Throughout his papacy Pope Francis has repeatedly denounced “ideological colonization.” In brief, ideological colonization can be defined as the arrogant imposition of foreign values and practices by wealthy countries on less developed nations. This is often accomplished through financial coercion, by offering monetary aid on the condition that the recipient country agrees to adopt new laws or policies that embody so-called “liberal” Western values.
In 2017, the pope described this kind of ideological colonization as a “blasphemy against God.” Earlier this year, in his address to the diplomatic corps of the Holy See, the pope again denounced ideological colonization, expressing his concern about so-called “new rights” that often conflict with one another and which “are at odds with the culture of many countries.”
“Somewhat paradoxically,” he added, “there is a risk that, in the very name of human rights, we will see the rise of modern forms of ideological colonization by the stronger and the wealthier, to the detriment of the poorer and the most vulnerable.” In the very next paragraph the pope highlighted contemporary attacks on human rights, especially abortion. “I think primarily of innocent children discarded even before they are born,” he said, “unwanted at times simply because they are ill or malformed, or as a result of the selfishness of adults.”
On another occasion the pope was asked to provide an example of ideological colonization. In response, he described a case where a minister in charge of education was told she could have funding to build schools if those schools taught “gender theory.” “This is ideological colonization,” he said. “They enter with an idea that has nothing to do with the people; but with groups of people yes, but not with the people. It colonizes the people with an idea that wants to change a mentality or a structure.”
These same concerns were echoed by the world’s Catholic bishops in the final document of the 2014 Synod on the Family. It is “totally unacceptable,” said the bishops, that “some pastors of the Church suffer pressure from international bodies who make financial aid to poor countries conditional upon the acceptance of ‘marriage’ between persons of the same sex.”
French President’s Offensive Remarks
Ideological colonization is endemic within Western governmental and charitable aid programs: money and supplies often come with “small print” that requires or pressures poorer countries to promote contraception, or liberalize their abortion laws, or promote hedonistic sexual values. Sadly, however, most Westerners are completely oblivious to the ways their governments are strong-arming developing countries into accepting practices or beliefs that completely contradict their cultural values.
Recent remarks by Emmanuel Macron, the French President, however, are waking some people up to the paternalistic, condescending elitism that characterizes the attitude of many Western leaders, in particular towards African nations.
Speaking in late September at an event hosted by the Gates Foundation, created by Microsoft founder and billionaire Bill Gates and his wife Melinda, Macron denounced the high fertility rate amongst African women. Macron suggested that African women’s fertility is not “chosen fertility.” “I always say,” he added, “present me the woman who decided, being perfectly educated, to have seven, eight or nine children.” Bizarrely, in the next sentence the president denounced child marriage, seemingly suggesting a moral equivalency between a woman having a large family, and a 12-year-old forced to marry.
Macron’s suggestion that educated women would never choose to have seven or more children hit a nerve. Many mothers of large families responded en masse, taking to Twitter where they launched a new hashtag – #postcardsforMacron. Using this hashtag, they posted photos of their families and details about their educational achievements.
The woman who kick-started the online campaign is Catherine Pakulak an assistant professor at The Busch School of Business and Economics and a faculty fellow at the Institute for Human Ecology at The Catholic University of America. Paukulak obtained both her Master’s degree and PhD from Harvard University. She also has eight children. “This is about … debunking the notion that high-fertility is a consequence of ignorance,” she tweeted.
Another woman, “Ophelia,” posted a photo of her eight kids, pointing out that mom and dad are both MDs. MCSabol posted a photo of her own family, saying: “Educated mother of 10. President Macron, you fail to see gift.” Ellen, a mother of nine children with a degree in Communication Arts, wrote, “M. Macron, big family = big love. Love never fails.”
Others have posted photos of women such as Judge Amy Coney Barrett, a Circuit Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals who was on the shortlist for the Supreme Court (Barrett has seven children), and British philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe, widely considered one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century (she also had seven children).
If you are on Twitter I encourage you to search #postcardsforMacron and browse the beautiful photos and many inspiring stories.
The War on African Fertility
Some critics have responded to this online Twitter campaign, saying that the stories of American educated women are irrelevant, since Macron’s remarks were specifically aimed at African women – who are more likely to be poor and (claim the critics) lack access to contraception.
