What in heaven’s name do kids do at Atheist Camp?


‘Well, you can bet they don’t sing Kumbaya

After last week’s story about The Dude and The Child and Gary the J, I promised to stay away from stories involving politics. So, instead, here’s a story involving religion.

It’s about the time(s) The Child went to Atheist Camp.

First, let me say something about camp. When I was a kid in the Midwest there were two kinds: Church Camp and Scout (specifically, Boy-or-Girl-Scout) Camp. I’ve learned from my Northeastern friends that they had their own two kinds: Day Camp and Sleepaway Camp.

A third kind of camp: 'ing' We did a lot of this when I was growing up

A third kind of camp. With an ‘ing’ on the end. We did a lot of this kind when I was growing up. The picture at the top of this post shows us ‘dining’ while not-Atheist-Camping

These days, of course, there are all kinds of camps, Math Camp and Music Camp being just two I can think of. There’s even Computer Camp. Wait. Isn’t there a danger of getting S’mores on your keyboard? But I digress.

Anyway, this atheist camp was (and is; I looked it up, and it’s still going strong) called Camp Quest. The name ‘Quest’, I learned from its Wikipedia entry, is actually an acronym for ‘Question, Understand, Explore, Search, Test’. Hmmmm. Like ‘LOL’ is ‘Lots O Love’.

I must admit that it was totally my fault that The Child went to Camp Quest. See, I was reading the New York Times one morning, as is my wont, when I happened upon a piece about an atheist camp.  Having never heard of such a thing, I started reading the story aloud to The Dude and The Child, thinking they would chuckle a bit and that would be that.

The Child, at around Atheist Camp age

Nope. They both got really interested, and the next thing you know, The Child is sporting her official Camp Quest tee shirt (emblazoned with the camp slogan: ‘It’s beyond belief!’, which the Ad Girl in me has to admit is pretty darned clever, except for the exclamation point, which I was taught is a lazy use of punctuation), and hopping on a plane to Minnesota. (Yes, Minnesota. Are you as surprised as I was that there are a bunch of atheist kids — er, ‘secular humanists’ — in Minnesota?)

And what did they do at Camp Quest? Well, pretty much the usual campy things: paddle canoes, braid lanyards, shoot arrows out of bows at targets, eat not-so-great camp food (well, except for those S’mores, which, if you’ve had one made with a real toasted-on-a-campfire marshmallow, must admit taste pretty darned good. So good that I must call them ‘heavenly’, Atheist-made or not).

But, while they were gathered ’round the campfire of an evening, toasting marshmallows and not singing Kumbaya, they also had discussions. Like whether heaven existed, and if it did, what it would be like, and if you would exist there forever at the same age you died, and if you’d been married more than one time which spouse would be your ‘forever mate’, what deceased pet you could hang out with, and so on and so forth. Nothing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. At least not that I heard about.

Oh. The Child just told me about the Unicorn Game. It seems that a prize is offered (a 1957 pre-‘In God We Trust’ hundred dollar bill) to any camper who can disprove the existence of two unicorns who supposedly hang around camp. This is supposed to be an exercise showing that it is impossible to argue someone out of a belief. Or something like that. (I may be mangling this; you can read more about the Unicorn Game by clicking here.) So far, no one’s been able to claim the prize.

At any rate, The Child emerged relatively unscathed from her Atheist (ahem, ‘secular humanist’) camp experience, and even went back for more.

The Child, again not at Atheist Camp, but during a summer in Amagansett. I don’t seem to have photographic proof that she was at Atheist Camp. So maybe, like the unicorn, I just imagined it

Of course, practical person that I am, I can’t help thinking of Pascal’s Wager. Basically, Pascal posits that it’s a great idea to go on ahead and live and act as though there is a god — maybe even go all the way to bright and believe in a god. Because, if in the end, it turns out there is one, then you’re in good shape. And if there isn’t, well, what have you lost? Good wager, Pascal.

But enough with the pontificating already. (‘Pascal’. Good grief.) In closing, let me suggest you divert yourselves by watching the immortal Pete Seeger let ‘er rip on ‘Kumbaya’:

Even if you’re a dyed in the wool secular humanist, you’ve got to admit that’s pretty righteous.

