This provocative question elicited more than 180 comments in a discussion within the Sustainability Professionals LinkedIn group. What do you expect when the topic turns to religion? Here is a sampling of opinions:

Mark Bevan:  Maybe it is, but what's certain is that the way forward for sustainability is to get the major religions interested. All major religions teach their followers about fair living, helping the poor and praising God (or gods) for the wonderful planet He (they) have given us. Sustainability needs to be sold to religions for what it is - looking after the planet that (if you are a believer) God gave us. They may not agree totally with the methods - those would be up for discussion (population control could be a sticky one) - but the basic ethos is the same.

Dr Ranveer Singh Mahwar: The way I have liked and understood religion is " the system that teaches us how to live in harmony" and harmony here is what we are expected learn and follow from these holy books. The more and more we are able to keep pace with living in harmony we are keeping pace with sustainability too.

Roger Guzowski: I don’t disagree with your premise. I actually think that is one of the issues that concerns me about the modern sustainability movement. We saw the same thing happen with recycling in the US in the late 1980s and early 1990s. However, here is my concern. In allowing folks to embrace sustainability as a series of “beliefs” we risk absolving folks of their lack of action.

The most infuriating sentences that I have heard in the past 20 years all start with the clause, “I believe in recycling”, but all of them end with some excuse as to why that person does not actually recycle. To me it does no good to have people “believe” in recycling or sustainability if their actions do not follow their beliefs. I know too many self-proclaimed environmentalists who won’t drive a fuel-efficient car, don’t use public transit (no matter how much they “believe” in it), and who spend hours per day idling in an SUV in rush hour traffic in San Francisco or Boston because they “need” that SUV for their twice-per-year ski trip to Tahoe or Vermont. Are they part of the congregation because they answered correctly in an on-line sustainability survey (their beliefs), or should they instead be the target of the sermon (their actions)?

Matthew Bittenbender:  I appreciate your passion for this, but making sustainability a religion would mean opening it up to dogma that people will fight over rather than act. The followers you seek to "convert" to "Sustainablism" would eventually evangelicalize and fundamentalize the message as they have with so many other religious books.

To make it a religion would either to be to turn the scientific community into shaman or demons and that is not good for it. Why can't this simply be an earth science? You can let your passion and faith drive your work.

I knew an astrophysicist who also happens to be a Catholic priest. His passion to understand the depths of the universe was in his opinion to understand the mind of God - just a little - and that brought him closer in his faith. He never tried to justify or disprove God's existence in his work. He just observed the splendors of the physical universe and reveled in both their complexity and simplicity. But it also brought him spiritual peace as well.

The concept of converting science into a faith-based religion sets it up for faith-based debate and infighting when now it can be debated on the data measured which is more absolute than anything in this physical plane we exist.

Carl Robie: Sustainability practitioners do seem to have a creed and dogma.

Steven Sal Debus: Matthew, I appreciate the response. While specific religions can lapse in membership my point was that "religions" as a whole will not fail as a part of human society. People have a fundamental need for spirituality. Religion, regardless of denomination, is a choice on the spiritual menu. As a pragmatist, I think developing a religion around "sustainability" is a great idea even if it just succeeds in adding another choice for people who feel they need or want religion in their lives. For that matter, more people advocating sustainable living is a good thing. I would like to see what we could come up with as a "sustainable" set of commandments?
P.s. Scientists in the Vatican would be a welcomed change!

Matthew Bittenbender: Steven - I disagree that a sustainable religion will work and perhaps undermine the work of sustainability with dogmatic song and verse let alone the infighting that inevitably begins even from the outset. Organized religion is doomed to be fought over in perpetuity because without a "them" there can be no "us" by example. It seems grand, but the Druids were defeated as were the African tribes and Native Americans. Even the Mongols who believed in natural deities and conquered more of the globe than anyone succumbed to regional religions.

Angry as it may make some I don't believe that religion is a sustainable practice MO. I just look at all the examples that have come before. And even science as a "religion" would fail as a religion too simply because of the diverse opinions in application: War, monetary gain, exploitation, or altruistic advancement of mankind. The latter has been a rarity despite the many advances of our society.

Vince Di Norcia: Sustainability is not a religious belief or issue. It is instead a moral, social and biological imperative. Currently our civilization / lifestyle, ie, the North American addiction to fossil fuels/ human caused warming up the planet, and we are killing off species at an extinction rate that is appallingly high. We want big everything, and we want it now. We disdain other species and natural habitats, and untrammeled human population growth. We refuse to support leaders who will solve these problems--like Al Gore, for instance. We are killing off our own life support, and placing our species itself in danger of extinction. If that is not unsustainable, I don't know what is. You don't need religion to identify the problem, or the solutions. You need to see, and to care. It is not clear that we in fact do see. Or care. If so, we haven’t got long on this planet.