Saturday, October 01, 2011

Follow-up notes on the lawsuit post

A week or so ago, I was looking for a "Debunking C. S. Lewis" site that I had found. I typed the word "debunking" into Google, and instead of finding "Christianity" as the next word, which I expected to be suggested by Google, instead Google directed me to "Debunking Surrendra Gangadean," which is a Facebook page. I was shocked. Why would be be picked out for debunking?

The Facebook page was supposed to be devoted to the fallacies and sophistries of Surrendra Gangadean, but I actually saw no discussion of his arguments, or the arguments in his book. Instead, the site seemed to be devoted to the charge that he pushes his religious beliefs on his students, that he uses his classes to recruit students to a Christian fellowship he heads, and it was there that I discovered the lawsuit that was filed against him based on the Establishment clause. To read that site, he uses his classroom to run what amounts to a cult. 

What seemed to me problematic about all of this is that there are plenty of people who make a case against religious belief in their classes, and this is done deliberately with the intent to get people to give up their religious beliefs. If the Establishment clause can be used to beat religious professors over the head for defending their religious beliefs in class, but unbelievers can bash religious belief all they want, this creates an unfair asymmetry for the believer. 

However, I have been in contact with someone who is a good deal closer to my former teacher than I am, and he tells me that I was insufficiently critical of the factual content of the Debunking page. Professor Gangadean does not use his classes to recruit for a fellowship; in fact, he does not make his own beliefs especially evident in his classes, and often plays devil's advocate against the positions he himself holds. If so, he doesn't operate much differently from the way I do. I do think the description of my former teacher's activities by his debunkers is tendentious at best and deceitful at worst. 

Most teachers have beliefs which they make evident to some extent in their class. After all, we do believe things, and we should be able say that we do believe them. I know fellow Christian instructors who are more forward about their own beliefs in class than I am. If, on the other hand, I thought that many of my students were getting a lot of anti-religious intimidation in other classes, I might advocate more for what I believe than I do. I do feel a primary responsibility to teach the curriculum. I sometimes get asked about my own beliefs, and typically I will defer answering until the end of the semester. I try to make sure that, whatever you are a believer or an unbeliever, you will be able to say when the class is over that your view was competently represented. 

What I am saying is that I could be more of an advocate for my Christianity than I in fact am, and if I were to do so, I should not have to be concerned with lawsuits and the Establishment clause. The marketplace of ideas should be left open to all viewpoints, including religious ones. The idea that religious professors are obligated to lean over backwards to be neutral, while anti-religious can be unremittingly hostile, is a situation which is far from what the Founders had in mind when the laid out the laws concerning the establishment and free expression of religion. 



24 comments:

Matt said...

One of my science teachers in high school was a Christian. Students found out and then everything he did was interpreted as being part of some religious psychosis. He showed us a video about how the universe was older than the church thought it was and students assumed he was forced to show it to us and claimed they could see him crying or stressed out when the video explained the age of the universe. Of course, now that I'm a teacher I know that the school does not require you to show specific videos. Perhaps your old professor is in a similar situation.

Anonymous said...

But the Pappy's of this world want it both ways.

Papalinton said...

Matt
"Students found out and then everything he did was interpreted as being part of some religious psychosis."

This is an unfortunate circumstance. And it should not happen. But remember we are confronting a very long history of active and metastatic proselytization which is in very grerat part responsible for such a natural reaction from those students. The activity of christian door knockers pestering neighbourhoods at any hour of the night or day is a classic example of this activity. They are flogging a message. Missionary work in Africa, is only partly about helping the poor. Helping the poor is simply a little entré, part of the meet and greet forerunner to the main game, proselytization and conversion. Why else would christian missionaries help the poor in order to distribute umpteen million bibles? They do so, because it is that much easier to persuade a captive audience driven in existential despair, and then tell thyem how marvelous the christian god is for his bountiful offerings to the destitute; they should be so grateful.

Bad people do bad things. But it takes religion for good people to do bad things.

Anonymous said...

Bullshit. My husband was recuited from Gangadean's classes to Gangadean's cult, Westminster Fellowship Inc. Gangadean's beliefs are clearly known through his material. You sir, are a liar.

Anonymous said...

Victor,
Why is it that most of the members of Gangadean’s “church” are current or former students of at least one of his philosophy classes? Why is it that Gangadean purposely hides the fact that he is a pastor of a church from his students and advises those who are aware of the fact not to tell others? Why is it that all of Gangadean’s negative online reviews by students who discuss the religious nature of his class are censored by his followers? Why is it that you didn’t mention that there was a mass reporting campaign aimed at the Debunking Surrendra Gangadean page, which was subsequently removed from FB, in an effort to silence those who know of Gangadean’s agenda?
What is your affiliation with Westminster Fellowship Inc, Victor? Have you attended the church? Did Gangadean tell you to post about this?

