a student's questions about feeling power

Once in a while I ll have conversations or receive emails from young members of our church who are studying at University and are introduced to new and interesting ideas. They want to discuss them with me, I suppose suspecting that I may find what they are learning interesting and challenging. It happened again this weekend. An intelligent young woman named Melanie, who is studying criminology in Ottawa, emailed me with some insights about a book she s reading. As she said, she would like to know what my take is on Megan Boler's argument . Here s a part of her email (used with permission):

I have been reading a book by Megan Boler, a professor in the areas of cultural studies, feminist studies and philosophy, titled Feeling Power: Emotions and Education. She uses cultural history with ethical and multicultural analyses to explore how emotions have been disciplined, suppressed or ignored at many levels of education and in educational theory.

Similar to other Feminist theorist s, Megan is citing religion as one of the way that patriarchal hierarchies maintain social control through the use of individualized governance. She defines this social control mechanism as "pastoral power", which uses self-control to maintain discipline and control in society over more external discipline, punishment or other undesirable techniques which may contribute to "poor mental hygiene (emotionally maladjusted individuals).

Historically, I can see how individuals with political power have used religion as a means of maintaining their power and control over individuals and groups of a lower status or those who those in power deemed to be less virtuous. She uses the term religion very loosely here and creates room for various interpretations. I suspect by doing so that she wishes to provoke conflict or perhaps this is a flaw in her writing style.

I responded with a lengthier email than I will share here, but basically I said:
I think she is right to some extent. I am a total believer in subjecting Christianity, the church, and the culture of Christian leadership to the severest criticism. It is the heart of scripture that the Church is judged first and thoroughly. Also, if it is worth anything, then like gold it must be tested and refined. It can endure it. So, yes, I believe there may be value in what she says about religion, the church, and clergy being used to control people, dumb them down, and subject not only women but everybody to servitude and even oppression.

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