12 July 2009


Bishop Tim guilty of gross distortion

Bishop Tim (Leicester Mercury -First Person 11 July 2009) used his column to traduce Camp Quest, Richard Dawkins, A.C. Grayling and all the "God Free" under this headline:

Anti-religious campaign close to intolerance
The Bishop of Leicester notes the latest idea in Richard Dawkins' drive against God - an Atheist Summer Camp
The full article can be read here.

The Bishop misrepresents almost everyone and everything he mentions in this piece and it would not be an exaggeration to describe it as a gross distortion.

Several months ago Bendy-buses in London began to appear
with the slogan "There's probably no God". The atheist posters were the idea of the British Humanist Association and were supported by prominent atheist Professor Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion.

In fact the Atheist Bus campaign was the idea of and created by comedy writer Ariane Sherine and launched on 21 October 2008, with official support from the British Humanist Association and Richard Dawkins.

This week, as schools close for the long summer break, the campaign to persuade the public that God does not exist took a step further forward when Prof Dawkins launched Britain's first summer camp for young atheists. The camp is called Camp Quest UK, and is for children aged for eight to 17. The motto of the camp is: "It's beyond belief."

Professor Dawkins had nothing to do with the launch of Camp Quest as he pointed out in this letter to the Sunday Times http://richarddawkins.net/article,4006,UPDATED-Therell-be-no-tent-for...

The Editor
The Sunday Times


The duplicity of Lois Rogers' title, "Dawkins Sets up Kids' Camp to Groom Atheists" (Sunday Times, June 28th), is exceeded only by its Jesuitical opening line, "Give Richard Dawkins a child for a week's summer camp and he will try to give you an atheist for life." I had nothing to do with the setting up of Camp Quest, and it is not, in any sense whatever, inspired by me, or influenced by me. The British version, run by Samantha Stein with no help from me, follows the admirable American model founded some years ago by Edwin and Helen Kagin, of Kentucky.

Lois Rogers asked me for a quotation, and she thanked me warmly for the following: "Camp Quest encourages children to think for themselves, sceptically and rationally. There is no indoctrination, just encouragement to be open-minded, while having fun." Isn't that about as far from Jesuitical grooming as you could imagine? One of my dominant motivations, passionately expressed in The God Delusion, is an abhorrence of childhood indoctrination, of atheism just as much as of religion. It is in this spirit that the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science has made very modest contributions to Camp Quest.

Lois Rogers' traducing of both Camp Quest and me is, alas, par for the course for religiously motivated journalists. Fortunately, I am not the litigious type, but an apology would be nice.

Richard Dawkins


The aim of Camp Quest UK is to rival the many traditional faith-based breaks and holiday clubs run by the uniformed organisations and faith groups over the summer. The biggest organiser of children's camps is the Scout Association which has 500,000 members, who collectively spend two million nights camping out each year. All new Scouts - whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim or from another religious background - are required to pledge to do their "duty" to their god or faith.

What the Bishop fails to make clear is that children not prepared to take an oath to "god and king/queen" cannot be become scouts unless they take the oft proffered advice of some of the leaders and pretend that it doesn't matter even though this automatically involves breaking two scout laws:

1. A Scout is to be trusted.
7. A Scout has self-respect and respect for others.

Also Camp Quest is not a uniformed organisation.

Is he suggesting that no provision is made for children who are not prepared to take an oath to a god when they are probably still too young to make any final decision as to his/her/its existence?

The stated purposes of Camp Quest are:

For more details you can visit the website of Camp Quest.

What can the Bishop find so objectionable in this? The camp welcomes all children from any background. More details here.

Indeed the official Church of England policy for its "faith" schools as set out in the Dearing Report is to:

Nourish those of the faith;
Encourage those of other faiths;
Challenge those who have no faith.

At least Camp Quest aims to encourage critical thinking in all its children, not challenge only those who haven't fallen into line.

The camp is part of a wider campaign, backed by Dawkins and Professor AC Grayling, the philosopher and writer, designed to challenge Christian societies, collective worship and religious education. However, leading religious leaders, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, are becoming concerned about the intolerance being shown by Dawkins and his supporters towards faith communities.