Victor Reppert said...

If these claims are accurate, they are going to have to be supported by real evidence.

Gangadean and I have a lot of serious differences both in philosophy and theology. I have never been involved in his group. If you doubt me, type the word "Calvinism" into this site's search engine.

I didn't want to make any assumptions about the factual content of the claims with respect to Gangadean. Those questions have to be left open. I was assuming the correctness of some of the Debunking claims, which I shouldn't have done. I am not in a position to know for sure one way or the other. The devil is going to be in the details s to how his students become part of his group. I have trouble imagining him has a cult leader based on having taken his class in 1973, and having had some contact with him since.

The question I am interested in is what it takes to violate the establishment clause in the course of teaching a philosophy course. If I say, in class, that I think the Kalam Cosmological Argument is sound, do I violate the establishment clause? If I say that all the arguments for theism are bad, does that violate it?

I take it that probably people who want to find out can discover what he believes very easily. At least that was my experience as a student all those years ago. If you are my student, you can find a great deal about what I believe by reading Dangerous Idea. But that would be true of most philosophy teachers. Teachers have beliefs, both with respect to religion and apart from the question of religion. They are happy when their students believe what they consider to be the truth. So what?

Anonymous said...

IT'S A CONSPIRACY BROS!!

THE PRESUPPOSITIONALISTS ARE COMING!! THE PRESUPPOSITIONALISTS ARE COMING!!

Victor Reppert said...

Although I learned about presuppositionalism from Gangadean, my understanding is that he no longer accepts it and has criticized it in print.

B. Prokop said...

Victor,

This issue looks fairly complicated, but I still hold to what I wrote on the original thread. It seems to be yet another case of people dragging the courts into a matter that would have more appropriately been settled face to face between the parties with no lawsuits necessary. As a society we would be better off if our first instinct were not so often to "reach for our lawyers", like Gary Cooper in some western. Shame on the parties that initiated this lawsuit!

Anonymous said...

PapaLinton is a Liar for Loftus.

He left teaching because he had no choice.

Anonymous said...

You have chosen Romans 13:1. I choose the Constitution of the United States.

If you do not think the issue is the Constitution, well then...pray to the 1st Amendment for your right to think and speak that way.

Dubunking Gangadean is not the primary issue, at least not for me. However, Debunking Surrendra Gangadean as a philosopher is an issue I have chosen to pursue.

If you want validation that debuking surrendra Gangadean is appropriate, write to PVCC and request the information on Gangadean under the "Freedom of Information" Act.

Matt said...

Papalinton,

I get that. So do you think the lawsuit against Gangadean could be from a former student who had been bombarded by neighborhood missionaries?

Papalinton said...

Matt
"So do you think the lawsuit against Gangadean could be from a former student who had been bombarded by neighborhood missionaries?"

No. But who is to say Gangadean has not practiced excessive proselytization to a captive group of people in a classroom, in much the same way that others in the community have experienced their interface with the christian mythos through being, as you say, "bombarded by neighborhood missionaries"? It is well known that christianity is an audacious proselytizing belief system and it would not be outside the realm of possibility, indeed it is a pretty sure bet, that Gangadean pushed his particular proclivity hard. After all there is an investment in it for Gangadean, a travel ticket straight to the pearly gates.

Matt said...

Papalinton,

"But who is to say Gangadean has not practiced excessive proselytization to a captive group of people in a classroom"

Okay. I suppose it could be the case that he is using his class as a means of acquiring converts because he is a Christian and other Christians have sought converts professionally. It could also be the case that he is teaching philosophy and this student found out he is a Christian and has interpreted everything he does as an attempt at making converts. Whose to say anything about what's going on inside his head?

"After all there is an investment in it for Gangadean, a travel ticket straight to the pearly gates."

I don't know much about Gangadean's theology but from Victor Reppert's comment I think he's a Calvinist. On Calvinism your salvation is not dependent upon how many souls you converted, you were selected by God before you did anything. It is possible that, like many professors, Gangadean preaches in his class out of vanity but that's not a quality exclusive to Christians. Unless religion also makes good men do vain things.

physphil said...

