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Lessons from Camp Quest Print E-mail

Written by Steve Cable

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In August of this year, the North Texas Church of Freethought (NTCOF) hosted Camp Quest Texas on a farm outside of Dallas. This eight–hour event for children of atheists, agnostics and other "free thinkers" included nearly 40 children between the ages of five and 15. According to a published report{1} , the day began with an exercise in making up creation myths based on the Apache story of fire before leading into activities with exotic animals, fossils and staged UFO sightings. The primary purposes of the event were twofold:

• Encourage the children to have open minds and embrace scientific skepticism

• Provide a fun experience for the children where they could make friends among the community of non-believers. This objective was partially motivated by a desire to counter negative experiences some of the children had experienced with schoolmates who believed in God.

Let me begin by stating that I applaud the organizers and parents for taking positive steps to encourage their children to ask good questions and look for good answers. Even though I suspect that the event was slanted towards promoting an atheistic worldview, I believe all parents should assume an obligation to steer their children toward the truth as they see it. At the very least, they should equip their children to see through the illogical arguments of some enthusiastic proponent of a cultic religion (even if they think that I am just such a proponent!).

The newspaper account of this event and an accompanying interview with the executive director of NTCOF can teach us several lessons as we evangelicals take on the task of raising younger generations.

Background

Before looking for takeaway lessons, let’s investigate a little more background. Zachary Moore, the executive director for NTCOF, described their church this way:

“We're a church of freethinkers, which means that we try to understand the natural world by relying on reason and evidence. Like most people, we enjoy spending time with others who share our values and have similar interests. Forming a church just seemed like the natural thing to do, since many of us thought the only thing wrong with churches were the strange things they told you to believe in.”{2}

At one time, Zachary considered himself a believer in Christianity. At some point, he came to the conclusion that the evidence did not support his belief in God. As he said,

“If Christianity were true, then I would want at least what Doubting Thomas got. If another theistic worldview were true, then I'd need something equivalent. I don't think it's too much to ask to be able to talk to a deity personally before I'm asked to worship it.”{3}

This question, “If God wants me to believe in Him, why doesn’t He present me personally with overwhelming evidence?” is one of the classic hard questions raised against our faith. The purpose of this article is not to answer this question, but if you want more information you can find it at Probe.org (see related articles).

Zachary and the NTCOF represent a point of view that is heavily in the minority among Americans, but is growing move vocal as it grows numerically. Recent Pew Institute surveys indicate that the number of atheists, agnostics and others who claim no faith is less than 10% of the population. However, a 2007 Barna survey provides a revealing look inside that statistic.

The table below shows the number of people with “no faith” in each age demographic based on surveys taken in 1992 and 2007. The data reveals two important trends. First, the number of people claiming no faith in God in 2007 grows markedly higher with each younger generation, more than tripling from the 6% for those over 61 to 19% for those from 18–22. Second, the percentages for each generation have not changed significantly in the last fifteen years. We don’t see more people turning to faith as they grow older. It appears that the skeptics remain skeptics as each generation ages.

Percent of Americans who are atheist or agnostic{4}:

Generation Ages in 2007 1992 Survey 2007 Survey
Adult Mosaics 18-22 --- 19%
Boomers 23-41 16% 14%
Busters 42-60 8% 9%
Elders 61+ 4% 6%

Could it be that our secular schools, culture and public square are creating their expected result—generations that are becoming more and more secular? It also appears that on average, once people reach the age of 18, their belief in God is pretty much set for life.

How should we respond to this trend of succeeding generations turning away from God? I believe the report on Camp Quest reveals some lessons we can take away and apply to this question. I want to consider three possible lessons:

• Respect those who express doubts

• Understand that the Truth is not afraid of skepticism (or scientific inquiry)

• Don’t be intimidated by an unfriendly world.

Respect Those Who Express Doubts

Many of the children attending Camp Quest felt like they are living in a culture where it is taboo to ask the question, “Why should I believe in God?”

One fourteen year old boy “was at camp hoping to meet some nonbelievers his age. All his friends in Allen believe in God, he said, and he tries to keep his atheism a secret from them. 'They'd probably avoid me if they knew,' he said.”{5}

“Another boy, 14, whose stepfather requested his anonymity, started home-schooling this year after enduring years of bullying for his open atheism.”{6}

In my opinion, looking at the experience of the Quest campers gives startling insight into the issue of teenagers from Christian homes turning away from the church in their college years.

Consider a teenager from a Christian family who has questions about the God they learned about in Sunday school. Where can they get some answers to the tough questions? They look around and see how their peers and parents react to other children who question the party line. They realize they may risk status with their peers if they ask these questions. So, at a time when they are around Christian adults on a regular basis who could help them deal with the tough questions and the evidence for God, they are intimidated into keeping silent. Once they leave the home for college or other vocations, they enter an environment where the primary people that claim to have answers to these questions are belittling Christianity as a crutch for people who believe in myths.

In other words, if the children of atheists are afraid to bring up their doubts in public, how much more do many children from Christian families feel forced to go through the motions while hiding their major doubts and concerns?

If we teach our children to respect those with genuine questions about God, we receive a double benefit:

• Our children will be more willing to bring up questions that cause them to struggle.

