Ellie Levenson: An atheist camp is a terrible idea

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

Share
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

Junior / Graduate Application Support Engineer

£26000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful international media organ...

QA Manager - North Manchester - Nuclear & MOD - £40k+

£35000 - £41000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: QA Manager -...

Property Finance Partner

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: LONDON - BANKING / PROPERTY FINANCE - ...

Agile Tester

£28000 - £30000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: An ambitious...

Day In a Page

 

Naturism criminalised: Why not being able to bare all is a bummer

Simon Usborne
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried