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Ways of the World

Carol Stone, business economist & active Episcopalian, brings you "Ways of the World". Exploring business & consumers & stewardship, we'll discuss everyday issues: kids & finances, gas prices, & some larger issues: what if foreigners start dumping our debt? And so on. We can provide answers & seek out sources for others. We'll talk about current events & perhaps get different perspectives from what the media says. Write to Carol. Let her know what's important to you:

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The Opposite of Christopher Hitchens

Mother Crafton wrote her eMo yesterday about Christopher Hitchens, a thoughtful and articulate atheist. Also yesterday -- possibly not entirely a coincidence -- God came and took home a most thoughtful and articulate Christian, Sir John Templeton.

Templeton is a man after our own heart: he was a savvy and forward-thinking investor who has used his wealth to further the cause of religious ideas and ideals. Also, almost as a follow-on to our commentary Monday about the American Revolution, he highlights the ideals of the rags-to-riches opportunities that are possible in this country. According to his obituary on Bloomberg, a leading financial news service, ". . . Templeton was born . . . in Winchester in rural Tennessee. Ever industrious, at age 12 he purchased a broken-down Ford from a local farmer and rebuilt it with some friends using spare parts he took from another old car. He drove it until the end of high school, when he became the first person in his town to attend college." College was Yale, where he went on scholarship and finished first in his class in 1934. He then read law at Oxford* as a Rhodes Scholar. He was always investment-minded, focused on profit and free enterprise, but frugal. And while he lived well in his later years, ostentation apparently never had a place in his style.

As an investor, Templeton was a pioneer with global vision. He introduced the Templeton Growth Fund in 1954, the first widely distributed mutual fund to invest in companies outside the United States. His worldwide diversification brought gains to his numerous funds in many periods when more insular investors suffered losses.

Templeton was also actively religious. He was a devout Presbyterian and an Elder, a senior lay position in that denomination; he frequently began business meetings with prayer and he argued that businesses must be operated in a moral way or, eventually, they would fail. He also wanted science to reach out to religion and vice versa. He devised the Templeton Prize in 1972; the first recipient was Mother Teresa in 1973. The prize, the largest monetary award to an individual –bigger than the Nobel Prizes – is meant to foster connections of religion and science; Anglicans are possibly most familiar with it through a priest of the Church of England, John Polkinghorne, a particle physicist and sometime President of Queens College Cambridge, who was the recipient in 2002.

We occasionally write here on topics concerning the sociology of religion and other social science studies of religion issues. One of the major funders of those studies is the Templeton Foundation, which he founded in 1987. Its website explains, "the Foundation has roughly $1.1 billion in assets. In 2008, we anticipate giving out almost $60 million in grant awards. Our suburban offices are in West Conshohocken, outside of Philadelphia."

Templeton was 95 and died of pneumonia in a hospital in Nassau, Bahamas. Also not to be missed among the details of his life is the change in his nationality: in order to escape U.S. tax burdens, he became a British subject in 1962 and was a resident of the Bahamas. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1987 for his work in science and religion.

As we reflect on this singular 20th Century life that aimed at excellence and emphasized learning, we think of Thomas Aquinas. Here is the collect for him,

Almighty God, you have enriched your Church with the singular learning and holiness of your servant Thomas Aquinas: Enlighten us more and more, we pray, by the disciplined thinking and teaching of Christian scholars, and deepen our devotion by the example of saintly lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

May the soul of John Templeton rest in peace and may light
perpetual shine upon him – and his legacy. Amen.

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*(7/11/08) Corrected from Cambridge, reported in initial post

For this commentary, we accessed obituaries from the Wall Street Journal – where it appeared in the financial section right in the middle of the daily mutual fund quotes – the New York Times, the New York Sun and the Bloomberg story, which we found through a Google search.


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