First delivered as a speech by Sir John Marks Templeton1
Every economic system is built on a spiritual foundation. This foundation can be found in the personal ethics of the people that make up the economy. And it can be found in the economic system itself, which is an outgrowth of personal values.
As we know, the economy is about trading material goods and services. Yet trade is made possible only by agreement on what is mine and what is thine. These are essentially ethical concerns.
To even talk about the economy, there must be agreement about the rules of play. To get those rules, we must have some sense of fair dealing.
Where does this sense of fair play come from? It comes through reference to an ethical order outside of ourselves and beyond our own times. In short, by reference to the transcendent. The transcendent is the beginning of economics.
In the same way, a spiritual and religious system requires a material context in order to have full meaning. Although the choice of poverty can be virtuous, when poverty is imposed by a brutal regime it distracts from spiritual pursuits.
The ethics that govern an economy must be secure and meaningful, and they must match our highest spiritual aspirations if we want our economy to meet society’s needs. If people cannot see meaning beyond material accumulation, even a prosperous and efficient economy lacks an ultimate purpose.
Most people agree today that society has lost much of its spiritual moorings. We no longer have enough ...