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May 26, 2016

Address by Lord Brian Griffiths

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Dr. Templeton, Pina; Mrs. Heather Templeton Dill, Heather; Rabbi Lord Sacks, Jonathan; Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen. It’s my very great honor to be invited to speak on this occasion, to say something of the legacy of Sir John and to thank the John Templeton Foundation for making this event possible.

I would like to start by saying 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, innovation and investment strategy to history, education, even to 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, and I have to say, your speech reminded me, Pina, a great sense of humor as well.

He was born in 1912 in the small town of Winchester, Tennessee, attended Yale University, supported himself during the Great Depression, graduated in 1934 near the top of his class, was a Rhodes Scholar at 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, where he created some of the world’s largest and most successful international investment funds.  His strategy was “buy low, sell high” and took it to a new dimension, picking countries, industries, and companies which were hitting rock-bottom, something he called “points of maximum pessimism.”   I’m sure he would have loved being alive today.

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 as Pina said he called, “new spiritual information”. In this quest he was an unfailing optimist, a believer in progress, and a relentless questioner.

This spiritual quest was never limited to matters usually considered religious. For him this quest on the one hand included the deepest realities of human nature: Who am I?  What am I here for?  Is there more to life than material existence?  But he was also interested in what he saw as the remarkable mysteries of the physical world. 

He believed these were subjects best investigated not just through philosophy and religion but 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 ultimate reality and the importance of the divine.

Although Sir John was a Presbyterian elder he espoused what he called, “a humble approach” to theology.  He believed that there is much more to be known about the divine than through revelation.  Indeed, he predicted that science may be a gold mine for revitalizing religion in the 21st century.  He once said, “All of nature reveals something of the creator.”

Because of this you may well have concluded that Sir John’s own theological views conformed to no orthodoxy, and you would be right to do so.  He was eager 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 a very wealthy man, a multi-billionaire, he was extraordinarily humble. 

In 1972 he established the Templeton Prize as one of the world’s largest awards given to an individual.  The Prize honors a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through personal insight, scientific discovery or practical endeavor.  Its monetary value has always exceeded the Nobel Prizes which was Sir John’s way of underscoring his view that advances in spiritual understanding are no less important than in other areas of human endeavor.

Over the last 45 years, the distinguished roster of Templeton Prize Laureates as well as the judges have include representatives of the Christian faith, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism.  The Prize has been awarded to scientists, philosophers, philanthropists, theologians, writers, reformers.

What all these people have in common is a commitment to exploring the Big Questions at the core of the mandate he set for the John Templeton Foundation.  Some Prizes have been given to people who have demonstrated the transforming power of virtues such as love, forgiveness, and gratitude. Others have provided new insights into scientific and philosophical problems, difficult issues such as infinity and purpose in the cosmos.  Still others have used the analytical tools of the humanities to provide new perspectives on the spiritual dilemma of modern life.

I believe the Templeton Prize, which is why I’ve made a commitment to it, is even more relevant today than when Sir John established it. Since that time in this country and the countries of northwest Europe we have seen the privatization of religion, of faith and spirituality. Matthew Arnold expressed this so well in his poem Dover Beach, where he wrote about “the melancholy, long, withdrawing roar” of “the sea of Faith.” And he concluded:

            “And we are here as on a darkling plain

            Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight

            Where ignorant armies clash by night”

Could be a comment on almost any television ten o’clock news program.  That was written nearly 150 years ago but speaks I believe more powerfully than ever today. Because religion and faith despite the secularization of northwest Europe, are powerful forces in our world.  Sometimes for  good,   Just think of Pope Francis’ encyclical on caring for the environment, caring for creation, the growth of Christian church in China. But sometimes for ill: global terrorism and the rise of anti-Semitism. There can never have been a time when the issues which Sir John raised and which the Foundation is addressing have had greater significance than the present.

It would be remiss of me this evening if I mentioned only the legacy of Sir John Templeton. We also owe a huge debt to Jack, his son, who was a friend, his wife Pina and their children Heather and Jennifer. Jack himself was a distinguished medical doctor and head of pediatric surgery of The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.  He retired early to head up the Foundation.

He had a similar intellectual curiosity and breadth of vision of his father. While he was a person of devout Christian faith he was totally committed to exploring the insights of other faiths as well as supporting scientific research. He was a great student of history not least British history and not least Churchill, and loved the work of the Foundation to which he devoted himself unstintingly.

For those of us who support the John Templeton Foundation and the Templeton Prize I would like to say how delighted we are that Jack’s family – Pina, Heather, and Jennifer – are continuing in the footsteps of Sir John in devoting themselves to the work of the Foundation, and indeed in the footsteps of their father.

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 he has left us.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we remember and celebrate this evening the vision of Sir John Templeton – in creating this Prize and Foundation and we thank the family for taking it forward for a future generation. And to you Jonathan, Rabbi Lord Sacks – we offer our congratulations on being awarded such a prestigious honor.