For many people, the word ‘religion’ brings up a lot of emotions; and if you look around at the behavior of some religious people you’d understand why.
In a recent census in Australia, where Vita was founded, over 60% of the public ascribed to some form of religion.
However, if you look down the list, you’ll see that not one of them is nature-based. Not one has saving the planet or looking-out for the well being of humans at their heart.
Almost without exception, these religions are devoted to worshipping god, not nature or humanity.
If you want to prevent biosphere collapse, you might think that religion is not up to the task. Maybe religion simply isn’t the right tool for the job.
Rather than ditching the concept of religion, why not create one that is fit for purpose? A religion that is suited to the times: a religion designed to remedy the needs of humans and nature in the Anthropocene Crisis.
But what is religion?
There are many answers to that question. I am not going to list them all, but instead, cut to the functional definition that Vita uses: that of the Australian Government.
In Australia, religious institutions, like Vita, are registered through the Australian Charities and Not-for-profit Commission: the ACNC. For the ACNC, religion involves:
belief in a supernatural being, thing or principle
the acceptance of canons of conduct that give effect to that belief.
In this sense, supernatural is something beyond evidence or scientific proof – it exists only in belief or faith.
You can see how a run of the mill church fits the ACNC's definition of religion. They believe in God – a concept unprovable, and reliant on faith – and they have canons of conduct to give effect to that belief: thou shalt not kill, go to church to worship, and so on. But by the same definition, supporting a sports team might also be regarded a religion.
Consider the Rabbitohs.
The Rabbitohs is an Australian rugby team, and the followers are known for being fanatical devotees. For supporters, the Rabbitohs are a supernatural force – they are sacred, above and beyond all the other teams, but not in any way that can be assessed through analysis of data. It’s a belief. Sure you could say its because they won this game or that, or it’s the colour of the jersey, or that they are an institution having been around for over a hundred years… or maybe its because they have Maximus (Russel Crowe) as one of the owners. You could tally all that up and it still would not explain the enthusiasm the followers have for the team. They simply see the Rabbitohs as sacred, a supernatural force.
And the Rabbitohs followers accept canons of conduct that give affect to that belief. They wear the sweater and the scarf. They go to the games. They cheer when one of the team scores, and bang those rubber hand things together. And if someone blags off the Rabbitohs in the club house… well you can imaging what sort of practices that would initiate!
The point about the Rabbitohs is this: using the ACNC’s definition, you could put forward an argument that the Rabbitohs are a religion. Hypothetically, if they submitted the paperwork, and the argument was accepted, then the Rabbitohs - like Christianity and Vita - could actually become a registered religious organisation. But that would also require them to be a non-profit organisation… So, maybe the shareholders would rather remain secular and for-profit.
I tell you that story to try and open up your thinking about what religion is. It’s many other things, besides, for sure. But I want you to understand the way Vita uses the word religion: it's a belief in something you can’t prove – in this case Vitae-planeta - and the things that you might do if you believe that.
And another important point is that you don’t need to have a god to have a religion – that’s referred to as non-theistic religion. But you do need a supernatural.
For people who care about the planet, there is nothing more supernatural than nature: it’s been around for over three billion years – a quarter of the age of the universe- it grows everywhere, and is so diverse.
Sure, Earth System Science, the Planetary Boundaries and all that – that’s scientific. But when you start reading Gaia Theory about homeostasis and the idea that the living things on Earth behave in the manner of a living organism, then you start to test the ability of science to deliver proofs. And you take a step beyond Gaia, and into Vitae-planeta, and you are well within the realm of belief in a supernatural entity.
What Vita has done is to bring together some existing ideas about humanism and the Living Planet, throw in a few new ones, create a narrative that brings it all together, put a structure around it, and to define some canons of conduct – some practices.
And in this way, Vita has become a new religion devoted to the Living Planet and a Sustainable Human Civilization.
And about time, too.