• Our children will have opportunities to hear the questions of others who need to know Christ. If we model for our children a gentle and respectful response to peoples' questions/beliefs, their friends are more likely to be willing to share their questions with them.

Understand That the Truth Is Not Afraid of Skepticism (or Scientific Inquiry)

Most parents at Camp Quest indicated that they did not want to dictate their children’s beliefs, but clearly they wanted to impact the thought process. As one mother stated:

"Our job isn't to tell children what to think," she said. "It's about opening up their minds and learning how to ask good questions."{7}

Just as we hope that the children at Camp Quest will ultimately ask the right questions about the purpose of life and their eternal destinies, we should encourage our children to examine the truth claims of Christianity. After all, Jesus told Pilate:

‘For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” John 18:37-38 (NASU or New American Standard Updated.)

Lies and hoaxes are afraid of skeptics. The Truth welcomes skeptics because it shines in the light of examination. If we are willing to examine the truth with our children, it will build their confidence in their faith.

Many teenagers in Sunday School and youth meetings learn the things that Christians do (and don’t do) and some things that Christians believe, but never learn about why we believe that the evidence for Christianity is strong and a biblical worldview answers the hard questions better than any other worldview. I suspect that many teenagers get the impression that their pastors and teachers are afraid of hard questions and want to avoid them. Perhaps in too many cases this suspicion is reality.

This reinforces what we have stated in prior articles on the subject of youth retention (see The Last Christian Generation, related articles). We need to:

• Encourage students to ask tough questions and respect them for doing so.

• Equip parents and student leaders with solid answers for the tough questions.

• Take the initiative and address these topics in Sunday school and youth meetings even before the students ask the questions.

• Point them to resources like Probe for those that want to go deeper into these topics.

• Expose them to Christian adults who are living out a mature biblical worldview

Don’t Be Intimidated By An Unfriendly World.

How many of us can identify with the following statement:

Just as evangelical adults need social support from their church, our children need it even more. Many of our kids are ostracized at school because their parents are evangelicals, or because they're sharing their own faith at school. It can also be challenging to be an evangelical parent when most people assume that you're intolerant and ignorant if you teach your children to believe in hell and in Jesus as the only way to heaven. Christian camps provide a valuable resource for parents, plus they are full of fun activities for kids that reinforce our values–—faith in Christ, love for God and our neighbors, good morals, and a desire for others to receive eternal life.

It rings true, doesn’t it? It is interesting to consider that the statement above is a slight modification of a statement made by Zachary Moore:

Just as freethinking adults need social support from groups like the NTCOF, our children need it even more. Many of our kids are ostracized at school or in their neighborhoods because their parents are freethinkers, or because they're developing their own freethinking perspective. It can also be challenging to be a freethinking parent when most people assume that you're immoral if you don't teach your children to believe in a god. Camp Quest Texas provides a valuable resource for parents, plus it's full of fun activities for kids that reinforce our freethinking values – science, critical thinking, ethics and religious tolerance.{8}

American society as a whole does not have a high regard for atheism. However, in many ways, our public sector and public schools are more supportive of the NTCOF than they are of evangelicals. This is the reality our children will become adults within. We need to encourage them through a community of like–minded believers while at them same time preparing them to stand up in an unsympathetic and sometimes hostile public square.

Youth groups and Christian camps are not refugee camps to protect our children from the world. They need to focus on equipping them and encouraging them to stand for the Truth in whatever cultural setting they encounter.

You may not be excited about the prospect of a Church of Freethought. However, their experience and reactions may help expose some our inadequacies in preparing our children to stand firm in their faith in this world. Let’s make sure that our children know that we are open to their hard questions and are prepared with real answers.

“For he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” Heb 11:6-7 (NASU).

Notes

1. Avi Selk, "Secular kids' camp in Collin County aims to provide questions, not answers," Dallas Morning News, August 31, 2009.
2. Rod Dreher, "A church for skeptics," Dallas Morning News, August 31, 2009.
3. Ibid.
4. Barna Group, "Atheists and Agnostics Take Aim at Christians", June 11, 2007, www.barna.org/barna-update/article/12-faithspirituality/102-atheists-and-agnostics-take-aim-at-christians.
5. Selk.
6. Ibid.
7. Ibid.
8. Dreher.

© 2009 Probe Ministries

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About the Author

Steve Cable is the Senior Vice President of Probe Ministries. Steve assists in developing strategies to expand the impact of Probe's resources in the U.S. and abroad. Prior to joining Probe, Steve spent over 25 years in the telecommunications industry. Steve and his wife, Patti, have served as Bible teachers for over 30 years helping people apply God's word to every aspect of their lives. Steve has extensive, practical experience applying a Christian worldview to the dynamic, competitive hi-tech world that is rapidly becoming a dominant aspect of our society.

What is Probe?

Probe Ministries is a non-profit ministry whose mission is to assist the church in renewing the minds of believers with a Christian worldview and to equip the church to engage the world for Christ. Probe fulfills this mission through our Mind Games conferences for youth and adults, our 3-minute daily radio program, and our extensive Web site at www.probe.org.

Further information about Probe's materials and ministry may be obtained by contacting us at:

Probe Ministries
2001 W. Plano Parkway, Suite 2000
Plano TX 75075
(972) 941-4565

info@probe.org
www.probe.org
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