"Bad people do bad things. But it takes religion for good people to do bad things."
This quote by Weinberg should never had been taken seriously in the first place. It's laughable that you complain about preachers hijacking assistance for poor people in Africa. If these preachers were not Christian, would they even bother to do the help the poor part? Even if I were an atheist, I would think that though these Africans are now more "irrational" in their beliefs, at least they were helped. Do you believe it is better for millions of Africans to die without believing in Christianity rather than have them live as Christians? Do you seriously think religion is such a bad thing? No wonder officially atheist governments tend to end up committing mass murder in the millions.

And of course there's the painful fact that we've all seen numerous Christian organizations of the kinds you've seen, but I have yet to come across any prominent atheist organizations which actually do anything useful in Africa...

Matt said...

Physphil,

http://techskeptic.blogspot.com/2007/12/atheist-charities.html
http://www.squidoo.com/Atheist-Charities

It seems that a lot of atheist charities are more focused on social reform than supplying a need. There are plenty of secular charities that do such things and I would imagine most atheists do not see an advantage to a resource providing charity expressing a particular worldview while the concept of Christian charity makes sense because according to traditional Christianity the greatest gift you can give someone is the good news. Because of this it does not surprise me that atheist non profits focus on spreading atheism and reforming societies, leaving providing water and resources to secular groups which many atheists may be a part of. Christian groups want to incorporate evangelism into their charitable works because proselyzation is seen as a good of equal merit (though engaging in it does not buy you a ticket into Heaven).

physphil said...

Thanks for the interesting links on atheist charities, Matt. I would not consider all secular organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to be "atheist charities" - they are simply nonreligious, or religiously neutral charities. As seen by the behavior and comments of atheists all over the web, being an atheist doesn't make you neutral in terms of religion.

It is indeed interesting how you noted that "genuinely" atheist charities focus on social reform instead of needs, which have been supplied more by secular organizations. But that doesn't make Christian charities supplying those needs completely irrelevant, as we're talking about all the impoverished areas in the world now. I still do not understand why there are atheists complaining about the proselytizing going on in such places, since in the atheist worldview what you believe doesn't really matter in the long run anyway.

It can also be argued that if they wanted to, Christians could have the same attitude as atheists, donating to secular organizations for physical needs and using missionary organizations for purely proselytizing purposes. Yet we know this doesn't happen - such organizations often do as much physical providing as proselytizing. My own church (in a developing Asian country) doesn't dare to openly evangelize for fear of governmental and/or popular backlash, but every month we hold blood donation drives, free healthcare checkups, mass cataract operations and the like. All of that without any proselytizing (we don't even say that Jesus motivated us to do that or that sort).

Anonymous said...

"The marketplace of ideas should be left open to all viewpoints, including religious ones."

That atheism is not religious is objectionable.

Victor Reppert said...

Well, theistic ones. OK? Whether to call atheism a religion is going to come out true or false depending on context. In the context of the Establishment clause, or the Free Exercise clause, it is clearly one.

Dave S said...

Prof. Reppert,

I don't know how much contact you've had with Surrendra Gangadean in recent years, but what he was 38 years ago is not necessarily what he is now. I've not communicated with him at all for many years, and I've never met him in person, but I did communicate with him by phone and email many times in addition to participating in an aborted Yahoo Group on his philosophy of "rational presuppositionalism." Additionally, I also have talked with a few people who have dealt with him personally, and I can say that the picture of him as a controlling, authoritarian personality comes not only from those who have taken his classes, but from a couple of people who have been members of his church, and from my own experience.

Furthermore, I am skeptical of what his followers (for lack of a less inflammatory word) claim about him. They seem to have a rather blind level of obedience which is troubling. In interacting with them, I noticed very little intellectual independence; they seemed to parrot his philosophy line by line. I myself can attest to the level of control he attempts to exert over discussion, for when discussion of his philosophy in the "rational presuppositionalism" Yahoo group became rather critical (Michael Sudduth participated for a bit and was frustrated - ask him if he remembers) Gangadean basically laid down the law and insisted that it stop - all for what he thought were morally justified reasons, of course.

Neither of us is an insider when it comes to this unfortunate debacle, but I urge you to reach out to others to get a fuller opinion. Also, I would urge you to read this article on the suit: http://www.pvc.maricopa.edu/puma/puma-new/fall_2011_pages/lawsuit505101.html. One particularly interesting quote: "Gangadean’s book is the textbook for 11 classes this semester at PVCC shared between Philosophy 105, 101 and 103, says Angela Hensley, text manager, Follette Higher Education Group, PVCC’s book vendor on campus."

