My reply to the Templeton Foundation

[For the background and progress of this controversy, please see my earlier posts “A Big Question about the Templeton Foundation,” “Boycott the Templeton Foundation,” and “The Templeton Foundation Responds.”]

Dear Mr. Rosen,

Thanks again for your considered response. I think I understand your position, and it isn’t ultimately with you that I’m quarreling but with John M. Templeton, Jr. However, to help myself think through matters, I’m going to try to respond to your letter carefully and in some detail. I’m posting this reply on my blog, as well as emailing it to you.

The best place for me to start might be with your description of Mr. Templeton’s gift of $1.1 million to the Yes on Proposition 8 campaign, a campaign that succeeded in depriving gays and lesbians in California of the right to civil marriage. You describe it as a “private, strictly personal contribution.” It may have been a personal contribution, but I disagree that it was a private one. It has been reported by the Los Angeles Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer, and its effect was certainly public. It changed California state law. I don’t think the difficulty in distinguishing public from private is incidental. On exactly this question, as it happens, the institution of marriage is famously ambiguous. The lived experience of a marriage is private, so much so that it’s probably inaccessible to any third party. (William Dean Howells: “Married life is as much a mystery to us outsiders as the life to come, almost.”) But a marriage ceremony isn’t valid without witnesses, and the fact of a marriage is public and is subject to the law. It is subject to law in a rather strange way. There are a number of civil and legal benefits associated with marriage today, but for most of its history, marriage has come before the law mostly in the process of its dissolution, either by death or divorce. Legally speaking, marriage isn’t “for” husbands and wives; it’s for children, widows, widowers, and the divorced. Indeed I think that’s one reason it’s taken so long for marriage to seem worth fighting for. When you’re living with your partner in good health, the ratification of marriage hardly seems necessary, except as a way to overcome such inconveniences and petty injustices as having to pay income tax on healthcare granted to you through your partner’s employer. Nonetheless, these inconveniences add up. The New York Times recently published an article listing all the contracts and legal documents that a gay couple need—even if they have a Massachusetts or a California marriage—in order to approximate a straight union. I imagine the eyes of most straight readers crossed, if they even made the attempt to read it. I know mine did. Injustice is often petty; it’s natural to want to look away.

I’ve strayed slightly off topic. My point is that marriage is a public matter that affects, and to some extent structures, an experience that most people think of as extremely private. It does so in large part by defining limits and end-states, but it does so nonetheless. And so when Mr. Templeton gave money to deprive gays and lesbians of marriage, I would argue that he was not only engaging in a public act, involving a change to the laws of California, but also intruding into the privacy of gays and lesbians in California who live in committed relationships. In effect, he walked into their bedrooms, he sat down at their breakfast tables, and he took something from them. It is worth keeping in mind the size of Mr. Templeton’s donation; he is reported to have been the third-largest donor to the Yes on Proposition 8 campaign. It is also worth keeping in mind that Mr. Templeton lives in Pennsylvania not California. The size of the donation, the willingness to reach across state lines, the publicity inseparable from law and any advocacy of change to it, the violation of others’ privacy implicit in the denial of marriage to them—all these elements suggest to me that even though Mr. Templeton contributed from his personal funds, and gave the money as an individual, it is fair game for me and others to respond to his contribution as a public matter.

In the comment I submitted to your website, I asked (half in bitter jest, I’m afraid) whether the Templeton Foundation might be willing to pose the question “Is marriage a civil right?” to the next group of thinkers it recruits. You responded: “The answer is no, we wouldn’t, because such questions are not part of our mission, as set out by the late Sir John Templeton.” I’m not persuaded, though, that my suggestion is as outlandish as all that. According to your website,

The mission of the John Templeton Foundation is to serve as a philanthropic catalyst for discovery in areas engaging life’s biggest questions. These questions range from explorations into the laws of nature and the universe to questions on the nature of love, gratitude, forgiveness, and creativity.

