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The Return of the Jedi?

According to this article on Sci Fi Wire, some 404,000 people in England, Scotland, and Wales listed their religion as "Jedi" on the 2001 British census (HT: Instapundit). The BBC reported on the growth of the Jedi movement in Britain back in 2003. The Jedi claim that they are Britain's fourth largest religion.

The Sci Fi Wire article also states that the British Office of National Statistics doesn't recognize the Jedi as an official religion and has lumped them in with the atheists. Counting the Jedi as atheists may be technically correct. Throughout the six Star Wars movies, there is no indication that the Jedi worship a God or gods of any kind. They do revere the Force. But the Force seems to be an impersonal power similar to gravity, rather than a conscious deity. Indeed, the ability to use the Force seems to be triggered by genetic anomalies rather than by any spiritual connection to supernatural entities. Jedi mysticism appears to be a secular moral philosophy like utilitarianism or Kantianism, not a religion.

As an atheist myself, perhaps I should welcome the rise of the Jedi in Britain. However, as sci fi writer David Brin documents here, here, and here, Jedi morality has many flaws. Even worse, the growth of the Jedi movement may cause the rise of the Sith, which Tyler Cowen claims is an inevitable consequence of the Jedis' authoritarian tendencies. Tyler is not as forgiving of the Jedis' flaws as I am. On the other hand, Bryan Caplan effectively uses public choice theory to defend the Jedi. Bryan makes some good points; but I find his lack of faith in the Galactic Republic disturbing. We'll just have to see if the Force is with Britain's new Jedi or not.

Xenocles (www):
At least everyone already knows this system is completely made up... [ducks]
4.19.2009 6:40pm
Sagar:
Jedi are collectivists (Jedi council ~ politburo). I do not welcome the return of the Jedi, except ofcourse, the movie.
4.19.2009 6:43pm
zippypinhead:
well... this suggests either that the Brits don't take their census very seriously, or that there are at least 404,000 of the Queen's subjects with, at best, a rather tenuous grasp on reality.

Although this also suggests a way for a clever entrepreneur to make a buck or three from the silliness: sell midichlorian test kits to the faithful!
4.19.2009 6:53pm
steviededalus:
Hmmm...I've been playing the Lego Star Wars game a lot lately, and I've come to believe that Jedi-ism is a form of paganism or shamanism, not atheism.
It's also really, really, really sad.
4.19.2009 6:55pm
Anderson (mail):
Tyler is not as forgiving of the Jedis' flaws as I am.

Hah! Allusion caught, sir.
4.19.2009 6:57pm
obi juan (mail):
How can someone not believe in the force? It's existence is scientifically verifiable by midiclorian count.
4.19.2009 7:19pm
Rod Blaine (mail):
The next step: "I do not tick 'No Religion' on the census form. He who ticks 'No Religion' on the census form has forgotten the face of his father."

Interesting, btw, following from Brin's thread (NPI), that both George Lucas and Stephen King...

(a) are liberal Democrats in real life, working thinly-disguised digs at Republican Presidents into their oeuvres ("If you're not with me, you're against me!", and Gary Hart as President)

but

(b) create fictional universes in which happy, well-governed kingdoms are undermined by unscrupulous traitors ("Democracy, not the rule of the gun!" "I promise, if elected, to put an end to corruption") and must be defended, or restored, by a hereditary elite of aristocratic super-warriors, determined by bloodline.

At least JRR Tolkien actually believed in absolute monarchy, and Ursula le Guin actually believed in Kropotkinesque anarchism, for real life as well as for fiction.

PS: Is it true the US census form doesn't ask your religion?
4.19.2009 7:50pm
Karl Lembke (mail) (www):
If Jedi are atheists because they don't worship a deity, then so are at least some flavors of Buddhism.
4.19.2009 7:50pm
Tom R (mail):
"both George Lucas and Stephen King

... created famous 1978 movie characters named "Carrie".
4.19.2009 7:55pm
Bama 1L:
PS: Is it true the US census form doesn't ask your religion?

Correct. I would venture to say that it strikes many Americans as strange that so many other countries do collect this information about their citizens.
4.19.2009 8:21pm
Oren:

How can someone not believe in the force? It's existence is scientifically verifiable by midiclorian count.

Then a Republic is clearly not the optimal choice for governance.
4.19.2009 8:22pm
Cornellian (mail):
I wouldn't read too much into this. Brits have a long and distinguished history of thinking up eccentric ways to annoy people in authority.
4.19.2009 8:32pm
Xenocles (www):
"If Jedi are atheists because they don't worship a deity, then so are at least some flavors of Buddhism."

