Saw a screening of a documentary called Jesus Camp. It focuses on a woman preacher (Becky Fischer) who indoctrinates children in a summer camp in North Dakota. Right wing political agendas and slogans are mixed with born again rituals that end with most of the kids in tears. Tears of release and joy, they would claim — the children are not physically abused. The kids are around 9 or 10 years old, recruited from various churches, and are pliant willing receptacles. They are instructed that evolution is being forced upon us by evil Godless secular humanists, that abortion must be stopped at all costs, that we must form an “army” to defeat the Godless influences, that we must band together to insure that the right judges and politicians get into the courts and office and that global warming is a lie. (This last one is a puzzle — how did accepting the evidence for climate change and global warming become anti-Jesus? Did someone simply conflate all corporate agendas with Jesus and God and these folks accept that? Would Jesus drive an SUV? Is every conclusion responsible scientists make now suspect?)And Pharyngula on Camp Quest:
The discussion of these camps reminds me of a childhood Christian camp I attended, Eagle Lake Camp in Colorado, run by the Navigators. It was not at all like the "Jesus Camp" is described above. We slept in teepees and did the usual camp things, with a variety of mandatory and elective activities that included working with leather, canoeing, archery, shooting .22 rifles, hiking, morning exercises, and great food. Added to this was a generous dose of Bible study and discussion of Christian topics. On one evening, we were all victims of a mock kidnapping, taken out into the woods, and asked to recant our faith by fake anti-Christian captors who demanded that we give reasons to support what we believed in.
Which leads me to mention Camp Quest, where I spoke last week. It's the diametric opposite of Jesus Camp. Kids are taught the tools of skeptical thought—I saw that they were learning a little probability theory and the scientific method, and were learning how to test claims about dowsing—and they go out of their way to expose the kids to the diversity of religious thought (a tactic which may be even more effective than insulating them from all religious thought). Right after my session, they had a pair of pagans give a talk on their belief system, and they were more than a little loopy…but nobody had to tell the kids that, everyone was nice and polite, and you could tell that no one was fooled.
My own talk was a bit about the scientific method, a short overview of some creationist claims, and some easy ways to refute them (the index to creationist claims is the instrument of choice there). I also taught them the most useful question they can apply anywhere: "How do you know that?" I told them that they should apply it to teachers and scientists as well as creationists…I noticed that one clever fellow applied it to the pagans that followed me.
It was odder in hindsight than it seemed at the time. I suspect there was a bit of adrenaline rush, but I don't recall feeling threatened or in danger. The exercise we were required to perform seems to me one that should be encouraged. In my case, questioning why I believe what I believe resulted in atheism. I've never attributed the cause to Eagle Lake Camp, but now that I think back to it, it may have played a small part.
BTW, Camp Quest people--check out the Eagle Lake Camp link above. It looks like they are very experienced at producing fun and exciting camp activities, and have gone well beyond what they offered when I was there (which was about 25 years ago).