Perhaps what you mean is that my proposed question is trivial. If so, then I agree. Is marriage a civil right? Of course it is. But the question in the context of California’s ballot initiative is a rather big one. A better way to phrase it: Should civil marriage be denied to gays and lesbians? Seen in that light, I think the question does fall under your purview. If any marriage can succeed without love, gratitude, forgiveness, and creativity, I’ll eat the hat I bought yesterday, which is made entirely of synthetic fibers and has very long ear flaps. To judge by the nationwide protests that broke out after Proposition 8 succeeded, whether civilized people may continue to deny to gays and lesbians the benefits of marriage is one of the biggest questions of the hour. Though it isn’t how you describe yourselves, others have characterized the Templeton Foundation as encouraging the intersection of religion and science. Here, too, gay marriage would seem to be pertinent, because science offers no grounds for continuing to deny marriage. Only religion does—and fewer religions every year.

You write that Mr. Templeton “is very careful to separate his own political activities from the work of the Foundation. Like you, he has strong views on Proposition 8, but he does not use the Foundation to promote those views.” I think this is your strongest argument against me. Mr. Templeton is the chair of the foundation; he and it share a name; he and it got their money from the same source. But they are separate entities, and it may be slightly unfair of me to urge a boycott of the foundation because I disapprove of the actions of the man. I am calling for a boycott nonetheless, because if your argument here is valid, and the two are indeed separable, then let the foundation continue without its current chairman. For me to suggest such a separation is meddling, of course, but I feel that Mr. Templeton has meddled, and turnabout is fair play. I also believe the importance of the issue justifies meddling. In 1948 the California Supreme Court struck down that state’s anti-miscegenation laws. If the chairman of a philanthropy were to have contributed that year to an initiative to amend the California constitution so as to restore its anti-miscegenation laws, some might have criticized a boycott of the philanthropy as meddling then, but I think few would so criticize it now, in retrospect. In calling for a boycott, I am arguing that spending more than a million dollars to deny civil marriage to gays and lesbians in another state has become, in the last couple of decades, the sort of act to which public opprobrium naturally attaches. I am arguing, in particular, that opprobrium attaches to it in the community of writers and scholars whose approval the Templeton Foundation pursues.

Finally, I’d like to address the first point in your letter, namely, that you declined to publish my comment out of “ordinary editorial discretion,” because it was off topic. But I don’t see that it is. I’m arguing that public opprobrium attaches today to a donation like Mr. Templeton’s. If I’m right, then any scholar who accepts the largesse of Mr. Templeton’s foundation in the future has some explaining to do. He will have to defend himself from the charge that he’s allowed money to sway his judgment—that he’s agreed to overlook Mr. Templeton’s antagonism to gay rights in exchange for receiving funds from Mr. Templeton’s foundation. I foresee that a certain kind of libertarian will argue that he can both support gay marriage and accept the Templeton Foundation’s money. But I think most liberal and progressive thinkers will appreciate the moral hazard, and my aim in calling for a boycott is to point it out to them.

There is another way of defending my contribution from the accusation that it is off topic, and that is to point out that an intellectual conversation, especially in matters of ethics, should probably be somewhat flexible about its topic. A kind of tact is required. On the one hand, a conversation degenerates into chaos if it has no limits, but on the other hand, it’s dangerous to rule a topic out before there has been a chance to explore it, because you might be missing a chance to discover an unexpected truth. I wouldn’t even raise this point if Mr. Templeton were chairman of a frankly partisan organization. But the Templeton Foundation asserts a belief in open-minded inquiry, and your Big Questions campaign makes much of the candid disagreement among the opinions solicited. You write, regarding Mr. Templeton and Proposition 8, that it should be understandable if “we do not wish to use the Foundation or its website to promote those who disagree with him on this issue.” It is understandable, and even to be expected, but if the Templeton Foundation is committed to open-minded inquiry, it’s wrongheaded. I am an individual. The Templeton Foundation is an institution. When an institution is committed to open-minded inquiry, it does allow individuals to use it to express their dissent, even with—perhaps especially with—the opinions of its leader. It’s not as if I asked the Templeton Foundation to post my dissent on its homepage. I asked to contribute 258 words to an online debate that currently runs to more than 27,000. So I’m calling foul.

All best,
Caleb Crain

12 thoughts on “My reply to the Templeton Foundation”

  1. "If any marriage can succeed without love, gratitude, forgiveness, and creativity, I'll eat the hat I bought yesterday, which is made entirely of synthetic fibers and has very long ear flaps."

