Reader, I offer a pseudo-religion for our time. Its tenets are pretty simple.

It’s called a pseudo-religion because you don’t have to actually believe it’s true in order to profess it. You can follow it if you are a dedicated atheist, or alongside a religion which you truly believe. As a follower, you just do your best to act as if it were true.

In this religion, there are three moral commands, and each carries a third of the weight of one’s karma. You profess that whatever you believe will happen to you after your earthly death, even if it’s just how you will be remembered, the extent of good or bad in it will depend entirely on your karmic accumulation while you lived.

The first command is to act as if our planet itself is our god – call it Earth, Gaia, Mother Nature, God, whatever you like. Yet the Creator has let it be known it is in danger from its creations, and it will throw us off entirely to maintain itself. Just knowing that it is the source of our lives, we do everything we can do, strenuously adapting our life choices, to protect it, defend it, care for it, honor it, restore and preserve its health above all other concerns.

The second moral command is to act as if any owner of a large concentration of excess property, assets (wealth), and power should give these worldly accumulations away to others, entirely out of the control of oneself or one’s kin, progeny, or institutions under one’s command, while one is living, indeed as soon as possible. In living out the implications of this command, it is more than good for the wealthy and powerful to accrue maximum glory, recognition, and gratitude for their amazing generosity. And they certainly can keep something for themselves. But the larger and more persistent the concentration, the stronger the moral imperative grows. And for those who are bearers of lesser dispensations of privilege, one ought to be maximally aware of the precise nature of one’s privilege, of exactly what it is that others who lack that privilege lack, and the interplay by which you hold it and they do not. And ought to consider: what more can one do to enact greater justice from one’s privileged place?

The final command concerns the ordinary morality of inter-human affairs (excluding the concerns in the prior commands), that is, how a regular person does unto others. Whatever customary moral teachings to which you subscribe in such matters, it is simply to live up to them.

That’s it! To earn karma or a good afterlife (no grace on offer), take care of the planet that nurtures you; understand that wealth, power, and privilege must be relinquished and transformed; and, last and least, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. For in this religion, despite what we are accustomed to being told, the good old ‘golden rule’ is entirely inadequate in the absence of the other two commands.

The practice of this pseudo-religion is to find ways to share your creedal profession of the faith with others, to make it real in the sense of making it known that this is your chosen moral code, that you take seriously because it brings out only the best of whatever else it is you believe.

This would-be religion is demanding, to be sure. But not so demanding on yourself as it at first might seem. It is actually more about positioning yourself in a genuine and strong place to be more demanding of others – and in a way that can provoke social and personal discomfort. Most of us take far too much from the planet; yet most of us do not have substantial wealth to spare, or don’t feel that we do. But those of us who are comfortably situated in privilege are generally tied into a massive system of multigenerational self-dealing and stealing (not to deny that expertise and merit gained through work garner legitimate earnings). We cannot entirely renounce that system, nor can we individually carry all its sins upon our own backs. We need a way to be openly critical of it without being accused of hypocrisy, or feeling alone and exposed to retribution. We need a way to criticize the institutions of normality, the institutions that convey power, a way that acknowledges our participation and allows for our choice to do better, but continually shines yet more light on the powers above.

This pseudo-religion calls out with the voice of the prophets, it allows the conscience no rest, it overturns the tables of the moneychangers, it as much as calls out for its own crucifixion. (For what it’s worth, setting theological constructions aside, I believe it accords with the moral suasion the historical Jesus was aiming for.) All we can do is try our best, within the limitations we all face, to live up to it in our doings and in our hearts, and to make it widely known that, fail as we might, we expect nothing less of ourselves and others.

The rationale – that is, why you, too, should profess

It is reasonable to anticipate that the state of our climate and environment are such that we will see catastrophic collapses of several major natural and societal systems within the lifetimes of most people alive today – with some of these falls perhaps not far off at all. Limits have been exceeded for too long, making a mockery of the idea of “sustainability”; we certainly are headed into a very different world, in which wrenching changes make for an unpredictable future which will involve serious losses. (If your response to these assertions is not to deny their likelihood, but instead to consider the extent to which you yourself and your tribe may be insulated from their implications, this pseudo-religion suggests you step back to consider the ways in which your privilege might shape who you are.)

