Dan Brown’s ‘Angels and Demons’ is a suspense thriller novel playing out in grandiose scale a battle royale between ‘Science’ and ‘Religion’.  In the climactic scene, where the protagonist Cardinal Mortati gives an impassioned speech describing the philosophical issues behind this central conflict of the story, he paints the dichotomy in terms that parallel the duality between Leadership and Management.

In Brown’s portrayal, ‘Science’ is the ‘Leader’ and ‘Religion’ is the ‘Manager’ in the complex business of humankind.  Science is the driver for ever newer, ever better, ever more upside opportunity to improve the lot of the world.  Religion is the protector against injustice, against abuse, against all of the downside risks that could befall people through the collateral damage of these breakthroughs. 

In the excerpts of the speech below, I have quoted only the phrases that highlight each leader/manager characteristic.

Describing Science’s role as ‘Leader’ in the world to achieve ever more upside…

“Science is the new God.  Medicine, electronic communication, space travel, genetic manipulation…these are the miracles about which we now tell our children.  These are the miracles we herald as proof that science will bring us answers… Science, you say, will save us.”

Describing Religion’s role as ‘Manager’ in the world to guard against the myriad downsides…

“Since the days of Galileo, the church has tried to slow the relentless march of science, sometimes with misguided means, but always with benevolent intention… Promises of efficiency and simplicity have bred nothing but pollution and chaos… Who is this God science?  Who is the God who offers his people power but no moral framework to tell you how to use that power?  What kind of God gives a child fire but does not warn the child of its dangers?  The language of science comes with no signposts about good and bad.  Science textbooks tell us how to create a nuclear reaction, and yet they contain no chapter asking us if it is a good or bad idea… You clone living creatures, but it is the church reminding us to consider the moral implication of our actions… Whether or not you believe in God, you must believe in this.  When we as a species abandon our trust in the power greater than us, we abandon our sense of accountability.  Faiths, all faiths, are admonitions that there is something we cannot understand, something to which we are accountable.  With faith, we are accountable to each other, to ourselves, and to a higher truth”

His final comments about ‘accountability’ are classic stuff of ‘Managers’.  The ‘upside’ in business is the promise of new revenues and returns that the Leader pursues, but the Manager who minimises the downside risk diligently ‘accounts’ for the true short term and long term costs of that return. 

A curious perspective to see the balance of Leadership/Management, Opportunity/Risk, Upside/Downside portrayed beyond the environment of business and into the realm of broader social institutions.

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