Your Royal Highness, Dear Friends:
In every man’s life there are high peaks and low troughs. For me, this is an occasion which I may humbly claim as a ‘high peak’. It is a privilege beyond measure to share in this ceremony when Her Royal Highness presents the Award of the 14th Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion. This occasion could not be celebrated in a more fitting place than in this ancient Guildhall.
Like the Nobel Prizes, the Templeton Prize has justly earned world-wide recognition. The recipient is always a person who has put humanity in his or her debt.
Significantly the people selected have invariably been so committed to the tasks they have felt called to pursue, that reward for their work is remote from their mind.
But, if I may say so without embarrassing Mr. John Templeton, the world is fortunate that God inspired him to set up this prize. Across the universe there are people who have felt the challenge of the examples set by those chosen for the Templeton Prize.
History records that in every generation God has spoken to the world through committed people. John Templeton is one such person. Indeed, if he were not the actual benefactor of this Prize, he would be an ideal candidate to be its recipient. As it is, he must be aware that the Templeton Award has strengthened the endeavours of those who labour in each of the respective world faiths.
This Award is founded upon a belief that God is in each of the world religions. For me, God has revealed Himself supremely in the person of Jesus Christ. God Almighty cannot be limited either by creed or by national boundaries. His power and His love cannot be measured by human intellect.
Allow me a personal reminiscence. Two years ago I attended the Royal Marsden Hospital in Chelsea, London, for radium treatment for cancer in my throat. A group of about a dozen of us would usually take our turn in the radium theatre. One day, after looking around at my fellow-sufferers whom I had got to know, I commented, ‘Isn’t it remarkable? You are probably Hindu (to an Indian lady who confirmed my assertion), you are surely Muslim (an Iraqui citizen), this lady next to me is Jewish, and I am a Christian believer. We are all saying our prayers to the same God, but we address Him differently. Aren’t people foolish to fight each other over the religion that they hold?’ We all agreed. One might say that we would agree because of our desperate plight. Yet the truth is that faith proves itself in time of trouble. That is when we draw on the reservoir of strength that has been stored when all was well.
As a Christian believer, I find no intellectual difficulty in accepting the miraculous. I do not pretend to be able to interpret the power of God. To every generation He reveals more of His purposes both through consecrated living like that of Mother Teresa and also through the dedicated study of men like Dr. James McCord, whom Professor Tom Torrance has described as ‘one of the very few great figures in the world of religious education today.’
History’s debt to the enquiring mind is too great for words to describe. The urge to discover and to know has been responsible for mankind’s progress through the ages. A closed mind is a menace to progress. It puts a full stop where there should be a comma. The truth is that mankind has always been prodded and pushed forward by the enquiring and the curious. This is particularly true in religion, for from the very beginning of recorded history people have wondered about their origin and their destiny. Equally from earliest times people have responded to the deep instinct to worship. The Psalmist who pondered on the sheer majesty of creation and who was driven to cry ‘What is man, that Thou art mindful of him?’ was neither the first nor the last philosopher to be overwhelmed by the insignificance of individuals in contrast to the majesty of our Creator. Of course the Psalmist wondered about the destiny of mankind. Through the unfolding centuries men in every faith have asked Why? How? When?
What mean these things?
Ritual differs; the name of the Deity differs in different faiths, but the urge to worship is found in every nation and amongst every people. Tyrants often persecute worshippers, but tyranny is never able to extinguish the faith. Every world faith has experienced its dark days, its testing times, but even the corroding years have not been able to extinguish the light of belief.
What a man believes makes him what he is. Faith motivates his standards and enriches his relationships. It provides courage beyond compare. The saints who held on to their faith in the concentration camps of the Nazis, like those who endure persecution today in so many parts of the world, are living proof that belief decides conduct. The half believer is not the man of achievement. History’s debt is overwhelmingly to the convinced and to the seeker.
The longer I live, the more I realize that our religion is our most compelling spur to real living. The urge for power, in politics, in industry and in commerce, is a significant influence in every nation’s life. But for the individual, it is possible to achieve power in politics, in industry and in commerce and yet not find the peace that is beyond price.
Those who believe in Jesus Christ, as the Son of God know that love is the only real spur that gives true victory in life. Where love exists, no sacrifice is too much to make; no task is too demanding or too demeaning to undertake. It is love of our fellow creatures that ensures respect for the rights and dignity of other people. Our religion ensures that every person is a V.I.P. No one is unimportant in the sight of God, our Father. This belief is the cornerstone on which our fathers built our Parliament and democracy.
We rely on intellectual and spiritual giants like Dr. James McCord in his Centre of Theological Inquiry to help us to a greater understanding of religion — ours, and that of other people too.
It therefore gives me great pleasure to invite Your Royal Highness Princess Alexandra to make the presentation of the 1986 Templeton Prize to Dr. James McCord.