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Philanthropic Vision

Free and Open Inquiry

From his experience in the management of investments and the creation of financial wealth, Sir John was impressed by the benefits of free and open competition in the marketplace. He observed that success in scientific research and many other areas of human endeavor likewise depends on free and open competition:

Freedom fosters the kind of constructive competition that makes progress possible. When the creativity, ingenuity, and competitive efforts of individuals are set free, the result can be progress and prosperity beyond anything ever before imagined. [Possibilities, p. 119]

Progress thrives in the context of fair and open competition. God gave us the benefit of having the magnificent capacity of creative freedom. It is a common unfortunate habit of groups in power to try to stifle this free creativity and to enforce drab conformity and uniformity. [Possibilities, p. 36]

Progress in Religion and Theology

Given the resistance of numerous religious leaders to innovation and change, Sir John was not surprised to note that religion is perceived, in some circles, as a cultural backwater:

Many highly educated people feel that religion is obsolete. In some senses they may have a point. We typically do not observe the kind of dynamism in religion that we see in other areas of life such as science, technology, and business. To many, religion sometimes seems like a kind of history museum which lacks the excitement and vibrancy of other aspects of life that constantly experience innovation. [Possibilities, p. 9]

Sir John therefore proposed that religion pursue the same strategy that has led to progress in other fields of human endeavor:

Progress comes from constructive competition, and churches and religions can benefit greatly from it. By free competition the wheat is gradually separated from the chaff. A beneficial religion should welcome competition because when it is put to the test, the beneficial will survive and grow. Only an inferior religion needs to discourage competition, lest its inferiority be exposed for all the world to see.

The long history of evolution of plant and animal varieties would seem to indicate that competition is one of god's chosen methods of developing novel and fruitful forms of life in his accelerating creativity. Why should it be different in the realm of spirit and religion? [Possibilities, p. 122]

Sir John was well aware that such a view might be objectionable to those who consider the Bible to be the exclusive source of wisdom, but he suggested an alternate view of divine revelation:

Christians think god appeared in Jesus of Nazareth two thousand years ago for our salvation and education. But should we take it to mean that education and progress stopped there, that Jesus was the end of change, the end of time? Is such a notion compatible with the divine, free, open, creative nature of the universe? To say that god cannot reveal himself in a decisive way again, because he did it once centuries ago, can seem sacrilegious. [Possibilities, p. 38]

Sir John believed that a dynamic and evolutionary approach to religion could engage the minds of skeptics and help them to find meaning and purpose in older traditions.

Could young people and intellectuals be attracted to forms of religion that are genuinely dynamic and rapidly progressing? Does this mean that the old ways have to be discarded totally? I hope not, because it is clear that much of the strength of religion is in the precious core of wisdom and truth that it transmits from each generation to the next. So opening up a few religious communities to new concepts and new adventures of spiritual learning should not be like a revolution which attempts to build the new upon the ashes of the old. [Possibilities, p. 9]

Turning from religion to theology, Sir John discerned a similar state of affairs:

Theology was once considered as queen of the sciences. It may someday regain that title; but first we may have to learn how to learn in order to regain that title. [Possibilities, p. 10]

An age of experimental theology may be beginning. This term is used to indicate efforts to gain understanding of the power of spiritual practices by concentrating on observable data resulting from spiritual experiences. Will following this approach open up religious concepts to rigorous empirical scrutiny? This should be an appealing notion even for skeptics. [Possibilities, p. 104]

Radicals and Heretics

As an investment manager, Sir John achieved spectacular success by following a simple rule: buy when others are selling (which requires the discipline to seek deep, hidden value), and sell when others are buying. Through this contrarian approach, he was able to create the assets that now endow the John Templeton Foundation. In religion as well, Sir John observed that success has often flowed to those who were regarded in their own day as unorthodox, radical, or even heretical:

Throughout history has religion developed and progressed often by the work of those who were first regarded as heretics? [Possibilities, p. 42]

Beneficial originators in other great religions also were often called heretics. Abraham and Moses were considered heretics by neighboring tribes in their age. [Possibilities, p. 38]

Rarely does a historian or conservative become a hero of later history. Many of history's most creative people have been unconventional, far-reaching thinkers who seek to improve accepted customs of their time. Often such people have been called radicals. [Possibilities, p. 42]

Spiritual Laws

Sir John believed that the laws of nature are not the only laws that influence and guide human behavior:

Now, if there are laws of nature that appear to be expressions of the character or being of physical objects in the creation, would it not be reasonable to expect that there can be analogous laws of the spirit that are expressions of the character of spiritual realities? [Possibilities, p. 154]

Drawing a contrast and comparison with the laws of physics, Sir John explained:

The laws of the spirit refer to patterns of voluntary human behavior, not to the involuntary behavior of physical objects. A person is free to choose to act in accord with these spiritual laws or to try to defy them. This being the case, the patterns which these laws express are not uniformly exhibited by humans at all times. Rather, they represent the ideal patterns to which humans may aspire.

Conformity to the laws of the spirit is a free choice of all responsible humans. So perhaps, to avoid misunderstandings, we should call them spiritual principles. [Possibilities, p. 154]

Thus, Sir John proposed that the laws of the spirit, like the laws of physics, could also be subjected to systematic scientific research:

It is my belief that the basic laws or principles for leading a "sublime life," to paraphrase Longfellow, can be examined and tested just as science examines and tests natural laws of the universe. [Wisdom, p. xxi]

By continually and carefully researching spiritual principles, can humanity reap substantial benefits, both for the individual and for human society at large? Can this point to challenging opportunities for beneficial researches by scientists and theologians? [Possibilities, p. 155]

Can researchers discover what personalities are achieving heaven while on earth? Who can devise tests to discover which are the happier people and why? [Possibilities, p. 134]

The John Templeton Foundation also welcomes proposals . . . to verify or falsify any one or more of these two hundred proposed eternal principles, or others not included in this book. The purpose is to continually improve these studies in a way readily acceptable worldwide! [Laws of Life, p. xxi]

Published Works:

Possibilities for Over One Hundredfold More Spiritual Information: The Humble Approach in Theology and Science (2000)

Sir John Templeton challenges readers to apply the same energy that has been devoted...

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