    Offering to ingest parts of one's own apparel never fails to impress desk clerks.

    Maybe Mr. Junior is in fact gay? 'If I can't be wed here, neither should they in California'… A rude suggestion, I know, but it would explain a few things.

  2. Mr. Rosen is going around on all the blogs pointing out what as you so eloquently refuted as a distinction without a difference, neglecting to point out that John Templeton Jr. is Chairman and President of the Board of the Templeton Foundation. As such he has brought shame and dishonor to the Foundation and its purported goals and he should resign, otherwise I am afaid Mr. Rosen's arguements have little merit. Let's face the sad reality that money in the hands of such a little mind is a dangerous thing.

  3. I might be a bit off-topic here myself, but your series of excellent thoughts and explorations on Proposition 8 and gay marriage in general prompt this comment. Despite the passionate argument by many conservative Christians that gay marriage is somehow a perverse comment on straight marriage, marriage licenses are the issue here, and I'm dismayed to see that so much of the effort here in California to oppose Prop 8 seems to stray from this central point, in response to the skewed and bizarre rhetoric of Prop 8's supporters.

    The legal institution of marriage is not, and never has been solely about the joining of two souls in the sight of God, even though that is the central view held by religious people of many faiths. Marriage is a social contract that defines the ownership and inheritance of property, both real and personal, and about the rights of two previously unrelated individuals (more than two in some religious groups) to share their property and each other's bodies in life, in sickness and in death. A marriage license supersedes legal claims to the property and bodies of married persons by their blood relatives and by government agencies in manifold ways that civil unions do not address. (Spousal inheritance of Social Security benefits is just one of the most obvious.)

    These are the key issues at stake for gay people, whether or not they are religiously inclined themselves. Marriage licenses are about money, not love, and that should be enough to carry the day. But larger issues are also at stake nationally in the Prop 8 battle, and this might be one reason that so many out-of-state conservatives have contributed to the Prop 8 cause. Proposition 8 overturned a California Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage, and if its supporters succeed in protecting its passage in the new court battles in Sacramento, no state court ruling nationwide that is opposed by conservatives will be safe from reversal.

    Some people I've spoken with about Prop 8 see it as a run-up to the larger national battle on abortion rights, and as part of the effort by Christian conservatives to dictate their beliefs to the entire American population, not just to the members of their churches. The radical conservative movement has long sought to refute the Bill of Rights and to co-opt the rule of law in the furtherance of their goals. Thus Edward Meese's well-known statement during the Reagan administration that the Bill of Rights was an "outmoded document," and the struggles over appointments to the Supreme Court and other courts across the country.

    While many hope that the new Administration will achieve a relaxation of political partisanship in the cultural wars that we have all endured over the past thirty years, the increasing fury over Prop 8 and other current social issues suggests that partisanship and its dirty warfare tactics are just going to get worse in the near future.

  4. Mr. Templeton is the chair of the foundation; he and it share a name; he and it got their money from the same source. But they are separate entities, and it may be slightly unfair of me to urge a boycott of the foundation because I disapprove of the actions of the man.

    But, in as much as Mr. Templeton "directs all Foundation activities" his personal imprimatur is upon all that the Foundation does. I'd posit in this case of a very public and very large donation to a political cause, that he has (as already suggested) brought shame by his personal actions upon a public institution established strictly for charitable purposes.

    He has tipped his hand as to his divisive politics and his direction of all Foundation activities is therefore suspect.

  5. i always think it's so cute when anyone sets out to formally harmonize 'religion' with *anything*. because they're always so unreflected about it. they always think that the religion being harmonized will be *theirs*.

    heh heh. hee hee hee heeee.. cuuuuuute!

  6. here's what I can't figure out. Is there some arcane legal reason why no one is taking what seems to be the easiest route and just making this a "no discrimination on the basis of gender" issue? Because gender discrimination has been illegal for quite a while …

  7. If I may, there is nothing un-compassionate about supporting Prop 8. I know you would like to define the debate with compassion and rights; after all, who wants to be looked at as uncompassionate?

    Marriage is not a civil right. Marriage is defined and protected by the majority of a society.