However, this argument simply doesn’t hold up. Macron’s incredulity that any woman would choose to have a large family demonstrates his incapacity to understand a crucial truth about African culture – namely, that many African women, educated or otherwise, actually want to have many children. African culture is, by and large, far more pro-family, and pro-fertility than that of wealthy Western countries like France – which is dying for lack of children.
One of the most eloquent African voices making precisely this point is pro-life activist Obianuju (Uju for short) Ekeocha. In her book, Target Africa: Ideological Neo-Colonialism in the Twenty-First Century, Uju traced how so much of Western aid comes with strings attached – most of it aimed at curbing African reproduction.
“These solutions,” she writes, “rely heavily on a single-minded strategy that entails removing or drastically reducing the source of the population growth in Africa—female fertility. Thus, Western nations, organizations, and foundations wage war against the bodies of African women.”
“How does practically sterilizing the poorest women in the world give them control over famine, draught, disease, and poverty?” Uju adds. “This expensive contraception project will only make them sterile at the cheapest rate possible. This is certainly not what we African women have asked for. It is not the help that our hearts crave amidst the trials and difficulties of Africa. But in a world of shocking cultural imperialism, it is what our betters have chosen for us.”
Pope Francis also made the same point about the short-sightedness and shallowness of efforts to reduce poverty by reducing fertility in 2015. After remarking that it was a “consolation” to see so many large families during trips to the Philippines and Sri Lanka, he noted: “I have heard it said that families with many children and the birth of many children are among the causes of poverty. It seems to me a simplistic opinion. I would say that the main cause of poverty is an economic system that has removed the person from the center and has placed the god of money, an economic system that always excludes.”
Contraception – and abortion-pushing NGOs and governments often tout statistics showing an enormous “unmet need” for contraception in Africa – thereby justifying the billions of dollars they spend on flooding these countries with contraceptives.
But as pro-life activists like Uju have pointed out, these statistics are wildly misleading: in many cases women classified as having an “unmet need” actually do have access to contraception but have consciously rejected using it. In fact, as the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute admitted several years ago, only 4-8% of women in developing countries who aren’t using contraception attribute their non-use to a lack of access to contraception.
Does this sound like a vast “unmet need”? Only if – as many Western NGOs and foundations do – you stubbornly assume that contraception is simply, and without qualification, a good thing. If you take this as your fundamental axiom, then you can confidently state that any woman that isn’t using contraception – even if she doesn’t want to use it – must have an “unmet need” …she just doesn’t know it yet.
This is ideological colonization of the worst kind. It’s breath-takingly patronizing. It’s narrow-minded. It’s wrong. Indeed, it’s astonishing that Western elites such as Macron who bewail the history of physical colonialism can so completely fail to see that their own cultural colonialism is in many respects even more insidious – for it actively seeks to destroy those aspects of African culture that are their greatest asset: their love of children and family, their respect for life, and their traditional morality.
The West’s Spiritual Emptiness
Macron’s narrow-minded remarks have only served to draw attention to the spiritual vacuity of the contemporary West, and the bewildering lack of imagination that infects the Western ruling class, who simply cannot conceive that anyone might value something other than what they value.
In the same speech I quoted at the beginning of this article, Pope Francis lamented that in the West the family is now considered an “obsolete institution.” “Today,” he said, “fleeting relationships are preferred to the stability of a definitive life project. But a house built on the sand of frail and fickle relationships cannot stand. What is needed instead is a rock on which to build solid foundations. And this rock is precisely that faithful and indissoluble communion of love that joins man and woman, a communion that has an austere and simple beauty, a sacred and inviolable character and a natural role in the social order.”
As the Pope observed, the disregard for the family has led to another “dramatic effect” – “namely, a decline in the birth rate. We are experiencing a true demographic winter! This is a sign of societies that struggle to face the challenges of the present, and thus become ever more fearful of the future, with the result that they close in on themselves.”
Africa is not dying, as Europe is. And this is precisely because Africans value life and the family. As Uju writes: “The most precious gift that Africans can give to the world right now is our inherent culture of life. Most Africans understand, by faith and tradition, the inestimable value of human life, the beauty of womanhood, the grace of motherhood, the blessing of married life, and the gift of children.”
Rather than trying to educate Africans on how to have fewer children, perhaps this is an area where we should be letting Africans educate us.