This is true by definition. The only requirement for atheism is lack of a belief in gods. You could believe in crystal power and still be an atheist if you lack belief in gods. That's the weakness of negative labels; they don't tell much about the group they cover.
4.19.2009 8:35pm
Tom R (mail):
Wouldn't "atheist" be more useful if it meant "not believing in any supernatural or metaphysical powers", whether personal deities or impersonal forces?

It would seem a bit of a stretch for someone to say "I'm an atheist but I believe in astrology and karma", for example.
4.19.2009 8:44pm
GatoRat:
The real question is whether all these Brits really claim Jedi to be their religion or are simply practicing civil disobedience using a common "joke"? (Methinks the latter.)
4.19.2009 8:53pm
Xenocles (www):
It does seem strange but is nonetheless true. That's why I personally prefer the term "mechanist" for what I believe; it matches your definition of atheist.
4.19.2009 8:53pm
Ilya Somin:
At least JRR Tolkien actually believed in absolute monarchy

Actually, Tolkien believed in a monarchy with strictly limited powers. He was very skeptical of government.
4.19.2009 9:27pm
Bama 1L:
The pagan Roman authorities called Christians atheists because they did not believe in the gods.
4.19.2009 9:29pm
Aeon J. Skoble (mail):
It's described by Tarkin as a religion in the first film: "You, my friend, are all that are left of their religion." And the line is not delivered as if the last word were in scare quotes.
4.19.2009 9:31pm
Ham Salad:
Kid, I've flown from one side of this galaxy to the other. I've seen a lot of strange stuff, but I've never seen anything to make me believe there's one all-powerful force controlling everything. There's no mystical energy field that controls my destiny.
4.19.2009 9:43pm
Fub:
Bama 1L wrote at 4.19.2009 9:29pm:
The pagan Roman authorities called Christians atheists because they did not believe in the gods.
Everyone is an atheist in some religion or other.
4.19.2009 9:45pm
D.O.:
If 404k Brits were joking does it justify putting them into "atheist" category? Can a conscientious (that is "true") beliver ever joke about things like that? I mean, granted it is possible, but is it psychologically reasonable? Being an atheist in the strictest sence of a word I can not know myself.
4.19.2009 9:45pm
Ilya Somin:
It's described by Tarkin as a religion in the first film: "You, my friend, are all that are left of their religion."

His statement may be just a reflection of his own ignorance of the Jedi beliefs. After all, the whole scene demonstrates that the imperial generals don't really understand the Force and thereby underestimate Vader.
4.19.2009 9:48pm
whit:
i have to agree with ilya here.

it's kind of like that old saw about any technology that is sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magick.

tarkin's like was using religion in a deprecating way, like saying it was just a blind faith in a non-existent thing. and then vader shows him JUST HOW POWERFUL THE FORCE'S THROAT SQUEEZING POWER IS!

personally i'd subscribe to any religion that lets me squeeze people's throats from a distance by merely pointing at them menacingly.
4.19.2009 9:53pm
Times Current (mail) (www):
His statement may be just a reflection of his own ignorance of the Jedi beliefs. After all, the whole scene demonstrates that the imperial generals don't really understand the Force and thereby underestimate Vader.

I would suggest this line is more likely similar to the misuse of parsec; something that simply wasn't thought through enough at the time. I'd suspect the choice of the word religion here doesn't reflect a deeper plot trend, merely an incomplete and non-coherent universe created by the writers that gets explained retroactively.
4.19.2009 10:02pm
Aeon J. Skoble (mail):
Ilya: you're thinking of a different scene. Tarkin and Vader are alone in the scene I'm referencing. Also, Solo refers to it as a religion when he's watching Luke train.
Whit: There is nothing in that scene which suggests deprecation. He says it quite matter-of-factly, and the two of them are the only ones in the room. In the earlier scene, the guy who gets force-choked, _he_ was being derogatory, but he referred to it as "sorcery." Tarkin seems positively respectful by comparison.
4.19.2009 10:02pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
What were the figures for Siths?
4.19.2009 10:07pm
Dave hardy (mail) (www):
The Jedi "religion" has been meaningful criticized by Darth Vader, at his blog:

http://darthside.blogspot.com/

And yes, from the Roman standpoint it made sense to charge Christians with atheism. To a polytheist there was an infinite number of deities (they found more whenever they invaded another country), all of them powerful. The Romans had no trouble with the Christians worshipping another 1-3, BUT they also refused to worship the official minimum number, or to offer sacrifice to the emperor's genius (not exactly a god, but some cross between destiny and guardian angel).

