It started as a joke. In 2001, at the census in Britain, more than 390,000 people -about 0.7% of the total population in the country- claimed they believed in Jedis. Yes, the Jedi we all know from the Star Wars movies. The fighters and believers who are not afraid to use their light saber against the evil Empire, the dark side of the Force, as they say.
More than 18 years have passed since the census of 2001 and now a lot of people don’t joke when they say that the Force exists. And what they want is to make authorities recognize Jediism as a formal religion.
Jedi sprung from the imagination of George Lukas, director of Star Wars. He is the one that envisioned a whole universe, using philosophies and ideas that were already around. According to the Star Wars movies, Jedis form an order of fighter monks, guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy. They protect the galaxy by learning and being able to use the Force.
But what is the Force? According to Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi, one of the main characters of the Star Wars movies there is “an energy field, created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together”.
That yin and yang kind of energy manifests itself in different ways. Both can exist at the same time (take for example former Jedi Anakin Skywalker who was “lured” to the dark side in the films).
Moreover, people who believe in Jediism follow some of Yoda’s teachings. For those who don’t know him, Yoda is one of the most powerful Jedi Masters in the Star Wars universe. Among other things, master Yoda says: “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering”.
Well, all these sound very logical. Even to people who don’t believe in the Force or haven’t watched any of the Star Wars films.
In 2007, 23-year-old Daniel Jones founded The Church of Jediism along with his brother, Barney. At that time Jediism was already extremely popular and had become an online phenomenon.
Two years later, Jones was asked to leave a supermarket in North Wales because he was wearing a hood. He refused to remove it, citing religious reasons. The same thing happened to another man in Essex, only he got an apology from the manager. Followers were feeling like the Temple of Jedi was facing persecution.
Since authorities wouldn’t recognize it officially as a religion, The Temple of Jedi had to change. In the beginning, Jediism was asking people to wear the hood in public places. It later abandoned the rule.
Thousands of people all over the world claim Jediism to be their religion. Some claim that it has more than 500,000 followers worldwide. Jediism is the second biggest belief system in New Zealand and the fourth biggest in England and Wales.
A few years ago, students in Turkey even demanded from university authorities to built Jedi temples in their campus. Moreover, prisoners filed a complaint, claiming discrimination from the authorities that denied Jediism was a religion.
Most people started following Jediism as a joke, but some soon discovered that the core beliefs made sense.
That’s because at the heart of Jediism is New Age mysticism, which inspired the spiritual system that George Lucas created. The Jedi faith has elements from Taoism, Buddhism, Catholicism and the teachings of the Samurai.
Although the ideas behind Jediism are based on other religions, its followers can’t achieve recognition. We might have to wait for several decades, until that happens, considering a recent ruling by the Charity Commission for England and Wales.
The Commission oversees British organizations’ applications for nonprofit or charity status. The Temple of the Jedi Order applied for charity status, citing its dedication to furthering “the religion of Jediism”. However, the Commission ruled that in fact, it was not a religion. It explained that it does not “promote moral or ethical improvement”.
However -and due to the new Star Wars movies- the popularity of the Jedis will likely continue to rise. May the Force be with them.