Your Grace, Ladies and Gentlemen.
In the late 1960s, an incredible man had a vision – a vision of a world where religious and spiritual enlightenment are honoured above all other areas of achievement – a world where God cannot be ignored regardless of the attempts at suppression by man-made governments – a world where God’s love for all people is at least acknowledged, if not primarily in men’s hearts, minds and lives.
The world in which Sir John Templeton experienced 22 years ago was quite different. There was a pervasive pre-occupation with material things as well as an emphasis on progress in the areas of science, medicine, space and technology. His friends, well read and well travelled, were excited about each new discovery and each new scientific advancement. In addition, their animated discussion involved the arts, literature, politics and peace. Sorely lacking, however, was any mention of spiritual subjects. Perhaps this was not surprising as spiritual advancements were seldom considered newsworthy.
Astronomy, physics and biology were revealing almost inconceivable dimensions of life in the vastness of space and the complexity of the living cell. To Sir John, this meant that God was infinitely wiser, more awesome, and more powerful than man had ever dreamed. In light of all his new knowledge about God’s creation, he felt that our knowledge, experience, and love of God Himself must be expanded. As a member of the Foreign Missions Board of the Presbyterian Church, he was privileged to hear about a small number of the dedicated leaders and inspired pioneers who were making significant contributions in this direction. But the world was not hearing about these advancements, or they were being overshadowed by other priorities.
As a result of acquiring this information. Sir John candidly evaluated his own priorities and realized that a disproportionate amount of his own time and attention was directed to concerns that were scarcely related to his spiritual progress. After making the decision to set his priorities in order, he cast about for a mechanism which would enhance progress in spiritual knowledge as well as communicate the exciting results to the world. Into this milieu came the vision that has become the dominant force in this life.
Gradually the vision crystallized. The Nobel Prizes are given for outstanding scientific and cultural achievement; the Pulitzer Prizes are awarded for excellence in journalism. These prestigious awards communicated to the world the importance of the achievements made in these areas. But there was no comparable international honour for the recognition of progress made in the knowledge and love of God. At that time, the Nobel Prize was worth £34,000. If there was a religious prize forever more valuable than the Nobel Prize, it would bring not only financial help but also the universal attention due the recipients. In this way the people of the world would become progressively aware of new and exciting developments in our understanding and experience of God.
Initially, Sir John thought to write the provisions for such a prize into his will. But as he observed the turmoil of the ‘60s, he realized that the need was pre-eminent. He sought the advice of a number of Christian leaders over the next year and a half, as the vision was carefully and prayerfully transformed into The Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion. The Templeton Prize is not a prize for saintliness or mere good works or endeavours on behalf of social justice. It is a prize which is awarded for original, fruitful projects that increase man’s love of God or that leads to deeper understanding and breakthroughs in religious knowledge. Its stated objective is to stimulate the knowledge and love of God on the part of people everywhere, for it is imperative that progress in religion accelerates as progress evolves in other disciplines.
In addition to calling attention to those of any faith who may be instrumental in widening of deepening humanity’s knowledge, understanding, and love of God, the prize seeks to focus attention on the diversity of present-day religious thought and work. Sir John points out that the most useful, most fruitful, and most helpful people are the ones whose faith is steadfast and unwavering. We can learn more about God and grow further spiritually by carefully listening to what people of all faiths are saying and by observing their works and lives.
Since its inception in 1973, there have been eighteen recipients of the Templeton Prize. They have represented more than ten countries and several of the world’s major religions. Each year the prize has gained in prominence and recognition. Each year brings the fulfillment of the vision closer to realization.
The achievements of this year’s two prize recipients not only represent another step forward, but also, epitomize the very diversity of present-day spiritual thought and work that Sir John had hoped to demonstrate; yet their distinctive contribution might have passed us unheralded in our busy world except for the vision and energies of one courageous and incredible man. This man is unique. It is because of Sir John Templeton, my father, that we are here today to honour God through the recognition of the life and works of both Mr. Amte and Professor Birch.