Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Jedis in Australia

Believe it or not, this appears to be an actual thing. Since 2001, people have written in "Jedi" as their religion in Australia's national census. In 2011, it claimed approximately 64,000 adherents, just behind Sikhs and just ahead of Seventh Day Adventists.

The Jedi religion originally appeared in George Lucas' Star Wars films, but it also is true that Lucas came up with it by combining bits and pieces of other world religions. In the films, Jedis believe in a mystical energy called "the force" that binds all life in the universe together, and they are shown engaging in real spiritual practices such as meditation.

"Jedi" is also sometimes claimed as a joke religion like Pastafarianism, with atheists selecting it just to be funny. But Kylie Sturgess, president of the Atheist Foundation of Australia, is trying to get atheists to stop doing that and mark "No Religion" instead for the 2016 census.

Jediism is inspired by The Star Wars series and patches together aspects of Taoism, Buddhism, Catholicism, and other faiths. While some see it as a serious religious affiliation, others see the rise of Jediism in Australia as a reflection of the fact that the country is becoming an increasingly secular.

Australia’s religious landscape has changed significantly over the past century. In the 1911 census, just .4 percent of Australians chose “no religion” when asked about their religious identity. In 2011, 22 percent of Australians answered “no religion” in response to the census. With a few more percentage points, this group could potentially knock Catholicism, which at 25 percent is currently Australia’s largest religious denomination, out of the top spot.

An accurate portrait of Australia’s religious groups matters because, according to AFA, exaggerations in the data may “lead to groups wielding disproportionate influence within government.”

“Answering the religion question thoughtfully and honestly matters because it benefits all Australians when decisions on how to spend taxpayer dollars are made on sound data that accurately reflects modern-day Australia,” Sturgess said.

As I see it, if you're really a Jedi you should go ahead and answer Jedi. On the other hand, if you're not religious and just checking the box as a joke, "No Religion" would be a more accurate answer.

The Star Wars films were inspired in part by the works of Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, and the Jedi religion as presented does resemble a simplified distillation of Daoism and Buddhism. I don't see why it's any sillier than the "lite-Buddhism" followed by a large percentage of New Agers just because it originally came from a film.

In the United States, because of the separation of church and state it would make no difference whatsoever. I don't know enough about Australian politics to comment on how the census relates to tax dollars being spent, but for those who consider the Jedi religion a legitimate spiritual path, I don't see why they should have to hide it.

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Robot said...

I'm an Australian and I just want to correct you. Jedi is not an option that is given in the census, it is what some people have written as their religion.

Scott Stenwick said...

Updated. I found the original article ambiguous on that point. Thanks for the firsthand perspective!