See you next week with a story that I absolutely cross my heart won’t go anywhere near politics or religion. Maybe it’ll be about sex.

Petaluma, California. October 2016


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24 thoughts on “What in heaven’s name do kids do at Atheist Camp?

    • “Chased by a bear in the woods” would definitely inspire prayer in THIS camper! As for sex, check out either “Sex is Like Santa” (which is about how I told The Child about the birds and the bears — er, bees) Or, as promised, the post that followed this one: “The Boss Who Got Banished to Belgium”, which is about a #metoo moment — but still funny, if #metoo moments can be funny

  1. I love this so much! My daughter loves a bit of religion and doesn’t understand my secular humanist tendencies, I’d love to send her on something like this but I’ve never heard of a uk version.


    • No UK version of Atheist (er, Secular Humanist) Camp! How sad! All kidding aside, my daughter enjoyed herself immensely — went back two more summers and made friends she’s still in touch with today (and she’s now 25). Thank you for reading and commenting — come back any time! Xoxox

  2. Alice,

    You never know when somebody is actually listening when reading the paper out loud at the kitchen table.

    There’s so much to enjoy here on LutheranLiar. I for one, like it when you reach over third rail matters. Always with the witty, thoughtful, clear-eyed and light touch of a LutheranLiar. And now that you have mentioned it, your blog is easy on the exclamation marks. So your posts received additional points form me!! 🙂

    Date stamped Petaluma. Well, whadya know? I lived in Sonoma County for years. Petaluma even. I don’t get up there much anymore. Here’s a new one for you, “It’s changed so much. So crowded. So…” Nonetheless, I can still find its charms if I relax about it. I’ve had the itch to get up there one of these days soon. I hope that you enjoyed your visit. Will we hear about it in a blogpost?

    Pete Seeger never sang at our church camp, so I went out and discovered him on my own. https://brucekthiesen.wordpress.com/2014/02/02/this-machine-surrounds-hate-pete-seeger/

    • Wow, where shall I start, Bruce? First, a heartfelt thank you for continuing to read and enjoy my stories — even the third-rail ones (!) I have a wonderful time digging deep into my Memory Box to come up with (always 100% true) LutheranLiarLand tales. Good catch on the Petaluma dateline. My oldest younger brother lives there, and recently hosted a Family Fete. My Mom and middle younger brother have birthdays in the same week, so we decided to get together to celebrate. Most of us made the trip, and had a fine time swapping stories and drinking wine. Outings to Mill Valley, Muir Woods, and Bodega Bay for oysters and views were also enjoyed. Oh, before I forget, thanks for the link to your Pete Seeger story!!! (Note copious use of you-know-whats)

      • A “North Bay” day tripper journey, hitting some of the many good landing spots. I like that. It’s been a long time since I have been to Muir Woods because it has turned into a Disneyland of sorts. It just doesn’t feel right. But my goodness, those trees are sacred.

        It’s nice to have a perfect memory, isn’t it?

        We will have to go to the rules committee on this. I wonder if you have now used your annual allotment of exclamation marks? I can imagine that someone might say that you haven’t because they are in a response below the line and not in the post itself. On the other hand, there’s always the chance that the marmiest of the schoolmarms will hold you accountable. It’s an issue for those of us who don’t adopt new styles so readily. For the record, I’ll go with the response from your loved ones – “it’s your blog.”

        • Hahahaha! (Note exclamation point). Seriously, I once had a boss who would take out every single one. She took out dashes and ellipses too. Thanks for your comment — and your perfect memory (note dash!)

  3. Oh I love your blog so much. Your opening sentance had me grinning like a Cheshire Cat. I had the opposite experience despite being raised by atheists, I got sent to bible camp with my auntie and came home scarred by the wailing and fainting (my auntie did take us out of that worship but it was too late).
    Love the singalong video and cannot wait for next week. Thank you for joining the #weekendblogshare

    • You are just the BEST reader, HannahSpannahCocoBanana! So glad you got a kick out of this one, but so sad you had to experience Scary Church Camp. Sounds like you survived and then some. I look forward to next week, and to seeing what you and Bear are up to (!) xoxo

  4. Louise

    While you’re there, you might want to find out why, according to its website, the City of Petaluma no longer accepts passport applications.

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