As always, Mark Steyn says profound things in an amusing way. His treatment of the press reaction to John Paul II's passing is worth reading in full. But here is his conclusion:

The secularists, for example, can't forgive him for his opposition to condoms in the context of Aids in Africa. The Dark Continent gets darker every year: millions are dying, male life expectancy is collapsing and such civil infrastructure as there is seems likely to follow.

But the most effective weapon against the disease has not been the Aids lobby's 20—year promotion of condom culture in Africa, but Uganda's campaign to change behaviour and to emphasise abstinence and fidelity — i.e., the Pope's position. You don't have to be a Catholic or a "homophobe" to think that the spread of Aids is telling us something basic — that nature is not sympathetic to sexual promiscuity. If it weren't Aids, it would be something else, as it has been for most of human history.

What should be the Christian response? To accept that we're merely the captives of our appetites, like a dog in heat? Or to ask us to rise to the rank God gave us — "a little lower than the angels" but above "the beasts of the field"? In Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), the Pope wrote: "Sexuality too is depersonalised and exploited: it increasingly becomes the occasion and instrument for self—assertion and the selfish satisfaction of personal desires and instincts. Thus the original import of human sexuality is distorted and falsified, and the two meanings, unitive and procreative, inherent in the very nature of the conjugal act, are artificially separated."

Had the Pope signed on to condom distribution in Africa, he would have done nothing to reduce the spread of Aids, but he would have done a lot to advance the further artificial separation of sex, in Africa and beyond. Indeed, if you look at the New York Times's list of complaints against the Pope — "Among liberal Catholics, he was criticised for his strong opposition to abortion, homosexuality and contraception" — they all boil down to what he called sex as self—assertion.

Thoughtful atheists ought to be able to recognise that, whatever one's tastes in these areas, the Pope was on to something — that abortion et al, in separating the "two meanings" of sex and leaving us free to indulge in one while ignoring the other, have severed us almost entirely and possibly irreparably from traditional impulses, such as societal survival. John Paul II championed the "splendour of truth" not because he was rigid and inflexible, but because he understood the alternative was a dead end in every sense.

If his beloved Europe survives in any form, it will one day acknowledge that.