    There are currently, and always have been, restrictions regarding marriage. It is against the law to marry: your sister or brother, your children, minors, cousins, or multiple spouses, just to name a few legal restrictions on marriage.

    If marriage is a civil right than all those who wish to marry their sibling, etc, would have the ‘right’ to do so. But, they cannot, because, marriage is not a civil right and never has been. Each society in the world has defined marriage according to their society and has enacted laws to support the majority of that society.

    The same is true in America. California has voted. Twice the majority has voted in favor of maintaining that marriage is, between a man and a woman.

    Taking a non-religious view, society encourages and protects marriage between a man and a woman as well. Why? Because, marriage in this format offers the hope for offspring, the one and only one asset that propagates a society. No other form of sexual union can guarantee societies continuation. Scientific studies have proven biologically that offspring cannot come from sexual union of man and man, or woman and woman. I could describe the differences, biologically, but that would be too graphic for most readers. Sufficient to say, homosexual activity cannot produce offspring, nor the hope for offspring. This is a fact of science, not religion. Whether you agree or not – it is to this end that marriage is protected by law in society.

    To attack John Templeton, Jr., instead of debating the issue at hand demonstrates nothing more than terrorizing others, which are the tactics the opposition to Prop 8 are using, i.e. destruction of people’s property, slander, threats of financial ruin and bodily harm, or professional ruin. Terrorize/terrorism is defined: “To coerce by intimidation or fear.”

    Opponents in political debate seem to spend more time on falsely defining their opposition, instead of propagating and demonstrating the leadership of their own position for the good of society.

  8. Dear "Civil Rights":

    I'm not "terrorizing" anyone by suggesting that liberal and progressive intellectuals should decline to take Mr. Templeton's foundation's money. Refusing money usually doesn't lead to any bloodshed. In my experience, it's usually the other way around.

    Your arguments against civil marriage for gays are spurious. (They're also kind of dated, but for the sake or argument, a quick refutation follows….) Gays and lesbians are not asking to marry more than one person. They are not asking to marry their siblings or parents or children. And they are not asking to marry minors. As for the relationship between marriage and the raising of children, if your point were valid, then sterile heterosexuals should also be forbidden from wasting the precious commodity of marriage, and women should be automatically divorced from their husbands upon reaching menopause. That would be nonsense, of course. If you object to gay couples raising children that are not the result of their biological union, then how can you permit heterosexual couples to adopt? How can you allow remarried couples to raise the children of the previous union of one partner? The faults in your logic belie your claim to wish to restrict marriage to the purpose of raising children only, even if such a restriction had the approval of society generally, which it does not.

    As you say, California voted. And your side won. Gays and lesbians in that state lost their right to civil marriage. And that fact raises this question in my mind: why the hysteria? Why are you claiming "destruction of people’s property, slander, threats of financial ruin and bodily harm, or professional ruin," when there's no evidence of any such thing? I defy you to show that I have anywhere defamed or threatened Mr. Templeton. I have argued that people who believe in civil rights ought to boycott his foundation. There is a difference between angry protest and a threat. Please make an effort to distinguish them.

    You claim to be on the side of compassion. Please tell me: in refusing to allow gays and lesbians to marry, whom are you showing compassion for?

    As for whether marriage is a civil right, I leave you with this passage from Hannah Arendt, which has been quoted a number of time by Andrew Sullivan:

    "The right to marry whoever one wishes is an elementary human right compared to which ‘the right to attend an integrated school, the right to sit where one pleases on a bus, the right to go into any hotel or recreation area or place of amusement, regardless of one’s skin or color or race’ are minor indeed. Even political rights, like the right to vote, and nearly all other rights enumerated in the Constitution, are secondary to the inalienable human rights to 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness' proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence; and to this category the right to home and marriage unquestionably belongs."

  9. Caleb,

    I do apologize for not making a clear distinction between your protest activity and the protests as seen on the news, which clearly demonstrate tactics the opposition to Prop 8 are using, i.e. destruction of people’s property, slander, threats of financial ruin and bodily harm, toward the Mormon Temples. Your protests are clearly centered on financial and/or professional ruin. You are not breaking the law as thousands of other protesters are. For that you have my respect. However, by doing your best to gather others to put pressure for Mr. Templeton Jr.'s resignation, then you are trying to coerce by intimidation, and you want him to resign by fear of public protest. This is terrorizing to him and his family, and for what, following his personal believes? If he was trying bring prop 8 down you would be supporting him. So, due to his belief's you want him to resign by political pressure-so to speak.