Josephus' account of the siege of Jerusalem shows their attitude. Romans get word that the defenders have stopped sacrifices in the Temple (reason not given, but apparently it was defiled by human blood being shed during fighting). Roman commander flips. Yahweh might blame him and the Romans for this, with dire consequences. His own gods will take Yahweh's side -- gods vs. mortals and all that, you did it to him and you might do it to us, you impious scum.

He gives a speech explaining that the Romans are pious men, had offered to make the the Temple a demilitarized zone for that reason, it was the defenders' fault, Romans are not to blame, and in case Yahweh remains in the area (as he might not, considering how terribly he was treated by his worshippers) sacrifices will be made to him in the Roman camp.
4.19.2009 10:15pm
whit:
i'm clearly confusing my star wars scenes. losing nerd cred
4.19.2009 10:16pm
ll (mail):

The real question is whether all these Brits really claim Jedi to be their religion or are simply practicing civil disobedience using a common "joke"?


If one considers the mass hysterical insanity after Diana's death, the only conclusion can be that the ~400,000 are serious.
4.19.2009 10:20pm
Omar Ha-Redeye (mail) (www):
We had 20k in our 2001 Census in Canada.
4.19.2009 10:33pm
Hans Solo:
“Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid..."
4.19.2009 10:54pm
DiversityHire:
Princess Diana was a Jedi, too?
4.19.2009 11:17pm
cathyf:
Best geek bumper sticker: "May the mass*acceleration be with you"
4.19.2009 11:25pm
Houston Lawyer:
What would Chad Vader do?
4.19.2009 11:31pm
Tom R (mail):
" personally prefer the term "mechanist" for what I believe; it matches your definition of atheist."

Would "rationalist" fit better? Thus, eg, someone who believes in ghosts or devils but not in God(s) (the default theology of most Hollywood horror films) would be "atheist" but not "rationalist".

"Actually, Tolkien believed in a monarchy with strictly limited powers"

He believed the king's powers should be limited materially but not formally. IOW, he believed a king should take an oath to govern justly and to respect all ancient laws, rights and customs... but he did not think there should be a Parliament or a Supreme Court with power to overrule, let alone depose, a monarch who turned tyrant. The king would be held accountable not by any power on earth, but in the afterlife.
4.19.2009 11:57pm
Xenocles (www):
I think "rationalist" begs the question, actually. Of course my personal view is that mechanism is rational, even more rational than theism. However, I don't think a value-loaded label is proper for this situation.
4.20.2009 12:41am
D.O.:
Rationalist can also be an agnostic, not necesserally atheist.
4.20.2009 2:20am
Careless:
The new trilogy shouldn't be cannon.

My wife is one of the very odd Therevada Chinese Buddhists. Godless Buddhism+pagan ancestor worship to improve the lots of dead people whose fates were sealed before you were born... it's weird.
4.20.2009 2:25am
Careless:
What's missing from my post is the fact that Theravada (original, or as close to as we can find) Buddhism has no gods or afterlife
4.20.2009 2:26am
Lucius Cornelius:
Admiral Motti:


Don't try to frighten us with your sorcerous ways, Lord Vader. Your sad devotion to that ancient religion has not helped you conjure up the stolen data tapes, or given you clairvoyance enough to find the rebels' hidden fortress...



Darth Vader:


I find your lack of faith disturbing.
4.20.2009 6:40am
Lucius Cornelius:
whit:


personally i'd subscribe to any religion that lets me squeeze people's throats from a distance by merely pointing at them menacingly.


Someone sitting behind me just said, "Do you realize how many politicians would be dead if any of us had that power? But at least a lot more people would be watching C-Span."
4.20.2009 6:42am
Arkady:

Wouldn't "atheist" be more useful if it meant "not believing in any supernatural or metaphysical powers", whether personal deities or impersonal forces?

It would seem a bit of a stretch for someone to say "I'm an atheist but I believe in astrology and karma", for example.


Except, that karma is not supernatural: karma is the natural functioning of the web of causal relations that constitutes each "thing". See, Pratityasamutpada (dependent origination).
4.20.2009 7:00am
Arkady:
A particularly charming story about that last concerns the very young acolyte in the Zen monestary who dropped the Zen Master's favorite teacup and broke it. He went to the master and said, "Master you have taught us that everything has its own karma." "Yes, that is true," said the Zen Master. "Well," said the youngster, "your favorite teacup has exhausted its karma."
4.20.2009 7:14am
Boblipton:
Genetic anomalies? You mean an inherited religion, like Christianity or Judaism?

