In Memoriam: Margaret Ogola

Two Speeches by Margaret Ogola (1958-2011)

On June 12 of this year, Google honored the late Dr. Margaret Ogola with a “Google doodle” on the Kenyan Google homepage, on what would have been her 61st birthday. Margaret Ogola is best known for her award-winning novel, The River and the Source, which follows the life of four generations of Kenyan women. She was also the Medical Director of Cottolengo Hospice for HIV & Aids orphans, for which she was given the Familias Award for Humanitarian Service at the World Congress of Families II in Geneva, Switzerland (1999). Ogola was a devout Catholic, a prominent conservative, a wife, and the mother of four children. In recognition of her devotion to the natural family, we are pleased to reprint the speech she gave in Geneva, followed by her speech at World Congress of Families I in Prague (1997).

Sex and Politics

Address to the World Congress of Families II

Geneva, Switzerland, 1999

From the dawn of consciousness, human cultures have attempted to harness and direct the potent power of transmitting life in various ways.  Most cultures clearly stipulated not only the person or persons with whom one could have relations but the very manner in which the sexual act may be done. Primitive peoples living close to nature mostly believed in a triple human presence in the world, for example:

  • The living dead—including dead ancestors who lived in the spirit world, but who retained an interest and a certain amount of power over the living.
  • The living—whose duty it was to keep alive the memory of the dead and to appease their spirits, as well as to transmit life to the unborn.
  • The unborn—whose well-being depended on the behavior of the living; thus a curse earned by the living could affect their children, leading to misery, suffering, and death.

Therefore, for example, one could not marry a relative—meaning any clan member or even a member of the maternal clan (among some tribes). To have sexual intercourse with such a person was incest—a terrible taboo which would draw almost instantaneous ancestral wrath.

Also, one did not lie with a woman who was still nursing a child.  As children were nursed for extremely long periods, this required an unusual degree of sexual continence. One was also not allowed to lie with a woman having her period. Polygamy took care of some of the sexual tension this created, but bride price ensured that a man could only afford one or two wives unless he was very wealthy.

It appears that the general instinct of humanity (standing in awe before the power of the procreative act) was to shield the sexual act from misuse; and also to shield society from the impact that the misuse of sex could unleash on a populace. For example, a child born out of wedlock was in a way removed from the three presences—that of the living dead, the living, and the yet to be born. Who could one say were his ancestors? Who would be the ancestors of his children? From whom would he inherit land?

The Judeo-Christian and Muslim influence ensured for a time that the idea that the relationship between a man and a woman was to a certain degree sacred (a taboo as the African would say) persisted for awhile in newly converted African communities.

However by the late 1960s this ideal of sex between only men and women committed to each other in the bond of marriage began to come apart. This was true in other cultures in the West and in the East.

Once it began, the collapse of the ideal of the sacred nature of sex was rapid, resulting in children being born out of wedlock, marital breakdown, abandonment of children and the elderly, who used to be held in great esteem, and of course an explosive increase in sexually transmitted disease of every imaginable kind.

What happened to lead to this massive collapse of an almost universal ideal? I put forward several suggestions:

  • Contraception: Thanks to contraceptives and their worldwide marketing, most people could get away with infidelity and premarital sex, but deception of course quietly destroys relationships.
  • The demystification of sex: Sex was no longer seen as a wonderful and sacred gift; nor the power to beget children as anything very special. Sex was demystified through: 1) Value-free sex education based entirely on how pregnancy and disease could be avoided. No morality or responsibility to anyone is mentioned, except mutual momentary consent. 2) Planet Hollywood, the worldwide dissemination of a culture of pleasure as the ultimate desirable good. Movie figures committing adultery, en-gaged in overt sexual play, teenagers necking in the back of cars, and pure pornography can now be beamed electronically to all corners of the world.
  • An entirely individualistic philosophy of me and I: Traditional concepts of loyalty and of the greater good of the family or society no longer exist. Divorce is cast in an attractive light, while perseverance, dialogue, or even compromise is made to appear oppressive and reactionary.  Children are fought over or sacrificed to the selfish whims of their parents.
  • A worldwide assumption of a small family norm: Children have a stabilizing effect on their parents’ relationships. Each child is one more reason to try harder to make a marriage work. However, large numbers of families in the world now only have one or two children. This is called responsible parenthood—a true misnomer if ever there was one.
  • Extraordinary expectations: Women especially consume soap operas by the gallonful. Husbands are supposed to perform like a combination of Romeo, Fearless Fang, Casanova, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Many men simply retreat in self protection.  Women likewise feel compelled to remain forever young and to compete with every half-naked girl they are bombarded with in every advertisement and magazine cover.
  • Loss of the sense of a Deity to whom all are ultimately answerable for their actions.  People can therefore excuse the most irresponsible actions, and the pursuit of the most fantastic fantasies.

The beauty of sexual love lies in the fact that it is “love” —i.e. a decisive act of the mature will to love and to cherish, even when things get tough; yes, even when the spouse proves sometimes to be less worthy. He who loves in a mature way will then rise to the full stature of his potential as a human being—for when we love truly, the good comes back to us.

Sexual technique, prowess, the relentless search for orgasm (as if for the Holy grail), all sink into oblivion when confronted with the splendor of unconditional love.

