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Sir John Templeton

Sir John Templeton

As a pioneer in both financial investments and spiritual endeavors, John Marks Templeton has spent a lifetime encouraging open-mindedness. If he hadn't sought new paths, the native Tennesseean-a fulltime philanthropist at 89-says "he would have been unable to attain so many goals".

  • Beginning a Wall Street career in 1937, Templeton created some of the world's largest and most successful international investment funds. Termed "arguably the greatest global stock picker of the century" by Money Magazine (Jan. 1999), he sold his various Templeton funds in 1992 to the Franklin Group for $440 million.
  • Now a naturalized British citizen living in Nassau, the Bahamas, Templeton was knighted Sir John by Queen Elizabeth II in 1987 for his many accomplishments. One of those was creating the world's richest award, the $1 million-plus Templeton Prize for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries about Spiritual Realities, presented annually in London since 1972.
  • And through the John Templeton Foundation, based in Radnor, Pa., he gives away about $40 million a year---especially to projects, college courses, books and essays on the benefits of cooperation between science and religion.

Sir John M. Templeton, a student of benefits from free competition and disciplined work habits, is not the first wealthy investor to increase his giving to religion-related causes late in life.

However, his progressive ideas on finance and faith made him a distinctive figure in both fields, perhaps something of an iconoclast. Not that the soft-spoken Southerner worries about that.

"Rarely does a conservative become a hero of history," Templeton wrote in The Humble Approach, one of a dozen books he has authored or edited. Rather, it is the far-reaching thinker who breaks out of the traditional mold . . . "one who, according to the accepted customs of his time, might be branded a heretic."

Taking a less-traveled route in investing, Templeton sold advice on how to invest worldwide when Americans rarely considered foreign investment.

Standard stock-buying advice is "buy low, sell high." But Templeton took the strategy to an extreme---picking nations, industries and companies hitting rock-bottom "points of maximum pessimism," as he put it. When war began in Europe in 1939, he borrowed money to buy 100 shares in each of 104 companies selling at $1 a share or less, including 34 companies that were in bankruptcy. Only four turned out to be worthless, and he turned large profits on the others after holding each for an average four years.

Templeton launched his flagship fund, Templeton Growth, Ltd. in 1954. Each $100,000 invested then with distribution reinvested grew to total $55 million in 1999.

Although he has been a Presbyterian elder active in his denomination and on the boards of Princeton Theological Seminary and the American Bible Society, he espouses a "humble approach" to theology. Declaring that relatively little is known about God through scripture and present-day theology, Templeton once predicted that "scientific revelations may be a goldmine for revitalizing religion in the 21st Century."

The John Templeton Foundation donates to many entrepreneurs, trying various methods for over 100 fold more spiritual information, especially through science research to supplement the wonderful ancient scriptures of all religions. For instance, the ambitious Forgiveness Project launched in 1999 sought to fund more than $ 10 million in research investigating scientific bases for what religious traditions have instinctively thought about the salutary effect of forgiveness on offenders and victims alike.

John M. Templeton was born Nov. 29, 1912, in the small town of Winchester, Tenn.---a biographical item bearing some irony. A dozen years later in nearby Dayton, Tenn., the famous Scopes "Monkey Trial" would unfold in a battle of evolution theory vs. fundamentalist views of Creation. Templeton and his foundation work on the premise that scientific principles of evolution and the idea of God as Creator are compatible.

Forced to live thriftily by supporting himself while studying at Yale University during the Depression, Templeton graduated in 1934 as a top scholar in his class. He was named a Rhodes Scholar to Balloil College at Oxford from which he graduated with a M.A. degree in law.

He married the former Judith Folk in 1937 and the couple had three children---John, Anne and Christopher. She died in February, 1951. He married Irene Reynolds Butler seven years later on New Year's Eve. She passed away in 1993 after 35 years of marriage.

During a career that included directorships on banks, businesses and insurance companies, Templeton maintains a long association with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). He was a trustee on the board of Princeton Theological Seminary, the largest Presbyterian seminary, for 42 years and served as its chair for 12 years. He also lent his business acumen to the Presbyterians' ministerial pension fund for more than three decades until 1993.

Templeton was known for starting mutual funds' annual meetings with a prayer. He explained that the devotional words were not pleas for financial gain in the mundane world, but rather meditations to calm and clear the minds of managers and stockholders.

Templeton has told interviewers that "competitive business," in his view, matched in many ways the compassionate aims of religious bodies. "For one thing, it enriches the poor more than any other system humanity ever has had," he told Insight magazine. "Competitive business has reduced costs, has increased variety, has improved quality." And if a business is not ethical, he added, "it will fail, perhaps not right away, but eventually."

Typical of Templeton's wide-lens view of spirituality and ethics, the dedicated Presbyterian admits to additional influence from the New Thought movements of Christian Science, Unity and Religious Science. Those metaphysical churches espouse a non-literal view of heaven and hell, and suggest a shared divinity between God and humanity. "We realize that our own divinity arises from something more than merely being 'God's children' or being 'made in his image,'" Templeton wrote.

Sir John does not claim credentials as a theologian as much as someone with enough money to stir new research pursuing further "knowledge and love of God."

The annual Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion grew out of the philanthropist's belief that honors equivalent to Nobel Prizes should be bestowed on living innovators in religious action and thought. Mother Teresa of Calcutta received the first prize in 1973. Other winners include evangelist Billy Graham, author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and theoretical physicist Paul Davies, one of several scientists so honored. Hindus, Jews, Buddhists and Muslims have been on the panel of judges and have been recipients.

The multi-faith framework of the prize calls for "a clearer acceptance of the diversity of gifts within the major religions of the world," Templeton said in 1972 while inaugurating plans for the awards. "We are indebted to our forefathers who recorded in books their spiritual discoveries and revelations," he said, "Alive today are other persons to whom God is revealing further holy truths."

One of Templeton's most recent books, Wisdom from World Religions, assembles spiritual principles from sacred writings and from the teachings of Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Sikhism, Taoism, Zen and Zoroastrianism. Examples of the wisdom found in this rich resource reflect what Templeton says: "An attitude of gratitude creates blessings, Help yourself by helping others; You have the most powerful weapons on earth-love and prayer."

Faith in the Future
Image: Sir John Templeton
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