Bob
4.20.2009 7:41am
donaldk2 (mail):
Intriguing. We know the British are great spoofers: Goon Show, Beyond the Fringe, Monty Python, Pete and Dud, and the pub mates of the inventors of this hoax - but 400,000 of them?

On the other hand, if it were a genuine conviction, how is it that no "believer" has yet been individually identified. Somebody must have one of them in his family or acquaintances.
4.20.2009 7:52am
Melancton Smith:

What would Chad Vader do?


Season 2 started a couple months ago!
4.20.2009 9:30am
Preferred Customer:
Jedi? My gods, that's frakking ridiculous.
4.20.2009 9:33am
Ken Arromdee:
Except, that karma is not supernatural: karma is the natural functioning of the web of causal relations that constitutes each "thing".

I could say that gods aren't supernatural using the same reasoning. Gods are a part of the natural order of things and the fact that gods throw lightning at people is no more supernatural than the fact that the sun throws out rays of light.

Gods and karma may be part of some "natural" functioning, but this natural functioning is completely disconnected from any other sort of natural functioning and cannot be measured or affected using normal methods. That's supernatural in everything but name.
4.20.2009 10:52am
David Brown (mail):
Just to answer all these comments,someone above said that the Brits like to annoy those in authority. This was a case in point, after and e-mail campaign to force the authorities to recognise a New Religion even though it was spoof, (Yes we know its not real). It was said that the Government have to recognise a religion if there are over 10,000 believers in the country. Either it wasn't true or they changed the rules because it didn't happen. For more info http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/2757067.stm.
We did it again last year when there was a campaign to make Jeremy Clarkson ( The TV presenter of Top Gear)Prime Minister it got millions of votes, again it didn't work though.

A Brit
4.20.2009 11:00am
Thales (mail) (www):
"What were the figures for Siths?"

Always two there are, a master and an apprentice.
4.20.2009 11:57am
Fub:
Arkady wrote at 4.20.2009 7:00am:
Except, that karma is not supernatural: karma is the natural functioning of the web of causal relations that constitutes each "thing". See, Pratityasamutpada (dependent origination).
Exactly. The popular notion seems to be of some supernatural woo-woo, along the lines of "you were a jerk (or a hero) in a past life and you are now living the consequences of it." That misconception appears to be shared by both irrational magical thinkers as well as their most staunch rationalist critics.

But the fundamental principle of karma is simply that actions have consequences. One would expect the most hard-nosed rationalist would agree with that.

The fact that one's actions can have consequences that one has not even considered seems to drive those misconceptions. Perhaps it is simply easier and more comforting to believe that one's present state is consequence of stepping on a bug in some mysterious past life, than it is to believe that one's actions in this present life cause one's present state.

But actions have consequences regardless of whether this present life is the only one that ever was or will be, or this present life is one of countless past and future lives. Questions of one's past lives, future lives, and immortal soul transcending time are simply irrelevant.
4.20.2009 11:58am
Thales (mail) (www):
I think Lucas describes his own beliefs as a hybrid of Methodism and Zen Buddhism, which would make some sense of aspects of the Jedis behavior.

Tolkien I believe wavered between monarchism (absolute, but with "good" rulers) and some form of anarchism. It was all the isms in between he didn't like.
4.20.2009 12:01pm
Fub:
Thales wrote at 4.20.2009 12:01pm:
I think Lucas describes his own beliefs as a hybrid of Methodism and Zen Buddhism, which would make some sense of aspects of the Jedis behavior.
Hmmm. Something like this?
4.20.2009 12:15pm
ba2 (mail):
Many of us see archetypes as a confirmation of spiritual truths and God's existence. Carl Jung did.
Consider possible representation of Plan of Salvation in 1976 Star Wars: mentor (obi-wan)=prophet, shadow (darth vader,emperor)=Satan, quest (rescue princess, defeat vader)=journey to promised land/heaven, herald (R2D2)=angel/missionaries, magical object (light saber)= Spirit, prayer, hero (Luke)=Christ, and by extension those that follow him. Hero's allies (Han Solo, etc..)=church members.
Of course all screen writer's are using archetypes these days but I've never heard a convincing biological explanation for them.
4.20.2009 2:42pm
Dreadnaught (www):
Why is the British government asking about people’s religion? What legitimate purpose would the government have in knowing the person’s religious views?

In the U.S. Census 2000 there were no questions about religion. Most the of questions are about income, housing, education, occupation, disabilities, and transportation. All legitimate information that the government would use to allocate resources. Also in the U.S. Census 2000 there are questions about race, which does not seem necessary.

