Doctor Wells, Doctor Templeton, Monsignor Professor Halík, Ladies and Gentlemen. It’s my very great pleasure as well as honor to be invited to address you on the occasion of the award of the 2014 Templeton Prize to Monsignor Professor Tomáš Halík, and to thank the John Templeton Foundation for making this possible.
I would like to say a few words about the man whose vision has brought us together this evening, namely Sir John Templeton. I had the good fortune to know Sir John well, and had many conversations with him on subjects ranging from the global economy and investment strategy to history, education, and even theology. He was a man who combined an extraordinary breadth of vision, intellectual curiosity, and professional competence. Not only that, but he had a generosity of spirit as well as a personal modesty. Although he pioneered financial investment with huge success, his greatest desire was that we might all understand more about our spiritual nature as human beings, something which he summarized as the pursuit of “Spiritual Progress.” And which he felt could be furthered through discoveries through research and through science, and it is because of this that he established the Prize that is being awarded for the 42nd year today – the Templeton Prize.
John Marks Templeton was born in 1912 in the small town of Winchester, Tennessee. He attended Yale University, supported himself during the Great Depression, graduated in 1934 near the top of his class, was a Rhodes Scholar to Balliol College, Oxford, and graduated from there with a law degree in 1936.
He started his career on Wall Street in 1938 and entered the mutual funds industry in 1954. He created some of the world’s largest and most successful international investment funds. He employed a strategy of “buy low, sell high” but he took it into a new dimension, picking countries, industries, and companies which were hitting rock-bottom, something he called “points of maximum pessimism.”
However, his interests were never confined simply to the financial world. He devoted the second half of his long life to promoting the discovery of what he called “new spiritual information”. In this he was an unfailing optimist, a believer in progress and a relentless questioner. The spiritual quest was never limited just to the individual. He insisted that the wider context of the Templeton Prize should always be about the empowerment of the “Mind and the Spirit” of others.
For him, this term encompassed progress in understanding not only matters which would usually be considered religious, but also the deepest realities of human nature and the physical world. These he believed were subjects best investigated by using the tools of modern science. He was convinced that our knowledge of the universe was still very limited. And his great hope was to encourage all of humanity to be more open-minded about the possible nature of human reality and the divine.
Although Sir John was a Presbyterian, he espoused what he called “a humble approach” to theology. He believed that there is much more to be known about the divine than simply through revelation or present-day theological discussion. Instead, he predicted that scientific revelations may be a gold mine for revitalizing religion in the 21st century. He once said, “All of nature reveals something of the creator.”
And I remember on many occasions listening to him saying that and knowing that for him these were not just words but something that he believed in deeply.
So, in 1972, he established the Templeton Prize as one of the world’s largest annual awards given to an individual. The Prize honors a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming the spiritual dimension of life, whether through personal insight, scientific discovery or practical endeavors. Its monetary value has always exceeded that of the Nobel Prizes. This was Sir John’s way of underscoring his view that advances in the spiritual sphere are no less important than those in other areas of human endeavor.
In Sir John’s words, the Prize aims to identify “entrepreneurs of the spirit”. Such persons are outstanding individuals who have devoted their talents to expanding our vision of human purpose and ultimate reality, and to seeking progress in our understanding of the Divine.
Over the last 40 years, the distinguished roster of Templeton Prize Laureates includes representatives of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. The Prize has been awarded to scientists, philosophers, theologians, members of the clergy, philanthropists, writers, reformers, and for work which has ranged from the creation of new religious orders and social movements to humanistic scholarship and to research about the origins of the universe.
But what they all have in common is this commitment to exploring the types of Big Questions – and he loved that expression — which at the core of the John Templeton Foundation’s mandate. All have been seekers of wisdom, humbled by the complexity of the human condition, determined to chart a path forward with their ideas and their deeds. Some Templeton Prizes have been given to people who have demonstrated the transformative power of virtues such as love, forgiveness, gratitude, and creativity. Still others have provided new insights into scientific or philosophical problems relating to difficult issues such as infinity, ultimate reality, the purpose in the cosmos. Still others have used the analytical tools of the humanities to provide new perspectives on the spiritual dilemmas of modern life.
Because of this, you may well have concluded that Sir John’s own theological views conformed to no orthodoxy, and you’d be right to do so. He was eager, as he made it very plain, to learn from all of the world’s faith traditions. He said, “What I’m financing through the Prize is humility. I want people to realize that you shouldn’t think you know it all.”
These words made a huge impact on me because what I especially noticed about him was that he lived it. Although he was a very wealthy man, he was extraordinarily humble.
In this regard, one of Sir John’s many great talents was his ability to introduce new ideas and make suggestions without in any way being antagonistic to the person or to the ideas he may have been challenging. Something not common in the academic world, of which I was a member. His constant challenging of ideas – always made with an extraordinarily light touch – was never adversarial but always done in a dialectical manner.
Sir John died in 2008, at the age of 95. Tributes from around the world recognized the breadth of his career and vision, and the extraordinarily generous legacy which he has left to us.
The Economist at the time observed that Sir John had revered thrift and had a horror of debt. But he made an exception for love, which he asserted actually needed greater spending. For him, you could give away too much land and too much money, Sir John said, but never enough love, and the real return was immediate: more love.
Ladies and Gentlemen, may I invite you this evening to remember this vision of Sir John Templeton – a man of compassion and unlimited love. As we honor Monsignor Professor Tomáš Halík, let us join together uniting, humble-minded, in John Templeton’s commitment to Mind, Spirit and manifest Love. Thank you, very much.