Perhaps the Bishop would like to be more specific about the intolerance shown by Dawkins, or is he protesting because religious privilege is being challenged? None of the people he mentions are suggesting the the right to religious worship be restricted nor that religious ideas be repressed. What they do advocate however is challenging daft ideas and beliefs. Is this intolerance?

Alongside churches and chapels, Leicester's skyline includes temples, mosques and synagogues. Tolerance is one of the key values which has enabled this skyline to flourish and help communities to live together in harmony.

This Bishop omitted to mention Leicester Secular Hall, which is the home of the oldest Secular Society in the world (formed in 1851) and has shared the skyline with churches and synagogues for considerably longer than with mosques and temples.

This harmony was very much in evidence earlier this week when 40 faith leaders of the city and county gathered together at Bishop's Lodge to share food and conversation about many aspects of our city and country life.

It is notable that the Bishop is inclusive of all who share a belief in the supernatural. Presumably this is so that they can avoid having anyone around to point at the elephant in the room in that what they believe is mutually exclusive at the fundamental level.

Indeed recently he claimed credit for his Church in taking the lead on "City of Sanctuary" when in fact much of the leading role has been played by members of Leicester Secular Society who have had free use of Secular Hall.

A C Grayling writes that an intolerant person is "one who wishes others to live as he thinks they ought and who seeks to impose his practices and beliefs upon them". It could be argues that Camp Quest is seeking to do just that. Grayling also writes that tolerance is "a rare and important virtue". At least this is something on which we can both agree!

The Bishop may agree that tolerance is a "rare and important virtue" but Church of England has little to boast about. Secular Hall was built so that free thinkers could have a meeting place in the 19th century. The Church made sure through strong arm tactics that no landlord would provide the Society with a meeting place. Members of the Secular Society have always stood for toleration, free speech and freedom of and from religion. However toleration of religion does not mean that you cannot express a profound dislike and contempt for some religious dogma. "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend your right to say it" is the mantra of the free thinker.

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The Mercury published a good reply from Allan Hayes. I sent a letter too, but they chose not to publish - I wonder if anyone else did. My unpublished letter follows:
----- Original Message -----
From: Frank Friedmann
To: mailbox@leicestermercury.co.uk
Sent: Monday, July 13, 2009 2:40 PM
Subject: Mercury Mailbox - Camp Quest

Dear Editor,

Since the Leicester Mercury affords Bishop Tim Stevens a regular column, he has to be one of the most significant influences on opinion in the city – an influence that needs wielding with caution and respect.

Is it so awful that 24 children are going to enjoy a summer camp encouraging them to ‘think for themselves’? (First Person 11 July)

In my own young years, I enjoyed joining in numerous collective activities – school clubs, a local authority youth club where I learned to drive, informal visits with friends to the local lido, and the Boy Scouts.

Only the Scouts practised discrimination, obliging me to pretend ‘my duty to god and the queen’, when I felt I had none to either. Even as a child this lie offended my ethics, but I (like many others, and with full knowledge of the leaders) put up with it, learning pragmatic hypocrisy from the Christians. Monthly church parade was to all a chore rather than a duty, and none of the real scouting activities – knots, games, badges, self-reliance, camp-fires (where we sang parodies like ‘on top of spaghetti’, not Kumbaya) – had or needed religious content. Older scouts took our motto ‘Be Prepared’ to mean ‘carry a condom’!

The Bishop will have done a great service in bringing Camp Quest to the attention of Leicester’s youngsters, and I wish them and their enthusiastic young director Samantha Stein every success.

I note that Stevens draws his lesson on ‘tolerance’ from the gentle humanist philosopher A C Grayling. Perhaps in this spirit he’ll apologise to the thousands of truly tolerant and open-minded religious and non-religious Mercury readers for his astonishing show of prejudice.

Frank Friedmann (member of Leicester Secular Society)
In the end the Mercury made the above their featured item on 21 July: Shouldn't the bishop apologise?

I only spotted one change made by the editor - the insertion of a respectful 'Bishop' before 'Stevens' in the last paragraph.


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