Interestingly, race questions disappeared from U.S. census from 18401930. As one would imagine there in the early census questions there were a number of questions about the number of free white males in the household.
4.20.2009 3:04pm
PeterWimsey (mail):



whit:


personally i'd subscribe to any religion that lets me squeeze people's throats from a distance by merely pointing at them menacingly.


Don't force-choke me, bro!
4.20.2009 3:40pm
Rod Blaine (mail):
"Actions have consequences" is a truism from empirical observation. "Actions have consequences that balance out, so that ultimately no one profits from her or his own wrong" requires a leap of faith of the same kind, if not to quite the same degree, as creation science.
4.20.2009 5:20pm
ReaderY:
Well, both science and magic involve arcane manipulations of mysterious forces, but the difference between the two is that science works and magic doesn't.

Of course there are many situations in human affairs where we don't really know what's going to work, and in these cases the distinction may not be a very helpful one.

I wonder if people are reporting it as some sort of joke or slap at authority.
4.20.2009 6:07pm
bellisaurius (mail):
"Of course all screen writer's are using archetypes these days but I've never heard a convincing biological explanation for them."

Just like with spoken grammar, there is sort of a moral grammar that we're born with. Which system get's laid on top is cultural, but the underlying structures (action, object, effect) are biological. So, given the universality of where we come from in moral abilities, it seems natural to have commonalities in the way they're expressed (myths about heroes and villains) in the same way we have common features across languages (verbs and nouns, etc..). Or at least, that's how one could explain it in a naturalistic way.
4.20.2009 6:53pm
Splunge:
Well, both science and magic involve arcane manipulations of mysterious forces, but the difference between the two is that science works and magic doesn't.

As an aside, this is somewhat wrong, or at least incomplete. Plenty of science (a colleague of mine estimated once in a dark humor 90% roughly) doesn't work. Sometimes magic "works," in the sense that you rub the crystal -- and the cancer goes away!

The more relevant practical distinction between science and magic is that science possesses the axiom that the intentions, thoughts, feelings, et cetera of the practitioner do not matter. Things happen, or don't, entirely independent of human wishes and will. F = ma for Newton and Hitler, for the person who wants it to be true and for the person deeply skeptical.

Magic is exactly the opposite. Your intentions and beliefs matter profoundly. Indeed, they're often central. Harry Potter can't cast the Expelliarmus spell unless he's in the right frame of mind, is sufficiently distraught, et cetera.

The difficulty with magic is that this dependence on state of mind makes it almost impossible to sort out what works in the empirical sense above from what does not. Motivation and state of mind are the ultimate uncontrolled and uncontrollable variable. If your mixture didn't turn lead into gold, or your love philter didn't work, or your centrally-planned economy tanked, it's never possible to conclude that your understanding of reality is flawed, because it's always possible that your state of mind wasn't quite right -- you didn't try hard enough, or in the "right way."

This is both the power and the folly of magical thinking. It gives humans hope even when cold logic suggests hopelessness, but, on the other hand, it allows a degree of self-deception that can profoundly retard real advances in understanding. From an evolutionary biology point of view, it's quite interesting that we should have such a strong partiality to magical thinking. You'd think coldly logical empirical thinking would have higher survival value. But apparently it doesn't. We will not understand our own evolution until we understand why that is.
4.21.2009 12:35pm
mooglar (mail) (www):
The Jedi are essentially a bunch of superheroes who work for a government agency. They do so as an "Order" like monks who don't recieve pay, with a Council in charge, but they are funded by and under the control of the elected government of the Republic.

The Jedi are a "religion" only in the sense that they believe the Force should be used in certain ways and not others, for the greater good. But since the Force, even according to Yoda, isn't really supernatural -- it exists in reality, as an "energy field created by all living things", not in some other realm -- they really aren't a "religion." Note that only non-Force users who have no first-hand knowledge of the Jedi think that they were part of a "religion."

(And note that Darth Vader's line "I find your lack of faith disturbing" is almost certainly meant sarcastically or ironically, since he is demonstrating at that very moment in no uncertain terms that whether you have "faith" in the Force or not he can still crush your windpipe with it.)

Also, in regards to my first point, in the novelization of Revenge of the Sith, which was written before Lucas edited the film version and cut a bunch of material, it is explained that the "new powers" being granted to the Chancellor are powers that give the Chancellor direct control over the Jedi, who previously had reported to the Senate. (How exactly that happened and who or what Committee in the Senate actually directed them is not made clear). That is the source of much of the worry the Jedi have in the film about the Chancellor and his power grabs... that he is trying to fundamentally change their position in government and who they report to. But what they don't do is challenge that they report to the government and its elected leaders, who are democratically elected.
4.21.2009 1:28pm

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