The powerful (the 2 percent) are driven to justify themselves – to wrap themselves in the self-image of their own goodness and project their glow outwards. And the moderately powerful (the 20 percent) are driven, out of their own keenly felt understanding of self-interest, to support the powerful in this endeavor, and to mirror it in themselves to the extent they can. And the powerless have little say in the matter. Thus there is today very little truth-telling that can challenge a collective mirage, an aura of expertise and philanthropy that masks the shadows in the natures of our leading lights and the system as a whole. And thus we have but a twisted and tangled path towards any possibility of decisive, positive, participatory change.

It will come to be more clearly seen that the concentration of property/wealth/constraining power/privilege is inextricably implicated in likely pending ecologically-based societal catastrophes. Sadly, it is jointly true that Wealth equals Power and Power corrupts, while Expertise and Privilege look the other way as they advance. Some common recognition that all this is true is why prophetic voices arise from time to time with a curious power of their own. And yet they are never able to fully take over the traditions which host them. The extent to which prophets succeed can be measured in the extent to which their sentiments are carried in the hearts, minds, and throats of people like you and me.

It will also become more recognizable that no major belief system has ever come to prominence without thoroughly evolving to accommodate itself to the will of the powers that be. As such, every widespread belief system is, for all its wisdom and benevolent good, also seriously corrupted.  Here is one, however, which by its simple self-definition, will lie beyond the reach of human corruption.

Centering our ‘spiritual’ attention on the planet’s limited carrying capacity for us – we, its brilliant but poisonous creation – and the role of power/wealth/and attendant privilege in preventing a healthier way of our being in and on the one world we’ll ever have – are essential elements of an emergent belief system that would be rare indeed – that is, one that could be of real use to humanity as we moves into our ‘interesting’ future. For none of the world’s established religions are capable of changing themselves enough to really take on these challenges. Some may wither in the times ahead because of their inability to provide sufficient meaning for our new age – unless their adherents also join up with and incorporate this one.

Utopian? Socialist? Political labels kill ideas; indeed they are often intended to. Granted, it is tempting to provide a label for those who stand astride corporate power, private foundations, personal seas of wealth – they are treated as the living gods of our age, operating above laws, restraints, and normal expectations, with opportunities that kings of former ages lacked, needing only to work on the problem of their own immortality. They, and indeed generations of their progeny with no inherent merit of their own, set the patterns in which we are constrained. Yet they are, after all, merely human. What we need today, more than anything, is to release our own imaginations from traps set on their behalfs by ourselves, our families, our schools, our communities, our employers, our institutions, our nations, our empires. (Jesus and Buddha could relate; one hopes the same could be said of other great religious figures, but that would need further investigation.)

Can anyone deny that the management of human affairs requires large institutions holding large repositories of capability and power? No. But is it clear that those innovators who found these institutions, or the clever successors who inherit their chairs, embody the best of human wisdom to guide us through the concerns of our age? Is it automatic that holding the leadership position of a social media enterprise, a transport enterprise, a representative body, a national military, a bank, a dispenser of grants, an energy firm, a political movement, even a church, means acting to ensure what’s best for the rest of us and for nature? Someone will always head such bodies. That’s fine; it’s great! But there is nothing in the nature of these human constructions that necessitates that they be owned or led in a manner remotely like they are, much less conferred so much power to choose how we live with so little competition from moral voices holding a power of their own.

Society needs a vehicle to carry widespread solidarity among common people, to induce real, inescapable shame upon the powerful, and to spur the freeing-up of resources to warp our way of life towards the better even as mother nature delivers us a strong swerve into the worse. What else do we have to live for? We actually should commit ourselves to this, for our own self-esteem and for our karma, or at least for the idea of our karma, for within it is contained the means for the good of all generations to come.