Would $800,000 capture your attention for a moment or two?
Sir John Marks Templeton planned for such a reaction when he created the Templeton Foundation in 1972. The world's largest annual prize is awarded to honor progress in religion, a category Templeton felt was overlooked in the Nobel prizes.The 1991 winner was announced March 6: The Rt. Hon. Lord Jakobovits, Chief Rabbi of Great Britain was honored for his founding work in Jewish medical ethics and for his moderation and compassion on Arab/Israeli issues.
In 1973, the first year the prize was awarded, a humble missionary among the homeless of Calcutta received the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion. Millions would come to know Mother Teresa when she received the Nobel Peace Prize six years later.
On Wednesday, the executive vice president of the Templeton Foundation visited Salt Lake City as part of a two-month tour. The Rev. William Forker told a group gathered at a luncheon at the Lion House, "I'm making the Templeton Prize as widely known as possible. It is only through meeting people that progress can be made."
The Irish-born Methodist minister now calls Lyford Cay in the Bahamas his home. In addition to administering the Templeton Prize since its inception, the Rev. Forker is the creator of the Templeton Theological Seminary and is the sole Anglo teacher on the school's Bahamian staff.
A former correspondent for Reuters, the Rev. Forker has traveled the world plying editors with the newsworthiness of religion and the need for better coverage of religion.
The Rev. Forker said that some people were surprised when Alexander Solzhenitsyn was awarded the prize in 1983.
" `Why did you give the prize to an atheist?' they asked me. They don't realize his writings are the most outstanding pieces of spiritual growth and vigor. His prayers for me are as rich as the Psalms," the Rev. Forker said.
Buoyed by the resurgence of religion in the Soviet Union, the Rev. Forker told how in years past, Soviet families had saved to purchase a Bible, which costs as much as one year's salary. "There are now a million Bibles a year being printed in Leningrad and Moscow on paper from Finland," he remarked.
He told how the Chinese Cultural Revolution had tried to disband religion by sending all the religious leaders to a commune.
"Instead of disbanding religion, what they did was unify it! What's the value of persecution? From my Chinese experience and from my Russian experience, a real good dose of persecution would wake us up to the value of religion."
The Rev. Forker said religion was the spark that ignited the freedom movement that swept Eastern Europe, but fears a real crisis is now brewing there because progress comes slowly. "The people have such high expectations. I cannot see those expectations being realized in the time span they want. Unless the red tape and European bureaucracy is cut through like a knife through soft butter, I don't see peace there for a long, long time."
Ironically, many times it is only through oppression and persecution that people come to value religion, he said, lamenting statistics that show only 4 percent of England's population attend church.