two men dressed as Jedi walking through a parade
Many people pretend to be Jedi, but in England, people were actually claiming to be Jedi on the official government census

As Britons in England and Wales prepare to complete their 2011 national census forms online, some of them are questioning the usefulness of the census altogether. Much of this apprehension stems from a debacle in the 2001 census in which a startling number of citizens described themselves as Jedi Knights individuals who subscribe to the quasi-religious philosophy depicted in George Lucas's science-fiction film franchise Star Wars. In the film, the Jedi are an order of knights who derive telekinetic power from an energy known as "The Force". If some government officials have their way, 2011 could be the last census year in British history.

The 2011 census awareness campaign has already been launched, and, as with the last census, citizens will have the option of filling in a blank space under the question asking about their affiliation with one of the world's major religions. If cabinet office minister Francis Maude has his way, though, 2011 could be the last census year in Britain. Maude has argued that the census is inefficient and uses an arbitrary variety of databases, while others have argued that it is intrusive and most people do not take it seriously. For instance, in the 2001 census over 390,000 people described themselves as Jedi Knights in Brighton alone, 2 per cent reported being Jedi suggesting to some people that the whole routine has become a joke especially with respect to affiliation with one of the world's great religions. In that census, more people identified as Jedi than as Jewish, Sikh, or Buddhist.

The whole thing might elicit a chuckle or two, but should Jediism be taken more seriously than it is? In order to determine whether Jediism can be considered a real religion, we have to determine what it actually is. As it turns out, there is in fact a Jedi Church, which describes its belief system in the following way:

The Jedi Church believes that there is one all powerful force that binds all things in the universe together. The Jedi religion is something innate inside everyone of us, the Jedi Church believes that our sense of morality is innate. So quiet your mind and listen to the force within you!

In addition, like the Jedi, people of many religions genuinely believe in a pantheistic life-force or higher power pervading the universe and everything in it; others believe that paranormal phenomena such as telekinesis are real, and that it is only a matter of time before their existence is proven scientifically. It also has training and educational resources for potential members. At least by these criteria, then, Jediism can be said to be a real religion.

The Jedi Church is just one of many churches that have received scrutiny over their legal church status. Nondenominational online churches are another. While the Jedi are criticized for basing their beliefs on inspiration from a science-fiction film, churches like the ULC Monastery are criticized for allowing their ministers to get ordained online for free. But Jedi genuinely believe in the basic principles espoused in the films which inform their religion, and, likewise, churches like the ULC Monastery genuinely believe that everybody has the sacerdotal right to become an ordained minister online, because spiritual insight is not the province of seminary schools and other traditional forms of religious training.

Share your thoughts. Should Britain scrap its census because too many people are reporting affiliation with the Jedi faith, or should it keep its census and start taking young religions more seriously?


The Guardian


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