Reaffirming the Goodness of Life:

Address to the World Congress of Families I

Prague, Czech Republic, 1997

Man, especially man close to nature, instinctively recognizes certain facts which are self-evident in nature:

  • That life is, unquestionably, a good thing.
  • That new life is a great gift to be desired and, when granted, to be cherished, protected, and allowed to flourish.

These facts run deep in human nature and one needs to do violence to the mental process in order to reverse such universal beliefs. The worst violence to man is often done by forces arrayed in the garb of benevolence and philanthropy, just as sweet-smelling, nice-looking poison is the most dangerous.

In 60 or 70 short years a hydra–headed phenomenon which goes under various euphemisms, such as Planned Parenthood, reproductive health, and family planning, has appeared in the remotest villages and has succeeded in drastically changing the outlook of millions of people all over the world, causing them, contrary to nature and reason, contrary to their deepest instincts, to believe:

  • That life is not such a good thing.
  • That new life in particular is so great a threat to individual and community well-being that it has to be suppressed by all possible means, violently if necessary.
  • The pernicious concept of the “quality of life” is now widespread, putting mere fallible man in the position of deciding for his neighbor whether he has enough “quality” to be allowed to stay alive. Another equally pernicious concept is that of “the wanted child,” which allows one child to be brought into the world because of a mere whim while another child, already in existence, is destroyed without mercy because the mother does not “want” it.

Doctors and nurses mouth these quality-of-life and family-planning platitudes, and who can blame them? These are the unquestioned dogmas of medical schools the world over. Formerly revered as saviors of life, they are now up to their armpits in fetal blood. More frightening still is the collapse of the last bastion—manned by the spiritual shepherds of the people. One seminarian put it in a nutshell when he asked me what we can do to help women not have all these “excessive” children. Needless to say, I saw stars. Apart from anything else, someone must have been willing to have some excess in order to bring him to being and maturity. Caught between a rock and a hard place, women are the victims of the new anti-life philosophy. Massive corruption is forgotten, while the collapse of entire economies is blamed on high birth rates, even in countries where poverty can be directly traced to a paucity of people. So women are being sterilized, forced to have abortions, fitted with foreign devices (IUDs), implanted with poisonous drugs—all in the great march toward zero population growth. It is as if the whole human race is convulsed in a manic hatred against itself.

Four Keys to Making Life Better for Families

Having explored the roots of this self-hatred we must ask: What are the means of possible intervention? Perhaps the most important thing is to recognize that almost a whole generation is lost—poisoned to the core, sterilized, or otherwise maimed both mentally and physically. Nonetheless, the following may be useful.

First, the importance of personal example can neither be equaled nor replaced. The Holy Father may write ten masterpieces all in the line of Evangelium Vitae, but until fathers and mothers of families put their lives and their faith to the test, his shall remain a lonely voice in the wilderness. I was personally moved to tears during the 2nd Pan American Conference on Family in Toronto in May, 1996, when I saw all those men and women with eight or more children in the middle of a notoriously child-hostile country. When asked to give a report on the conference, I forgot all the brilliant speeches that had been made and could only talk with awe about those brave people and their beautiful children. The best way to show the beauty of a large family is to have one and prove that it works, though it takes guts and hard work—and self-sacrifice. I don’t see the mother of a large family indulging in expensive clothes and gadgets, and no doubt she soon discovers how useful a pair of little hands can be around the house.

Second, there has to be a massive and organized attempt to rescue and reform the thinking of young people today. My 15-year-old daughter, who previously had no time for marriage or children, especially small ones, recently changed dramatically into a great admirer of children—not to mention an enthusiastic babysitter for all her aunts and our neighbor. What happened? Victoria Gillick (a British mother of ten) came to her school and had a talk with the girls. Among other things, the girls were pleasantly surprised to see that one could have ten children and still look as good, if not better, than women who have had few or no children.

Third, though I am no economist and my faith in politicians died a natural death a long while back, I believe that political will is essential in at least making things a little easier for families, especially in education and health care. In the developing world, encouraging the informal sector, especially in the growth of small industries not requiring huge machines to sustain, is of great benefit to family providers since in these types of industries the financial overhead is not paralyzing. Agriculture as a major activity and one directed towards home consumption rather than towards cash crops for export is essential. Whole nations with the capacity of being self-sufficient in food production live on the constant verge of starvation because all the best land is devoted to cash crops—coffee, tea, sugarcane, pyrethrum, rubber, etc. The slightest sign of destabilization or of a prolonged drought is enough to make them bring out their begging bowls, evincing a dependency that is not necessary at all.

Fourth, doctors could improve on their tarnished image by telling the truth: namely, the biologically self-evident fact that having babies is not a health hazard to be undertaken only by women with a suicidal streak, but rather is a normal, self-regulated activity of a woman’s body which ceases by itself at about the age of 45. Within this time a woman’s body is designed to hold and nurse babies at intervals of about two years quite safely. With the tremendous advances in obstetric care in recent times, childbearing entails practically no danger in the great majority of cases. The true meaning of the concept of “safe motherhood” should be brought back: It means bringing a pregnant woman safely to the birth of a healthy baby. It does not mean contraception and abortion. That is “no motherhood,” not “safe motherhood.”