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Templeton Never Confused Mammon with God

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

“No man can serve two masters,” Jesus said.

Sir John Templeton, one of the shrewdest financial minds in history, saw the wisdom in this, especially since it came from his Lord.

So, unlike some other wealthy men who made mammon their god, he put money in its place: He decided to use his billions to serve God and promote spirituality.

The founder of the John Templeton Fund for Progress in Religion and the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, Sir John died Tuesday at age 95 at a hospital in the Bahamas.

Born in Tennessee, he went to Oxford by way of Yale, and began assembling his fortune during the Depression by buying stocks that everyone else thought were worthless. In 1973 he established the Templeton Prize as a direct answer to the Nobel Foundation’s unwillingness to recognize achievements in religion. Recipients include Mother Teresa, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Billy Graham and Chuck Colson.

He also donated literally billions of dollars to various causes through the John Templeton Foundation, which he established in 1987. Most of the money goes to scholars and organizations that Sir John’s staff has deemed likely to promote religion, spirituality, character and virtue, and to dispel imagined irreconcilable differences between religion, science and the free market. One of those organizations is the Media Research Center’s Culture and Media Institute, which was launched in October 2006 with a John Templeton Foundation $1 million Challenge Grant. CMI’s first two yearly themes have been Personal Responsibility and Character.

Like Sir John, we here at CMI think that healthy debate and honest consideration of the facts leads reasonable people toward the truth. And like Sir John, we do not believe that truth is subjective and therefore the product of our own imaginations, but something to be discovered.  This does not mean we are not painfully aware of our own limitations and human tendency to subordinate the truth to our own desires. The road to any deeper understanding begins with an acknowledgement that we don’t know everything and therefore are not God Almighty.

A glance at the Templeton Foundation Web site shows a robust series of discussions surrounding what Sir John called the Big Questions.  He did not fear airing the views of atheists and scholars from other religions alongside those of orthodox Christians, because he had the childlike faith that truth would out.

According to the London Telegraph, Sir John began his mutual fund meetings with prayer, and his favorite citation from the New Testament was his paraphrase of the parable of the talents:  “The more we give away, the more we have left.”

Sir John, who became a British subject and was knighted in 1987, will be missed not only for his fiscal generosity but his generosity of spirit and dedication to elevating the human condition by pointing people back toward deeper truths than mere materialism can yield.

He made his fortune in a secular marketplace that he appreciated and understood better than most others.

But he never mistook it for an end in itself.

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