originally published June 30, 2012
For the record, this article is not about Star Wars.
It’s about faith. Religion. Spirituality. The Force. I’m referring to the Force in this time, in this galaxy. I’m talking about a religion to which hundreds of thousands of people belong, yet for which there is no church, no temple, no sacred real estate. There is no Holy Trinity, only the Holy Trilogy.
In 2001, census-takers around the globe found themselves recording an unusual number of people who listed ‘Jedi’ as their official religion on the survey. This wasn’t a bunch of Americans pulling a prank on the Man – in fact, the article doesn’t list the United States as one of the countries who was in on the gag.
Part of me wants to call this a ‘movement’ instead of a ‘gag’, but it’s hard to take it seriously, and I consider myself as devoted a Star Wars fan as anyone in my generation, except maybe for those people who dress up like Boba Fett to go out shopping.
Emails began to circulate in ’01 suggesting that if enough people put ‘Jedi’ down as their religion, the government will have to take it seriously enough to declare it as an official faith. I received one of those emails, and I probably did put Jedi down on my census form. I’m Jewish by birth, but the only connection I have with that part of my heritage is a fondness for lox and an affinity for Woody Allen movies. Jediism makes as much sense to me as anything else on the table – more than most really – so why not?
Besides, if L. Ron Hubbard can write a sci-fi novel that inspires a religion, why can’t George Lucas do the same with a trio of movies? I say ‘trio’ because the prequel trilogy, while not the festering dump truck full of guano some believe it to be, still tested my faith more than it reaffirmed it.
21,000 of my fellow Canadians opted to claim Jedi as their rightful religion. That may not sound like much, but it still works out to about 0.7% of the population. I’d say that puts us Sith-fighters ahead of a number of Aboriginal faiths, and probably in front of the Scientology gang. Score one for the Lucas-ites.
Australia boasted over 70,000 citizens who were devotees of the Force. The Australian Board of Statistics had to issue an official press release in response to this bizarre wave of what they believed to be bogus submissions. They stated that the Jedi contingent was to be classified as ‘not defined’, and they warned people about issuing false statements on their census forms.
At the heart of this movement is, of course, the question as to whether or not it’s any of the government’s business what someone’s religion might be. In a world that seems to prove on a daily basis that failing to separate church and state leads to bad things, perhaps this portion of the census should simply be trashed. We all know Christians are in the majority in this part of the world, so what? It doesn’t matter to me if the guy across the street worships Jesus, Krishna, or Darth Vader. A person’s religion is important to them, I get that. But other people’s religions don’t need to be.
The Australian Board of Statistics discounted all Jedi entries because “there would need to be a belief system or philosophy as well as some form of institutional or organizational structure in place.” Well, there actually is.
The Temple of the Jedi Order was founded in Texas by the Reverend John Henry Phelan. They are a non-profit religious society, legally allowed to conduct marriages and recognized as a religious corporation under Texas law. If Texas is too far away and you are considering joining the congregation, there are Jedi temples in Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Wales. The subject of Jediism as a religion is fascinating, and will probably merit its own kilograph before my thousand days are up.
By the time the 2006 census rolled around, the Australian government reminded people that putting ‘Jedi’ on their census form could result in a fine for providing false information. No word on how many Aussies were willing to risk it. I’m guessing not many.
The phenomenon spread all over the world. Montenegro and Ireland hinted at a Jedi presence in their statistics, but didn’t publish the numbers. New Zealand boasts the highest per capita Jedi ratio in the world in 2001, with 53,000 people (that’s 1.5% of the population) claiming to follow the Jedi faith. The New Zealand government, following the trend in that down-under corner of the world, did not count the entries as legitimate. Had they done so, Jediism would be the second-largest religion in the country.
No, I’m not making that up. 58.9% of New Zealanders claimed to be Christian, followed by a whopping 36.5% who listed ‘No Religion’ or that they objected to answering. Jediism came next.
Scotland boasted over 14,000 Jedi in their 2001 census. But their percentage was nothing compared to the rest of the United Kingdom.
In England and Wales, 390,127 people registered themselves as adherents of Jediism on their 2001 census forms. That outranks the British Sikh, Buddhist, and Jewish population. In Brighton, 2.6% of the population consider themselves to be aspiring Jedi Knights. This map shows the Jedi hot-spots around England. London seems to be the place for Jedi to gather. Maybe they put midichlorians in the water system, I don’t know.
English law states that no one who put ‘Jedi’ down on their form would be subject to a fine. Rather than toss the numbers out, or consider them non-answers, the British government set up a designation for Jedi in the processing of the census. They were quick to point out that this was done to facilitate the processing, not because the religion is in any way officially recognized. Then there’s this guy:
That’s Jamie Reed, Labour Party representative for Copeland in Cumbria, and the first openly Jedi Member of Parliament in England’s history. His office later confirmed that Jamie was kidding, but I think that was more an act of tidying up to avoid a scandal. These are tough times for minorities in our world, and clearly we have a ways to go before we achieve true Jedi tolerance.
But our numbers are there. Hell, it’s the tenth largest religion on Facebook, and they’ll actually allow that there. Now if only I could get the remote control to fly into my hand from across the couch, that would be great.