Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Remains of St. Paul?

Here's a fascinating story out of the Vatican:

Vatican archaeologists have identified a sarcophagus under Rome's second-largest basilica as the tomb believed to contain the remains of the Apostle Paul. But they still don't know what's inside, experts said on Monday.

The Vatican does hope to be able to examine it more closely and maybe even to open it. But Vatican archaeologist Giorgio Filippi said the researchers' first concern now is to free it from centuries of plastering and debris, in the hope of finding other clues on the sarcophagus itself.

Then they will look for ways of getting inside. "We cannot make a hypothesis, it is useless to ask if there is the body of a woman inside, of two men, of three men or whatever. It is useless to ask because we have not seen inside. The sarcophagus has never been opened," said Filippi.

According to tradition, St Paul, also known as the apostle of the Gentiles, was beheaded in Rome in the 1st century. The sarcophagus, which dates from AD 390 and is buried under the main altar of St Paul's Outside the Walls Basilica, has been the subject of an extended excavation that began in 2002 and ended last month.

"This is not a discovery for us. We know and we have always known this sarcophagus contains St Paul's tomb." Cardinal Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo, head of the basilica, told reporters. The project's original purpose was to make the sarcophagus, buried under layers of plaster and further hidden by an iron grate, more visible to pilgrims and tourists visiting the basilica.

Work in the small area under the altar, to clear the debris and insert a transparent glass floor for better viewing, unearthed new evidence of the authenticity of the sarcophagus, said Filippi, who headed the project. "There are no doubts that this is St Paul's tomb. We do not know what it contains, we have never explored it, but at least pilgrims can now see it," Cardinal Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo added.

I don't know how they know it's Paul's sarcophagus, but if they're correct about that it would be an astonishing find.

Big Government Or Conservation

A friend once asked why I don't like Big Government. Government does many good things, he opined, and we need more of it. Well, I don't think so. There are lots of reasons why bloated governments are undesirable in themselves and some reasons why they are undesirable as symptoms or side effects of forces which are doing harm to our nation. One example of the latter is that Big Government is a necessary enabler to forces currently degrading our natural heritage. Let me explain.

I'm deeply saddened by the loss of our fields and forests and natural places which are being gobbled up by developers at a gluttonous pace. I believe that one of our obligations as stewards of the earth is to protect our open spaces and wildlife habitat and to preserve them for future generations to enjoy.

This is a futile enterprise, however, as long as our population continues to expand. People need jobs and places to live and thus more and more land will need to be paved over and dug up and open spaces will become increasingly more scarce as we continue to grow.

Conservation is incompatible in the long term with population growth and thus if our natural beauty is to be saved we have to limit the size of our national population which means reproducing at the replacement level of approximately 2.1 births per woman and limiting immigration to a few thousand people per year.

So what does this have to do with Big Government? Government grows as entitlements grow. A vast entitlement system requires a vast bureaucracy to administer it. The most obese of our entitlements are social security and medicare. As the baby boomers grow into their golden years the demands on these entitlements will expand rapidly. In order to continue funding them at present levels we must expand the size of our wage-earning population, which is one reason why both Republicans and Democrats are loath to do anything about immigration reform. They see immigrants as the solution to the social security crisis looming on the near horizon.

Native-born Americans are reproducing just about at the replacement rate which means that we must import tens, or even hundreds, of thousands of new taxpayers every year to insure that revenues will continue to meet the needs of the older generation who will demand all the benefits promised to them.

As the population expands, however, it puts enormous stress on both wildlife and the land. These are subjected to cumulative insults that gradually diminish the diversity of the former and the quality and quantity of the latter. Housing, malls, roads all consume vast quantities of acreage every year in this country, permanently wiping out habitat and scenic beauty that nourish the human soul.

A better solution from a conservationist point of view would be to limit immigration, raise the age of eligibility for entitlements, cut back on some benefits, and thus reduce the size of the bureacracy that manages the system, but these measures no politician who values his or her job has the audacity to propose. The easy way out, which is too often the preferred egress for our political leaders, is to maintain the entitlement status quo, thus keeping government big and keeping the population growing, which means opening the borders to anybody who wants in. Thus our numbers burgeon and more and more of our natural lands get turned into asphalt and endless seas of housing developments to accomodate the growth.

It all seems terribly myopic, but to those who think only in terms of political expediency and economic profit the beauty of our countryside is an expendable resource there to be exploited.