I would like to add my words of welcome to you today as we honour Sir Sigmund Sternberg and his yet unfinished task in making religion the liberating force in the 21st Century.
I would also like, on behalf of the trustees of the Templeton Foundation, to pay a special tribute to the Government of the Bahamas and His Excellency, Mr. Maurice Moore, the Permanent Representative to the United Nations, and the staff of the United Nations, for their willingness and help in making this ceremony here today possible. Since its inception, the administrative office of the Prize has been in the Bahamas.
My thanks are also due to Mr. Maurice Strong for chairing the ceremony and to Dr. Powell and Rabbi James Rudin for offering prayers. In particular, I, like you all, greatly appreciate having the Newark Boys Chorus here to render the music under the direction of Donald Morris.
The diversity of those participating in today’s ceremony is epitomized by the venue. In these halls, the nations of the world meet on an almost daily basis to seek ways for the betterment of humankind, and at the same time seek to ensure that the mistakes of what is now history will not be repeated.
From the beginning, the Prize for progress in Religion has had, at its core, the vision that progress in spirituality and in new spiritual information is more important than any other human endeavour. Progress in science and technology has produced an enormous contribution to our material well-being. From these material advances, people are eating better due to greater productivity in agriculture; people are healthier and are living longer due to advances in preventive medicine and curative medicine; thousands and thousands of new productive enterprises are being started every day resulting in millions of new jobs in all corners of the globe; and, we are exploring new frontiers of our planet and the universe at large in ways that could only be dreamed of in the past.
But none of these material advances touch us at the core of who we are and why we are here. Religious faith and practice are at the core of how we live and how we relate to one another and to our Creator God. Most of life’s problems today are not ones of material want or the lack of the wherewithal to meet our physical needs. Most of our problems are of our own making. These include problems in communication, lack of tolerance, a failure to forgive and a failure to emphasize what we share together as children of God.
The purpose of the Templeton Prize is threefold. The first is to recognize a living person who has done something unique and original to increase humankind’s love and/or understanding of God. Second, the Prize is intended to inspire others to learn about the work of each recipient and to undertake similar or new spiritually-related endeavours. Third, the Prize is designed to encourage a mindset in which the world as a whole looks in expectation to progress in spirituality and spiritual information. As we pursue this program in identifying unique contributors to better understanding God, His love and His purpose for us, we seek to embrace humility, open mindedness and a celebration of diversity.
Since the origin of the Prize, there has been a remarkable diversity in the work of the various recipients which resulted in their recognition. In the 26 years of the Prize, including this year, there have been 28 different recipients. Eight recipients were recognized for their contribution to breaching the barriers between science and religion. Three recipients were evangelists. Another category of recipients is that of spiritual servants. Finally, the biggest category is for those who have made their contributions in the area of peace and freedom. It is this category which we celebrate today as we honour the 1998 winner of the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, Sir Sigmund Sternberg.
Sir Sigmund has pioneered and proved inter-religious dialogue as a new force for reconciliation and the understanding of God. He has pointed to the need for a much more effective holistic cooperative work for peace and justice, for dynamic ethics and renewed spirituality. He is bringing his vision of “Shalom” to make religion not a constraint, but a liberating and reconciling force.
The progressive and visionary thinking of Sir Sigmund, tempered by his experience as a businessman and as a successful mediator in inter-religious tensions, leads one to take very seriously the challenge that Sir Sigmund is bringing. He is not satisfied with continuing or consolidating his many remarkable initiatives of the past, but he is launching an inspiring new enterprise that will seek to challenge the world’s business community. Sir Sigmund has used multiple methods and approaches, not only to help solve immediate problems, but also to prevent such problems for future generations. When many have only looked back, he has looked forward; when many have looked only at their own community, he has looked at the needs of his neighbours. He has not been bound by religion, but has been empowered by his faith to liberate himself and others from the bonds of discrimination and prejudice. His own religious community has acknowledged his leadership.
For several years, he has been, and still is, a member of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, and is President of the Reform Synagogues of Great Britain. As Chairman of the Executive Committee of the International Council of Christians and Jews, an umbrella organization of some 28 national Jewish-Christian dialogue groups world- wide, he has, as Lord Coggan, the former Archbishop of Canterbury puts it, “reinvigorated” the work of the International Council with his “enthusiasm and generosity.” In addition, he has helped to extend the establishment of Councils of Christians and Jews into a number of countries in Eastern Europe. Sir Sigmund is also a co- founder of the Three Faiths Forum, a Christian/Muslim/ Jewish dialogue group.
Since its inception in 1972, the Templeton Prize has been awarded to a rich diversity of people from the major religions of the world. This diversity has indicated that everyone can be enthusiastic about the benefits of originality to supplement the wonderful ancient scriptures. We are particularly pleased, therefore, to join together in honouring the originality and innovativeness of the work of this year’s winner, Sir Sigmund Sternberg.
Thank you for coming today.