Ellie Levenson: An atheist camp is a terrible idea

Myone summer camp gave me the opposite view than the one intended

Related Topics

The trouble with summer camps is that, because they are often based around a shared belief or hobby, they introduce children to other children just like them. This means children don't learn that life is actually populated mainly by people who aren't like us at all.

So Richard Dawkins' five-day atheist summer camp in Somerset this week, in which all the children will be taught about rational scepticism, moral philosophy and evolutionary biology, is bound ultimately to disappoint them when they realise that most people they will come across in life are rationality-challenged.

What's more, it may well teach children the opposite of its intention, and set them up for a lifetime of God. After all, the only people I know who have fundamentalist religious beliefs are those who were brought up in resolutely atheist households, leading me to conclude that the best way to ensure children are not religious is to give them just enough religion to put them off.

My one summer camp experience did just this, giving me a romantic view of precisely what the organisers wanted me to think was bad. It was a Jewish youth group who set up camp at a boarding school in Giggleswick for the week and one afternoon ran an activity exploring the different political parties of the Israeli Knesset.

I was put in a group that was meant to represent one of the communist parties and taught communist songs, though we were told that we must remember this was pretending, and that actually communism was not a good thing.

They then taught us the song "Red fly the banners high" to the tune of "Green grow the rushes oh", with my all-time favourite lyric, "Five for the five-year plan and four for the years it took them". This, coupled with watching the cartoon of George Orwell's Animal Farm on one of the rainy afternoons gave me political ideas far beyond the comprehension of a normal child.

An atheist camp strikes me as a terrible idea even though I am an atheist, albeit a Jewish one, and albeit a woolly one with occasional lapses in which I suffer moments of what I guess can only be called "spirituality", despite that word making me want to vomit. Who is it that said "I'm agnostic. I'd say atheist but what would God think"? Probably Woody Allen, or Groucho Marx, or William Shakespeare. Whoever said it, that's my kind of atheism.

I enjoy reading Richard Dawkins. I think he is probably right about God and I took a childish glee in the fact that, when I visited the Vatican, my friend had The God Delusion, Dawkins' book, with her as holiday reading, and we took photographs of us posing with it in St Peter's Square. But his dogmatism makes me hope he is proved wrong one day.

I have an idea for Dawkins' camp and for readers generally. At Dawkins' camp, children will be told they are being protected by two invisible unicorns, and there is a cash prize for any participant who can prove that these two unicorns, which do not exist, do not exist. My idea is this: one commentator suggested some time ago that Dawkins and his atheism has been sent to earth by God to test our faith. I do not believe this, but I too offer a cash prize to anyone who can prove otherwise.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page


In Sickness and in Health: 'I'm really happy to be alive and to see Rebecca'

Rebecca Armstrong
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine