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The Truth about the Temple of Templeton

We all know about the right-wing slant of such folks as the Koch brothers and are (or should be) duly watchful of anything they underwrite. Groucho Marx once quipped that he wouldn’t want to join any organization whose standards were so low that it would accept him. By the same token, I wouldn’t want to accept funding from any organization whose political orientation—if any—wasn’t clearly marked. When it comes to taking money instead of spending it, caveat emptor becomes (or should become ) caveat recipientis, “let the recipient beware.” More specifically, why should the Kommen Foundation be unique in having its conservative bias unmasked?

In 1972, billionaire investor Sir John Templeton established the Templeton Foundation, best known for bestowing its annual Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, which was intended to fill a “spiritual gap” left by the Nobel Prizes, and which does so by pointedly paying more than the Nobel does. The Templeton Prize was later renamed the Templeton Prize for Progress toward Research or Discoveries about Spiritual Realities, which some of us perceived as reflecting a surprisingly honest recognition of the predictable and ongoing lack of “progress in religion.” Its current function is to co-opt science in the service of religion … and not the “liberation theology” version.

It’s worth noting that the Foundation sponsored a conference in 1999, touting “intelligent design” as an alternative to evolution, although more recently, it has backed away from overt creationism. The Templetonians have nonetheless long been sympathetic to “research” allegedly demonstrating the curative power of intercessory prayer, even as they have pretended to be honestly interested in “reconciling” science and religion, not to mention being apolitical.

The elder Templeton had been an acolyte of that great paragon of intellectual theology, Norman Vincent Peale, and whose several “self-help through positive spiritual practice” books have included endorsements from, among others, rightwing nut televangelist and Crystal Cathedral founder, Robert Schuller. Since the elder Templeton’s death, his Foundation has been run by John Templeton Jr., who is if anything even more politically engaged.

A major Republican activist and donor, John Jr’s millions helped sponsor Let Freedom Ring, which labored to get out the evangelical vote for George W. Bush; he has also been a major contributor to Freedom’s Watch, which paid for tv commercials supporting the war in Iraq, the candidacy of John McCain, and, more recently, the campaign for California’s Proposition 8 which—briefly—helped do the Lord’s good work by banning same-sex marriage.

Although ostensibly nonpartisan, the Templeton Foundation has a special place in its great, bleeding philanthropic heart for “free enterprise,” having given cash awards to historian Gertrude Himmelfarb and economist Milton Friedman, as well as the following conservative organizations: Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute, the Federalist Society and the National Association of Scholars. On its website, the Templeton Foundation announces that it “supports a wide range of programs and research initiatives to study the benefits of competition, specifically how free enterprise and other principles of capitalism can, and do, benefit the poor.”

According to its Mission Statement,

The John Templeton Foundation serves as a philanthropic catalyst for discoveries relating to the Big Questions of human purpose and ultimate reality. We support research on subjects ranging from complexity, evolution, and infinity to creativity, forgiveness, love, and free will. We encourage civil, informed dialogue among scientists, philosophers, and theologians and between such experts and the public at large, for the purposes of definitional clarity and new insights.

Our vision is derived from the late Sir John Templeton’s optimism about the possibility of acquiring “new spiritual information” and from his commitment to rigorous scientific research and related scholarship. The Foundation’s motto, “How little we know, how eager to learn,” exemplifies our support for open-minded inquiry and our hope for advancing human progress through breakthrough discoveries.

Fair enough. To be sure, there are left-leaning foundations as well, although these are noticeably fewer and less opulently endowed than their right-wing counterparts. (Sad but true: The guys in the black hats always seem to be better financed; could this possibly have something to do with the fact that they typically represent the interests of the wealthy?) It remains to be seen whether recipients of Templeton’s largesse have, in the process, compromised their scientific or intellectual integrity. But regardless, don’t expect any “breakthrough discoveries” in “human progress” to be disconnected from Templeton’s political and theological goals.

Caveat recipientis.

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