    My arguments against civil marriage for gays are 'not' spurious. I can't believe that you have the audacity to even say such a thing. Your words expose your character therein.

    Your second paragraph supports my point. There are restrictions to marriage as you confirm. There always have been. Marriage is not a civil right and never has been. Marriage is defined, supported and protected by law from the society in which one lives. California voted, a society defines marriage.

    To be clear, a society can only propagate itself through the sexual union of a man and a woman. To this you agree because it is a biological fact. The potential of having children, the hopes therein, is 'one of the reasons' why societies support marriage between a man and a woman. From the beginning of modern history this has been so. You now wish to modify this tradition. I'm OK with that as you have your 'right' to vote. Yet, your attempts of changing a 6 or 7 thousand year old tradition to re-define marriage does not make it a right, as you know. It is not a right and never has been. A society will determine the definition of marriage.

    You bring up my comment regarding compassion. It is not un-compassionate to support ones own core believes of what they believe is best for the foundation of the society with which one lives. If those views differ, as ours does, that does not make either you or me un-compassionate. A persons compassion toward his fellow beings does not stop just because two individuals categorically oppose one another with a fundamental of society.

    Hannah Arendt obviously got it wrong. But think about it. If Hannah espoused her comments in favor of, lets say, prop 8, then you would be telling me that Hannah got it wrong.

    Bottom line: you are placing public political pressure on someone for their vote and support of their personal view. You have that right. Nevertheless, your tenacity, I believe, has crossed the line of terrorizing his name, reputation, and hopes of financial ruin with a resignation of his livelihood. You would do better, in my opinion, to spend your time supporting legislation to improve domestic partnership benefits.

    As far as marriage, it is not a right, it is supported by law via the society in which you live.

    P.s. I'm not a good writer, nor can I articulate in discussion as you can. I hope I've shared my opinions appropriately. Best, Civil Rights-

  10. Dear CR:

    You've expressed yourself quite clearly, and I see that we disagree about a great deal. For one thing, we seem to have different understandings of the nature of civil rights. You imply that marriage isn't a right because there are limits to it and because it doesn't exist without society's recognition. But what about free speech? There are limits to it—you can't cry "fire" in a crowded theater without cause—and it is only secure in societies that value and protect it. It's nonetheless a right, in my opinion. Same with marriage.

    We also disagree about tradition. Slavery was a tradition thousands of years old right up until it was abolished. I think we should decide questions based on whether they're right or wrong, not based on tradition.

    I strongly dissent from your claim that I am "terrorizing" Mr. Templeton "and his family." Public disagreement with someone is not terrorism. Mr. Templeton leads an institution that gives money to pubilc intellectuals. I suspect that many of these intellectuals, like me, disagree with his support of Proposition 8, and I think they should decline to accept his foundation's money in protest. Maybe that will cause him to resign. But no one is threatening either Mr. Templeton, his family, or his foundation with violence. If concerned parents decide not to let their children watch a TV show with sexually explicit imagery, are they guilty of "terrorizing" the TV network that produced the show? Of course not. A boycott is not a terrorist act. You're using inflammatory language without cause.

    Finally there's the matter of compassion. I asked to whom you were being compassionate when you worked to take marriage away from gays and lesbians. You reply that it's "not uncompassionate" to stick up for your beliefs. I agree that it isn't. But I don't think the beliefs in question are compassionate, either. Compassion involves understanding another's point of view, feeling pity for him, and perhaps showing mercy to him. Who benefits when the possibility of marriage is taken away from two unrelated adults? To whom is pity being shown? I understand how opposition to gay marriage could be called "traditional" or "religious." But I don't see how it could be called "compassionate." It shows mercy to no one, as far as I can tell. An opponent of gay marriage may well be a compassionate person in other aspects of his life. But I do not think opposition to gay marriage can itself be compassionate, as I understand the meaning of that word.

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