I recently wrote an article about titled, The Third Ethic… it’s time to identify the mutation. It started out like this:

Mutations in nature can be good, they can be neutral, or they can be harmful. Any idea or philosophy or science can also mutate as time and people influence it. Oftentimes, these mutations are truly beneficial for the maturation of that science or philosophy, and other times these mutations can be very detrimental to its credibility and acceptance.

I believe there are two mutations that have occured in Permaculture that have been detrimental to its credibility and acceptance in the world. These mutations have kept Permaculture from becoming more mainstream. It is only because of the integrity and grandeur of the design science we call Permaculture that it has still has gained such international recognition.

So what are these two mutations? The first I will save for my next article. The second is that years ago people bastardized the Third Ethic of Permaculture.

Well, now it is time for the “next article”…

I have a feeling that some people will be bothered or upset or flat out angry with my thoughts, and I am okay with that. My goal is to bring Permaculture to the world. If your ideologies are preventing that, I am truly sorry, but you need to stand down. I come across so many people that say they want Permaculture to be brought to the world, but what they really mean is that they want their version of Permaculture brought to the world. But guess what? There is only one Permaculture. There are many expressions of Permaculture, but there is only one core. This is what I am trying to get to today.

The mutation I want to discuss today is that, at its core Permaculture is a religion. This is not anywhere close to true. It is an ethical design science. It is not a religion. To be fair, I understand that most people would not call Permaculture a religion, but they certainly act like it.

Now, before I get too deep into this, I need to say a few things. First, I would consider myself a fundamental Conservative Christian Evidenced-Based-Environmentalist Libertarian … there are probably a lot more -isms that I could identify with, but this is who I am at my core. I think we need to be honest with ourselves and be able to identify our own worldview before we start to address worldview issues on the whole.

Second, in a nice way, I don’t really care what you believe as long as you are not forcing it on me. I have friends who are Athiests, Agnostics, Catholics, Protestants, Mormons, Muslims, Liberals, Conservatives, Republicans, Democrats, Straight, Gay, and almost any other major category you can identify. Do we always agree on major goals in life? Well, yeah, actually we do. Do we always agree on the details and the path to get there? Heck, no! But that is okay. Again, in a nice way, I don’t care. Do I think I am right and they are wrong? Of course I do! And they usually feel the same in reverse. And that is okay. Will I try to persuade them (and you!) to see the world as I do? Of course! But I will try my best not to be confrontational or insulting. I will back up as much of what I can say with logic and evidence. If they do not want to participate in that discussion, it is fine. No problem! We can easily discuss only the things on which we agree.

Third, we need to remember that we can learn from people who have completely different worldviews than we do. We would be foolish to think that a dance instructor or a chef or a carpenter doesn’t know how to dance or cook or build  just because they voted for Obama or Bush or Mickey Mouse! I may not go to them for political advice, but we can certainly learn from people who have differing world views. Sometimes, they make the best teachers for us, because they make us really think and really question and, therefore, we really understand.

Okay, now back to my main point.

There are too many people who push Permaculture as an expression of their religion… specifically those who are modern-day witches, Pagans, and Wiccans, and/or those who participate in (Mother) Earth Spirit or Gaia or Goddess worship. Let me be very clear with this. I personally see Permaculture as an expression of my Christian faith; really, I see all of science as an expression of my faith. I see no problem with a Wiccan seeing Permaculture as an expression of their faith, even if I don’t personally agree with that faith. The problem I have is when that faith or belief or worldview is pushed onto a person.

This has been the case far too often and for far too long. This is one of the reasons people are turned off by Permaculture.

Let’s think about this for a minute. Who has ever said, “Well, I don’t believe in the principles of Biology or Chemistry, so therefore I can’t accept its tenets.” That would be ridiculous! Of course, for those antagonists out there, there are certain aspects of one science or another where people can take issue. That is usually when more research is done and a new theory is proposed or a new law is discovered. This is how science works.

But how often do you hear, “Well, I am not interested in your view on that” or “I have a fundamentally different worldview on that issue.”

If the world saw Permaculture as a science (which it is!) and not an expression of a new-age religion, then no one would be turned off to it. But time and time again, because of the excess baggage being strapped to the back of Permaculture, people and communities and governments are turned off to it.

What am I proposing? We need to teach Permaculture as it was meant to be taught. It needs to be based on the science as outlined by the originator (Bill Mollison) in his 72-hour course. If you want to add other things on top of it, go ahead, but make it optional and clearly state that it is not Permaculture. For instance, if you want to have a folk-singing or chanting or naked-dancing session around the fire in the evenings then go for it, but don’t make it a required part of a Permaculture Design Course (PDC). If you want to combine Permaculture with your worldview, then advertise it as such… PDC for Gaia Worshippers or PDC for Flat-Earthers or whatever. This allows people to differentiate the science and the worldview. There is a group called the Gay Republicans. With this title, people automaticaly understand that all people who are Gay are not Republicans, and all Republicans are not Gay. See how simple that is? Also, be very clear during the PDC when you are teaching the science of Permaculture and when you are expressing your worldview. In reality, there is enough science to take up almost all the teaching time during a PD, that there really is no need to expound your personal view of the universe.

I’ll bring it back to how I started the article. I do believe that our goal is to bring Permaculture to the world. To do that we need to present it in a way that is scientific and verifiable.

Thank goodness we have people like Geoff Lawton and John Liu who are not trying to convince the world. They are out there showing the world that Permaculture is a reproducible science. Let’s cull the mutation where Permaculture is taught as a religion, and let’s bring Permaculture to the world!


Note: While I was writing these two articles, Jack Spirko at The Survival Podcast published a similar article. I find it really interesting how similar our arguments are. You can read his article here: What exactly is a PDC and what it isn’t.

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