Most summer camps host kayaking, arts and crafts classes and campfires, but what makes Camp Quest Northwest different is that it is literally “beyond belief.” Located just north of Seattle, Camp Quest Northwest is a summer camp for atheists or children of atheists, self-described “freethinkers” or people not otherwise traditionally religious.
“We would encourage them to read, to go to church,” said Chuck Wolber, one of Camp Quest Northwest’s founders. “The best way to become an atheist is to study the Bible, and I definitely recommend the kids do that.”
The secular sleepaway camp rents the area from a Christian camp, so camp officials cover any signs saying “Lord” or “God” with masking tape, and replace those words with fantasy-like words, such as “Flying Spaghetti Monster,” which they use to emphasize the imaginary nature of God.
The camp hosts different sessions, such as the Socrates Cafe, where campers are free to discuss anything on their minds, from the age-old question of “where do we come from?” to how to handle bullies who pick on them because of their agnostic beliefs.
Chandler said he has occasionally been curious about other religions, but he insisted that he came to his conclusion about God on his own, separate and apart from his parents, Matt and Karen Garry. Matt was raised Jewish and Karen was raised Christian, but now both identify as atheists and decided early on to raise their kids in a God-less household.
“We wanted to raise our kids to make their own decisions,” Karen Garry said. “If our children decided they wanted to be Jewish, fine, not a problem. We would love them just as much as if they were atheist or whatever, Buddhist. We just wanted them to be good, happy people.”
“It was always very important to me to teach them about the scientific method; if something is provable, you have a hypothesis and you theorize, find a solution for it,” Matt Garry said. “It boils down to when someone is sick or very sick or hurt, we don’t pray to God, we pray to doctors and to the science that is going to fix them.”
At Camp Quest, religion, in some form, is often a topic of discussion, but here they believe more in talking about evolution and logic. They think critically and question everything, and they don’t believe in God.
Several of the campers said they had been exposed to religion through family, and some said their parents had been raised in religious households, and then chose to become atheists.
The majority of Americans still identify themselves as Christian, but a survey from the 2008 U.S. Census reveals that more than 34 million Americans consider themselves agnostic, atheist or to have no religion. That number has more than doubled since 1990.
The first Camp Quest started in 1996 in Kentucky with 20 campers. Camp Quest Northwest, which opened this summer, is the 15th Camp Quest location and this year, camp enrollment exceeded 620 campers, more than twice the number of campers than two years ago.
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