Patron of Faith

By Selle, Robert | The World and I, June 1998 | Go to article overview
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Patron of Faith


Selle, Robert, The World and I


Swimming in the warm, azure Atlantic water that laps the shore beside his Bahamian beachfront office--actually vigorously it up to his neck--for minutes every 85-year-old Sir John Templeton relaxes and exercises.

And he needs that brief but luxuriously invigorating daily respite, for the multimillionaire philanthropist and pioneer of global investing works "harder today than I've ever worked in my life," he says in an interview.

And that's very hard indeed. For comparison, speaking with the charming southern twang of his native Winchester, Tennessee, he notes that he built his investment empire over the years "by working nights, days, and weekends."

The Templeton Group of mutual funds managed $25 billion in assets before its founder sold it for over $900 million in 1992 to Franklin Resources Inc. A $10,000 investment in the flagship Templeton Growth Fund in 1954 would be worth some $3.9 million today with dividends reinvested.

"But," says the financier, who studied investment management at Yale and then earned a law degree from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar, "real wealth is spiritual." And that notion sets the tone for all of his current endeavors, on which he spends more than $15 million a year and which focus on expanding what he calls the spiritual information available to humankind.

"The total amount of [scientific] information is doubling every three years," but that's far from the case with spiritual information, says Templeton, who left frenetic Wall Street in 1968 for relaxed Lyford Cay in the then-British-ruled Bahamas, becoming a British subject to boot. (Ultimately, Templeton was honored with a knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II in 1987 for his philanthropic works in Britain.)

More than half the books ever written in the world have appeared since 1940, Templeton continues. And the percentage of the American population working in information-related occupations rose from 17 percent in 1950 to 65 percent in 1982.

"It's an amazing fact that human creativity is speeding up," he says. "You can see it in the extraordinary achievements in medicine, travel--so many more people travel and see the world than ever before. And then there are the advances in books, communications, and so on."

But progress in spiritual information has miserably failed to keep pace with the explosion of scientific information. "The biggest stumbling block is human ego--thinking you have it all," Templeton says. "Ego blocks the expansion of spiritual information and is the source of wars, conflict, and all manner of human suffering."

Starting from his boyhood years when he attended Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Winchester and was its Sunday school superintendent at age 15, Templeton evolved what he calls humility theology, which is the soil from which his spiritual-information philanthropies have grown.

In a nutshell, humility theology says that "maybe no human has ever known even 1 percent of the totality of God," according to Templeton, who was also strongly influenced by reading his mother's literature from the Unity School of Christianity. "Therefore," he says, "we of the various faiths of the world should all be eager to listen to each other."

Science, says Templeton, should not be at loggerheads with religion. Rather, religious people should embrace its rigors and treat it as a potentially valuable instrument for elucidating the nature of God and for enhancing religious information. And scientists shouldn't shrink from turning the empirical tools of their trade to boring into questions that have a spiritual dimension.

Science and medicine

For example, one of the more than 100 projects the financier supports today is a controlled scientific study of the medical and health benefits of prayer. It's being conducted by Dr. Dale Matthews of the Georgetown Medical School in Washington, D.C.

In addition, Templeton partly pays for Harvard Medical School's continuing education course on "Spirituality and Healing in Medicine," which draws a steady stream of doctors from around the country and has helped to confer credibility and respectability on a previously marginalized field.

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