. Even worse, the writer charges, sending children to a humanist camp amounts to "indoctrination" that threatens their development as free thinkers.

I'm sure we'll see more camping carping. But for once, I'm with the moderates: Lighten up, folks! Here's why I think Camp Quest could be an enormously fulfilling experience for a humanist child.

  1. Unlike religious children, who exist in enormous numbers and often are sent to camp to be locked away from the influence of anyone outside their own denominational community, most children of secular humanists have few peers who share their outlooks. Whether a child is being raised as a committed humanist or simply religion-free, friends and playmates unshackled to some traditional church or creed may be few and far between. A week-long camp that concentrates thirty to a hundred humanist children together isn't a withdrawal from the real world and its diversity. It's simply a chance (perhaps the only chance the child will have until adulthood) to realize that there really are a lot of unbelievers out there - they're just spread thin.
  2. Raising a child to be a "free thinker" doesn't mean never giving the youngster a sales pitch about humanism, agnosticism, or atheism. It means exposing the child to information about a spectrum of belief and disbelief systems, then encouraging the child to decide. A humanist parent who punishes a child for flirting with theism is being a bully. But in a culture where religion is overwhelmingly the norm, where media are saturated with messages that reinforce Eisenhower's quip, "I don't care what a man believes in as long as he believes in something,"* how does a humanist parent imagine that children will encounter the humanist message, or the rationalist critique of traditional religion, in order to include them among their future options? Contrary to the claims of the Religious Right, the larger culture doesn't teach anything about secular humanism. It offers scarcely a hint that a fulfilling life is possible without first having bound oneself to some metaphysical delusion or other. Your children won't have a chance to consider the humanist option unless you present it to them. There's nothing wrong with a little advocacy, either. That's not enslaving the kids, it's simply a small effort to counteract all the pro-religious messages they're getting from our god-intoxicated society so that one day they can make an authentic decision between belief and unbelief.

Along that line, one of the best ways to make sure a child whose spiritual (or otherwise) orientation you care about gets thoroughly exposed to humanism in action may be a week at Camp Quest. Edwin Kagin, Elizabeth Oldiges, Vern Uchtman, and others from Free Inquiry Group have displayed commitment and tenacity far beyond the norm to bring this idea to reality. (ADDITIONAL REQUIRED DISCLOSURE: Yes, some of that commitment and tenacity was consumed in convincing us headquarters types that the damned camp might just work.) I urge readers with kids to support Camp Quest. To reserve a bunk for the child in your life, contact Vern Uchtman, Registrar, at 6404 Pheasant Run, Loveland, Oh., 45140, telephone 513-677-2252, email Vauchtman@aol.com. If (amazingly) you get no answer, call Elizabeth Oldiges, president of FIG, at 606-491-7219. Registration deadline is June 1.

I applaud FIG's example of not just having a good idea, but going on to apply the time, elbow grease, and, yes, money to make it happen.


* The sexism is all Eisenhower's.

What do you think? Write Advocatus Diaboli, P.O. Box 664, Amherst NY 14226-0664. If you prefer, fax (716)636-7571 or email  tflynn@centerforinquiry.net.  Letters will be printed with attribution unless you request otherwise.

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