The perpetuation and promotion of structures of domination are ubiquitous in western society.
Growing up I attended public school. In those years I never heard the words: voice, dialogue, or critical thinking. And in fact the land-grant university I attended for my Bachelors degree had professors who regularly made comments that were racist, sexist, and classist. It was honestly embarrassing for me. It was not until I entered my first Masters degree that I began studying the tools of critical pedagogy, promoting critique and possibility. Having not had any exposure to this in the past those were heady days, full of hope. But as it turned out, it was a false hope.
The literature of critical thinking was full of language of who we should be, and what should be happening in classrooms, and what should be implemented in practise, and these all turned out to be context-specific and over time I came to see that they were a response to the particularized understandings of the culture and its own myopic social identities and situations and enculturation. As clergy I began to strip away the reasoning with which I had been taught in seminary and to desire to become more and more accountable for simply practising the actual teachings of Christ, such as the works of mercy (Matthew 25:31-16). Over time I came to see rational argument as a culturally prescribed tool that was used by more people to justify their own inaction. So in the mid-90’s I engaged in a radical shift in my own way of teaching and relating to others. I began to teach and preach in a way that started to dismantle the cultural foundations for critical self-justification in the churches I served. This frustrated a lot of people whose self-interests were at stake and who had hired me to serve and promote their self-interest. Their reaction was to become even more entrenched. I began to write and teach in ways that solely had to do with saving my own life, because it did.
As a PhD student at the time I began openly talking about not wanting to teach when I graduated. Of course this was insane speech – self-contradictory – and alienated me from my instructors and most of my confreres. They remained bound to the rationalist agendas of teaching analytical and critical skills for judging truth and the merits of propositions. And I refused to enforce the rules of reason any more in the church. Rationalism could no longer be respected by me. Critical education, including critical religious education, only treated the symptoms, but left the disease intact. No teacher is free of learned and internalized oppressions; no single group’s sufferings and struggles are immune from inflicting suffering on another group. I came to see that I had been granted institutional power, so I began to divest myself of those foundations. The asymmetry of being in the position in which I found myself professionally was finally fully let go.
What is most frightening to me any more are the political and educational projects that are formulated and implemented by critical-thinking social planners at all levels of society who legitimate their actions based on their lack of simply admitting the otherliness of others. I have come to fully embrace that I don’t know those who are unlike me…and that they don’t know me. What I do know is that I can continue to unlearn my own positions by coming to experience how truly different Others are. So here’s the bottom line: that if I can talk with you in ways that show that my understanding of you and the world and the right thing to do is always partial and interested and potentially oppressive…and if you can do the same for me…then we at least have a chance of building a world where all of us can thrive. And that’s what we at least hope that we are doing here as Benedictine oblates in the northern Parkland region of Manitoba in north central Canada. All attempts that do not recognize that our understanding of the world is partial and interested and potentially oppressive is most certainly founded on the repressive rationalist notions. When others refuse to do the same then we certainly don’t have any chance of building genuine peace.