By Dennis Soron
Regional councillor Andy Petrowski ignited controversy last month when his efforts at damage-control over an offensive tweet eventually forced him into a public defense of his view that same-sex marriage is incompatible with Christian morality. Critics might argue that Christians of his stamp exhibit a hypocritical selection-bias regarding the authority of the Bible, cherry-picking obscure passages that confirm their views about homosexuality, while routinely ignoring other archaic demands that are clearly at odds with modern life. Of course, we have no reason to believe that Petrowski (pictured left) is less than consistent in his faith. Given the way he treats regional staff, political opponents, and participants in online discussion boards, it is plausible that he engages in such biblically-approved activities as stoning adulterers, beating slaves and shunning menstruating women.
Nevertheless, attempting to remain faithful to the Word of God must generate some cognitive dissonance for religious conservatives like Petrowski, who tend to be traditionalists on social issues but champions of a laissez-faire approach to economic life. As any perusal of the Bible can confirm, the divine hand of the Lord often obstructs the invisible hand of the market, impeding growth and profit in many ways. Reviling homosexuality, for instance, can keep us from capitalizing on its economic spin-offs. As Richard Florida has argued, a region’s ability to attract and retain gay people is a key driver of rising property values and the revitalization of struggling urban areas.
Given that councillors like Petrowski have been elected to serve our earthly interests, they need to be forthright about what impact their religious commitments might have upon the Niagara economy. Does staying in God’s favour carry a price-tag for local taxpayers and consumers? Is the Good Book good for local business, or do its edicts lead to excessive heaven-down regulation and gossamer-fringed red-tape?
At first glance, it would seem that even the most meddlesome Nanny State could not compete with the scriptures in terms of restrictions placed upon certain goods and services, from mixed-fiber clothing to haircuts. While some restrictions, such as those around the consumption of weasel meat, are rather painless, others would put a strain on the local economy. The Bible’s proscription against tattoos, for example, would eliminate the majority of commercial activity in downtown St. Catharines. Its prohibition against shell-fish might create a spike in demand for Lake Erie perch, but this would be offset by dwindling attendance at Niagara Oysterfest and declining McLobster sales. The ban on the permanent sale of land, as set forth in Leviticus, would deal a severe blow to the local real estate market, and would obviously not be warmly welcomed by Petrowski’s developer friends.
As troublesome as such curbs on commerce may seem, other aspects of the Bible are decidedly more market-friendly. Its breezy acceptance of slavery, for instance, not only bodes well for local whip and shackle producers, it points the way to the low-cost, compliant, non-unionized workforce that many conservatives assure us can give Niagara a competitive advantage in today’s global economy. While killing people for working on the Sabbath may pose short-term staffing challenges for local retailers, restaurants and call-centers, it also carries potential benefits – including reduced unemployment, increased demand for interment and funeral services, and less pressure on employers to provide service sector workers with a “living” wage.
Unfortunately, the business-friendly parts of the Bible tend to be outweighed by its volume of quasi-socialist claptrap about loving thy neighbour, tending to the poor and infirm, shunning material excess, imposing duties upon the powerful, redistributing wealth, and so on. Luckily, many religious conservatives have developed strategies for dissociating their moral sensibility from the Bible’s antiquated ideals about compassion, mutual care and economic justice, allowing them to focus more intently upon its still-fresh teachings about homosexuality, masturbation, virginity, animal sacrifice and graven images.
Still, important questions remain for politicians like Petrowski. Can a commitment to biblical morality remain safely confined to shaming marginalized social groups by denying them full cultural acceptance and policing their personal behaviour? Or does it risk spilling over into economic life, imperiling our cherished market freedoms and material living standards? The stakes in this debate are high; indeed, if the Numbers don’t add up, we may very well end up in Lamentations over the Exodus of jobs and investment from Niagara.