R&L: Early in life, you considered entering the ministry but decided to enter the financial world instead. How did you integrate your inclination toward religious service with your eventual business career?
Templeton: When I was a child in Tennessee, my mother worked odd jobs so she could pay half the cost for Gam Sin Qua, a Christian missionary in China. At that time, I thought that being a missionary might be the most beneficial use of my life on earth. Later, at Yale, I tried to analyze which particular talents God had given me, and I found that many other people were better suited to be missionaries than I was. Rather, my strongest talents seemed to be in the investment field. By recommending shares of companies that focused on high quality and low cost for customers, in forty-five years I accumulated a fortune, which is now used almost entirely to encourage progress in spiritual wealth.
R&L: What advice would you offer to believers who are in the business world and who wish to integrate their faith with their work?
Templeton: For all my life, my philosophy has been that anyone who does useful work is, in effect, serving humanity and, therefore, doing God's work. In almost fifty years of studying over ten thousand corporations, I learned that the best long-term results flowed to those who focused on providing increasingly beneficial products and services. Whatever one does, he first should ask, “In the long run, is this really useful to the public?” If so, he is serving as a minister. Further, he should encourage others to become givers, to want to give rather than to get. I think those in business can assure each other that if one tries to give his best when serving the community, his business will not languish but prosper. Stated briefly, the more you give, the more you receive. And the more you receive, the more you have to give.
R&L: What would be an example of the kind of ministry of service you are describing?
Templeton: One of the world's wealthiest men, Sam Walton, said that he always had been doing the best possible thing for humanity by finding ways to sell higher quality goods at lower prices. He felt that his career had been a ministry of helping people, especially the poor, through the efficiency of his operation. I cannot disagree with Sam Walton; by being a good businessman, he did as much good for the poor as some philanthropists.
R&L: In addition to your financial career, you are also widely recognized for your philanthropic work. What, then, is your understanding of the financial and spiritual concept of stewardship?
Templeton: After helping hundreds of thousands of families with their investments, I have found no better investment than tithing. I myself have endeavored to donate, for every dollar I spend, ten dollars to causes that promote prosperity and spirituality.
R&L: You also seem to indicate that the concept of stewardship can be extended to the making of money as well. In other words, managing a business successfully also requires an understanding of stewardship.
Templeton: I would refer to the parable of the talents. In that parable, the person who was given ten talents was diligent and resourceful in multiplying them. That is a form of philanthropy; the talents did not belong to him, but he managed them on behalf of the Lord and then returned them to the Lord when the Lord returned.
So philanthropy can also include focusing one's life on producing beneficial products and services. It has been often and well said that if you give a man a fish, he will be hungry again tomorrow, but if you teach him to fish, he becomes prosperous and teaches others to fish. Giving a man a fish creates dependency, whereas teaching a man to fish brings him the lasting happiness of being a producer. And religion plays an important role in this process. Religion causes each individual to want to serve others. Religion teaches love and brotherhood and truth and diligence, all of which tend to cause accelerating creativity and productivity.
R&L: What is the role of entrepreneurs in society? Do they have any unique responsibilities?
Templeton: Generally, I do not think an entrepreneur's ethical principles should be different than those in any other career. A medical doctor, for example, should adhere to the same ethics as an entrepreneur. The same holds true for a church leader. Having said that, however, the entrepreneur does deserve tremendous recognition for encouraging progress. God has given humans marvelous talents for free will and for accelerating discoveries. How could a human life serve divine purpose better than to help create beneficial enterprises and accelerate such discoveries? Entrepreneurs do things that have not been done before, things that are beneficial and productive.
R&L: So the entrepreneur uniquely throws practical light on moral action. In other words, the entrepreneur does not merely theorize but also implements.
Templeton: That's right and very important. The entrepreneur first asks himself, “Is this new enterprise going to be of long-term benefit to humanity?” and then accomplishes it, which serves as an example to others to do likewise. The parable of the talents tells us we should use to the utmost whatever talents the Lord has given to us. This is entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs find better and better ways to produce and to serve. Again, just as the priesthood is a faithful Christian ministry, so, too, is every useful occupation.
R&L: How do you make the case for the moral potential of the free-market system?
Templeton: Any careful research of the two hundred nations on earth shows clearly that freedom and free competition are the mainspring of enrichment and ethics. For example, the storeowner who focuses on giving better quality at lower cost will attract customers. If he focuses on helping employees learn and grow, his employees will be superior. If he focuses on reliability, promptness, and thrift, his reputation will bring to him more customers and more productive colleagues.
R&L: What about the supposed antagonism of competition?
Templeton: That is a popular misunderstanding. For many in the media, the universities, and even the clergy, the word competition means, “trying to get the better of somebody.” Subconsciously, they assume that prosperity for one causes poverty for another, whereas, in truth, the abundance of God is so infinite that prosperity for one automatically increases prosperity for all. Competition is not one person stepping on another. Competition is each person trying to produce more and more goods and services with lower costs, higher quality, and greater variety. Competition is not a win-lose game but, rather, a win-win game. The diligence of one competitor produces diligence in other competitors. Consequently, everyone benefits.
R&L: You have been instrumental in promoting excellence in education through the Templeton Honor Roll, among other initiatives. What is so important about education that you have sponsored such programs?
Templeton: I have focused on things that would be helpful to the poor. As I mentioned before, the poor are helped by free competition because of the invention and discovery it engenders. The Templeton Foundation, therefore, has allocated several million dollars for a university curriculum on the great benefits of free enterprise and free competition.
An ethical focus is also important for education. Until the last two centuries, most educators emphasized building character more than acquiring information, so I have supported things that would return that moral focus.
R&L: What challenges does the free-market system face in the future, and how should they be handled?
Templeton: The recent spread of democracy around the globe brought the benefits of entrepreneurship. At the same time, governmental officials, to get elected, feel compelled to offer voters more and more free goods and services. This trend toward entitlements tends to promote dependency and idleness rather than productivity. Therefore, voters need to be educated about the benefits of being industrious, thrifty, and entrepreneurial. Such education not only helps bring people in tune with divine creativity but also reduces the decay of people's minds, bodies, and souls–especially among those who may think the sole purpose of life is to retire.
R&L: To your way of thinking, what is the connection between religion and economic science?
Templeton: They have a great deal in common, much more than the public and the media recognize. Poor nations often turn out to be places that do not teach honesty, thrift, and responsibility. Such principles flourish in the free-market system and bring happiness, prosperity, and spiritual growth.
R&L: How do you think religious leaders, then, can contribute to building a free society?
Templeton: You cannot have free competition without an understanding of spiritual rules. For example, religion has always taught the importance of honesty, which is essential for free competition. Responsibility is another principle; if one is irresponsible with his contracts or duties, then free competition does not work. Another crucial principle is submission to the rule of law, which is essential for rewarding those who do well and penalizing those who do evil. Free competition must occur under the rule of law, and the notion of law and legitimate authority is really founded upon ancient religious ideas.
R&L: Why do you think there is such a prejudice among many religious leaders against the free society?
Templeton: Few religious leaders have had the experience of running a business in the free market, so it is easy for them to imagine that it is cutthroat and antagonistic. It does not have to be that way at all, and, in general, people who approach business with such a negative attitude usually fail. Those who set out to do some good, last and prosper.
R&L: So for religious leaders to contribute to the free society, they first must understand the practical application of economic principles.
Templeton: It would be highly desirable for religious leaders to understand better how business in a free market helps the poor. But already–and, perhaps, without realizing it–religious leaders contribute simply by preaching truthfulness, honesty, and diligence.