Do Christians suffer more from leprosy than do Muslims and Jews?
We in the business world can gain a lot from the study of religion. For example, we all know that Muslims don’t eat pork. The question is, why? The answer is that Muslims don’t eat pork because Jews don’t eat pork. We know – as much as we can know anything about religious figures of undocumentable historicity like Moses and Jesus and Mohammad – that Mohammad’s first wife was Jewish, and some have posited that, like Jesus, the Prophet himself was Jewish, which may explain, for some, why Mohammad originally prayed toward Jerusalem, not Mecca.
The next logical question to ask is, of course, why Jews don’t eat pork? The answer is that prior to the Exodus the biblical Jews came from Egypt, where the Pharonic priests believed that pigs carried leprosy. Because of this, Egypt got rid of both swine and swineherds (they attempted to replace pigs with the domestication of hyenas, which didn’t work out, but that is a different story….). As it happens, while armadillos carry Hansen’s disease, pigs don’t. This means that about a third of the world doesn’t eat pork, for reasons may have been reasonable to people who believed the world was flat, but that don’t really stand up to the light of contemporary science.
As an interesting historical side note, Christianity, more influenced in the time of Constantine by the Mediterranean than the Mid-East, suffered from no such misconception, and did not disallow the consumption of pork. Even so, Mediterranean Christians used olive oil rather than butter because they thought butter carried leprosy. Although the Church did not see fit to institutionalize this as part of the religion itself, you should, germ theory or no, still expect to get a dish of olive oil, rather than butter, when you go to many Italian and Greek restaurants.
What can we bring to business from this? Mostly we should learn not to confuse faith, conviction, tradition, and sincerity with correctness. Knowledge evolves, and, short term or long term, when exercising due diligence we should constantly question our every belief and assumption, in case they turn out to be wrong.
An obvious corollary is that appropriate exercise of due diligence means that we should always actively seek dissenting views, in case our underlying assumptions are wrong. The fact is that if our understanding of the causes of a problem is wrong, our solution will also be wrong, and the measures we take to solve the problem may well make things worse. As H. L. Mencken put it, “For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong.”
Closely related to faith is trust. Faith exist absent facts, trust exist absent proof, thus we should learn that the exercise of due diligence should not be cut short just because of our assumptions of trust. As an example, theft of critical information is almost always done by people you trust. There is a natural tendency to want to avoid investigating those we trust, and a suspicion of those who are willing to do so. This explains why members of internal affairs departments in law enforcement agencies, and those who look for moles in intelligence agencies, are often despised by the rest of their professional community.
Finally, we should not assume that problems we encounter are unique problems, rather than systemic problems. It was a systemic problem that led to the series of failures and bad decisions that allowed the shortage of flu vaccine this year. Not that unique problems don’t occasionally occur. As an example, some time ago a supermarket chain had a number of fires in its warehouses. It was prudently assumed that there was some sort of systemic problem with fire safety, and appropriate measures were taken throughout the warehouses. As it turned out, organized crime was trying to shake down the company, but the extortion requests were not making it to senior management.
Oh, and no, we checked, and it appears that Christians don’t suffer more from leprosy than do Muslims or Jews.