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Religious CEOs: Goldman Sachs' Former CEO, Hank Paulson


The company's ex-CEO and ex-Treasury Secretary has given Christian Science a publicity boost.

These are tough times for the PR departments of some big religions. The Vatican is linked to sex abuse; Islam is linked to terrorists; Pat Robertson says Haitian sin caused the earthquake; and now Christian Science can be linked to Goldman Sachs (GS).

That link would be Henry Paulson. The 64-year-old former Treasury Secretary and Goldman Sachs CEO turns out to be a devout follower of the sect founded in 1866 by Mary Baker Eddy. Their theological position on bailouts and shorting might make instructive reading.

Christian Science isn't quite the behemoth in that group. Frankly, a little bad PR is probably a positive development for them. Plenty of people must have Googled Christian Science following the publication of Paulson's book, On the Brink: Inside the Race to Stop the Collapse of the Global Financial System. Many who bought the memoir expecting an inside account of the bailout crisis narrated by a steely nerved Wall Street wizard were surprised to discover Paulson's allegiance to one of America's more significant contributions to Christian factionalism. More surprising for some was the revelation that in the midst of the 2008 financial crisis, Paulson's own personal crisis was as much about barbiturates as bailouts.

Desperate for a good night's sleep in the midst of the crisis he considered taking a sleeping pill -- an action contrary to Christian Science philosophy. "I stood under the harsh bathroom lights, staring at the small pill in the palm of my hand," Paulson wrote. "Then I flushed it -- and the contents of the entire bottle -- down the toilet. I decided I would rely on prayer, placing my trust in a Higher Power."

Paulson was raised in the Christian Science faith by his mother, Marianna, and father, Henry, a jeweler, on a farm near Barrington Hills, Illinois. His wife, Wellesley grad Wendy Judge, shares his faith, a point emphasized in Paulson's written account of the financial crisis: "I asked her to pray for me, and for the country, and to help me cope with this sudden onslaught of fear. She immediately quoted from the Second Book of Timothy, verse 1:7 -- 'For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.' "

Henry Merritt Paulson Jr. is commonly known as "Hank" to friends, associates, and Sarah Palin. The former Alaska governor provides a cautionary example -- in his book, Paulson confesses to being irked when Palin instantly used the diminutive on the phone without ever having met the Treasury Secretary face-to-face. When dealing with Paulson, it seems best to wait for Hanking privileges.

Unless you're a snake. A longtime member and former chair of the Nature Conservancy, Paulson reportedly never met a reptile he didn't love. The former Eagle Scout has always preferred forest-based wildlife to the Vegas variety. According to a 2004 Fortune profile, Paulson's youthful ambition was to be a forest ranger. He and Wendy set up on five acres of the Paulson family farm in a house that became home to two kids and four raccoons.

Today Paulson is a fellow at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies. While the spotlight on his Christian Science faith has piqued interest, the evolution of his beliefs on government regulation of financial markets has been the more pressing issue for most. It's not a question Mary Baker Eddy seems to have considered.

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