It started as a popular inside joke among U.K. atheists: when asked to divulge their faith on the 2001 Census form, almost 400,000 non-believers — 0.7 percent of the population — claimed to be practitioners of Jediism. Yes, as in Star Wars.
Somehow, over the years, that little bit of mischief gave birth to an actual belief system with a real theology — for some. The BBC, quoting a Cambridge University researcher, says that there are currently about two thousand self-identifying Jedi in the country who are serious about their faith. They’ve developed
“ever-more complex doctrines and scriptures,”
… written by the Church’s founder, Daniel Jones.
What might have started as an intellectual exercise by fans adding to the movies and filling in the gaps, has become an attempt to build a coherent religious code. … The Jedi belief system is a patchwork quilt of Taoism, Buddhism, Catholicism and Samurai. … Often the ideas offer a simple dualism of good and evil, light and dark. …
Beth Singler, a researcher in the Divinity Faculty of Cambridge University, estimates that there are about 2,000 people in the UK who are “very genuine” about being Jedi.” … Jediism is not a joke for them but an inspiration. They don’t believe in “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”, says Singler, quoting the opening text that fills the screen of Star Wars. “It’s somewhere between metaphor and literal truth.“
A young video game journalist named Patrick Day-Childs helps run the UK’s Church of Jediism (there is no church building — this faith plays out almost entirely online).
The Church has 200,000 people around the world who are active online, he says, although not all are necessarily believers. Day-Childs first joined when he was 14 for a joke [he’s 21 now] but he says the more he looked into it, the more it made sense. “I use it every single day of my life,” he says. It is both calming and inspiring. “It’s an actual religion, not just about fandom. At its absolute core it’s about helping people.”
For which you don’t need a religion, or any gods. And actually, Jediism is a non-theistic faith. Instead,
… [it] embraces technology and science [to appeal] to a new audience.
So geeks are drawn to it? No surprise there, I suppose.
For Mark Vernon, a former priest, psychotherapist and writer, the Jedi story has real power. “The reason it’s so powerful and universal is that we have to find ourselves. It’s by losing ourselves and identifying with something greater like the Jedi myth that we find a fuller life.”
Oh, those two thousand serious Jediists? That’s about the same number of U.K. citizens who practice Scientology.
Neither belief is worth a damn, but at least Jediism doesn’t fleece its followers the way Scientology does — nor is it dogged by accusations that it holds members captive who wish to leave, and/or who have mental problems.
However, considering that the Church of Jediism is registered as a for-profit company, maybe we just have to give it some time.
(Image via Shutterstock)