After you read that quote, go to PVCC's website and you'll see that PHI 101 is Intro to Philosophy, 103 is Intro to Logic, and 105 is Intro to Ethics. Then take a look at Google's preview of Gangadean's book, and ask yourself why it is being used as the text for 11 classes. Perhaps is is not, as the article says, "the" textbook, but rather "a" textbook (though the plaintiff's experience says otherwise). Nevertheless, I think you may agree that there is something amiss. Why is this apologetics book being used as a textbook in Intro to Philosophy, Logic, and Ethics at all?

Cheers,

Dave

Anonymous said...

"Whether to call atheism a religion is going to come out true or false depending on context. In the context of the Establishment clause, or the Free Exercise clause, it is clearly one."

Reppert is correct. I completely agree. This is a true statement. Atheistic humanism is a religion, especially in the context of the establishment and free exercise clause.

TruthbKnown said...

Dr. Owen Anderson is 2nd in command within Surrendra Gangadean's chuch and has been for years. He and his wife are currently going through a divorce. His wife, Sheri Anderson has accused both her husband Dr. Anderson, and Surrendra of "brainwashing" her as well as their children. She has accused her husband, Dr. Anderson of abuse within their marriage and home. When such things happen in our church, percieved offenders, in this case Sheri Anderson, are cut off from their friends and other families within the church by shunning and excommunication. Since maintaining freindships outside Westminter Fellowship can be difficult due to differing beliefs, as well as the secretiveness of our church, the use of shunning and excommunication is usually extremely devistating on the lives of those it's imposed upon. I happen to know this for a fact, because I have had the oppurtunity to to speak with a number of ex members and families who had been excommunicated.
I have written this because I believe that people have the right to know who and what they're dealing with when interacting with this particular group of people.

TruthbKnown said...

Kelly Fitzsimmons Burton, Arturo Gastelum and Mr. Kyle Navarrette have all been members of Westminster Fellowship, Surrendra Gangadean’s church, for over a decade. Currently, all 3 of them teach at Paradise Valley Christian Preparatory on Cactus Rd in Phoenix.

Brandon Crowe and Benjamin Dickerson have been members of Westminster Fellowship for over a decade as well. Currently, they both teach at Veritas Preparatory Academy in Phoenix.

The following is an excerpt of the online public records of Dr. Owen Anderson’s divorce, which may be seen by following this link, clicking on “Case History”, and then searching for Owen Anderson. http://www.superiorcourt.maricopa.gov/docket/FamilyCourtCases/caseInfo.asp?caseNumber=FC2012-009175

NOTE: TO MOTION FOR EMERGENCY TEMPORARY ORDERS WITHOUT NOTICE TO PREVENT MARITAL CHILDREN FORM ATTENDING WESTMINSTER FELLOWSHIP
12/27/2012 AFS - Affidavit Of Service 1/10/2013
NOTE: SERVED 12/18/2012
12/27/2012 REQ - Request 1/2/2013
NOTE: FOR RESOLUTION MANAGEMENT CONFERENCE
12/21/2012 ORA - Order To Appear 12/28/2012
NOTE: FOR RETURN HEARING ON MOTION FOR TEMPORARY ORDERS TO PREVENT WESTMINISTER FELLOWSHIP
12/20/2012 ANS - Answer 12/26/2012
12/20/2012 PTO - PETITION/MOTION FOR TEMPORARY ORDERS 12/28/2012
NOTE: EMERGENCY / WITHOUT NOTICE TO PREVENT MARITAL CHILDREN FROM ATTENDING WESTMINSTER FELLOWSHIP

0af4d106-eac6-11e4-805c-876c893b5740 said...

Dr. Gangadean was my "Philosophy" professor at PVCC in my 2001 school year. I could not stand him. He made people who believed in evolution feel shameful. He pushed his strong CHRISTIAN views in class the whole semester, and then finally confessed to being a strongly viewed Christian. We did NOT use a textbook and he only used handouts. We would have these ridiculous pop quizzes about twice a week. I hated his class, and it was really disappointing because I looked forward to learning about Philosophy. I also took a "Rituals, Symbols, and Myths" class at ASU West in the summer of '01 or '02, and surprise surprise, my teacher (Mr. Anderson) was a former student of the aforementioned Gangadean, so he taught the exact same way, and instead of learning about what the subject implies, he made us read Genesis. What a crock of sh*t, these two. I wish I would have known about the suing case when it was happening so I could put my two cents in!!! They should not be allowed to teach, and if they do, it should be in Sunday school. Their nonsensical beliefs are not welcome in my PUBLIC SCHOOL education!