A World War Being Waged Not With Weapons but Ideas
One of Pope Francis' most persistent prophetic protests -- perhaps the one most consistently ignored by secular media outlets -- has been against what he has vividly and aptly called "ideological colonization." This refers to the attempt by western liberal democracies and institutions to compel, through economic and political pressure, countries and regions that were formerly colonized militarily to accept radical social, sexual and familial reengineering.
This is the foreign policy equivalent of domestic attempts by those promoting "tolerance" -- with which many believers in developed countries have unhappily been subjected --intolerantly to ramrod the sexual revolution on their neighbors through courts, culture, educational establishments, and legislative and executive diktats.
Pope Francis has been giving his powerful voice to those on the peripheries who are trying to resist what he has forthrightly called a conceptual war against developing nations.
"Today there is a world war to destroy marriage," he said last October to journalists on the papal plane returning from Azerbaijan to Rome. "There are ideological colonizations that are destroying, not with weapons, but with ideas."
And he made clear what our response should be: "There is a need to defend ourselves from ideological colonizations."
During the World Meeting with Families in Manila in January 2015, he first sounded the warning. "Let us be on guard against colonization by new ideologies ... that are out to destroy the family. ... Just as our peoples, at a certain moment of their history, were mature enough to say 'no' to all forms of political colonization, so too in our families we need to be very wise, very shrewd, very strong, in order to say 'no' to all attempts at an ideological colonization of our families."
When reporters asked him a few days later on the return flight to Rome to elaborate, he gave an example from his native Argentina.
"In 1995," he said, "a minister of education asked for a large loan to build schools for the poor. They gave it to her on the condition that in the schools there would be a book for the children of a certain grade level. It was a school book... in which gender theory was taught. This woman needed the money but that was the condition... This is ideological colonization."
He also pointed to the "same story" happening in Africa, when loans are given on the condition of accepting reeducation materials for children, commenting, "The same was done by the dictatorships of the last century," equating some of the techniques of ideological colonizers with those of communists, fascists and Nazis.
When he spoke to the General Assembly of the United Nations in September 2015, he expressed his concern that the UN "risks becoming an unattainable illusion, or, even worse," being reduced to "carrying out an ideological colonization by the imposition of anomalous models and lifestyles that are alien to people's identity and, in the end, irresponsible" unless it recognizes and remains guided by "certain incontestable natural ethical limits."
He didn't give examples because in that diplomatic setting most would know from UN battles to what he was referring: attempts to teach even the youngest children about homosexual activity under the euphemism of "comprehensive sexual education;" to promote the taking of innocent human life in the womb under the euphemism of "sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights" or "maternal care"; to alter the notion of gender to be a mental or psychological state rather than a bodily reality; to change the meaning of marriage and family to embrace husband-less, wife-less, mom-less or dad-less versions as equivalent in value to the nuclear family; and other attempts by powerful and wealthy countries to impose their will and ideas with regard to such issues on developing peoples.
The front line of this world war with the weapons of ideas is in the countries of Africa, where the governments of various rich nations are trying to impose their values on African peoples as a condition for receiving urgently needed health supplies, educational investments, other forms of development assistance and basic military help to end some of the continent's endemic conflicts.
In September 2015, the Bishops of Africa and Madagascar spoke out together in a powerful Common Declaration that not only shows the nature of what they're facing but the heroic resolve with which they have been resisting.
"Selfish and perverse interests," they stated, "are imposing themselves on our continent with a speed that keeps on accelerating, with unabated aggressiveness, in an ever more organized and powerfully financed manner, introducing individualism and hedonism, both of which are so foreign to what we are and want to be, into our societies. ... This [is] a terrifying resurgence of a colonialist spirit under the guise of the appealing names of liberty, equality, rights, autonomy, democratization and development. ... The agents of the civilization of death are using ambivalent language, seducing decision-makers and entire populations, in order to make them partners in the pursuit of their ideological objectives. ... They take advantage of poverty, weakness and ignorance in order to subject peoples and governments to their blackmail."
The bishops defiantly declared: "We, African Pastors, do not want Africans to be reduced to 'servile partners.' This is a new type of slavery! We want the dignity of our people to be respected. No! Africa is not a great potential market for the pharmaceutical industry of contraceptives and condoms."
The prelates described the purpose behind the ideological colonization, which has been manifested, among other ways, through the manipulation of the African Union and the coerced adoption of the Maputo Plan of Action on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights:
"These political and economic pressures have but one objective: the drastic control and reduction of the African population, the planned destruction of marriage and the family."
The bishops detailed how "condoms, contraceptives, sex education programs fabricated elsewhere, purely technical and deprived of moral content, [and] so-called 'safe abortions,' have become commodities that are more accessible to Africans than the way of delivering integral development, of which we have such a vital need." In short, they candidly declared, such programs of ideological colonization are "killing our continent."
To win any war requires, minimally, knowing that there is a war going on, who the enemy is and what strategies and weapons can defeat the enemy.
Pope Francis has been trying to awaken the Church and people of good will throughout the world to this ongoing global conceptual battle, indicating both those who are waging it and the means they are employing, and describing the respect for "incontestable natural ethical limits" necessary to withstand and defeat it.
The unanswered question is how many -- especially in the developed countries from which the ideological colonization is emanating -- will stand courageously with the Pope, with the African Bishops, and with the developing world to fight such ideologies, both domestically at their root and abroad in their poisonous fruit.
- Father Roger J. Landry is a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts, who works for the Holy See’s Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations.