In England, More Jedi Knights than Atheists and Pagans Combined

In England, More Jedi Knights than Atheists and Pagans Combined December 12, 2012

Just-released Census figures reveal that 176,632 people English and Welsh self-identify as “Jedi Knights,” practitioners of the mystical pseudo-scientific pseudo-religion of the Star Wars franchise.  For what it’s worth, that’s three times more than the number of self-identified Pagans, and roughly six times more than the number of self-identified atheists in those countries.

Have you asked Yoda into your heart?  Perhaps you should visualize a higher midichlorian count.  As the Telegraph reports:

Following a nationwide campaign, Jedi made it onto the 2001 census, with 390,127 people identifying themselves a decade ago as followers of the fictional Star Wars creed.

Although the number of Jedis has dropped by more than 50 per cent over the previous 10 years, they are still the most selected “alternative” faith on the Census, and constitute 0.31% of all people’s stated religious affiliation in England and Wales.

I’m sure we’ll see articles soon lamenting the exodus of followers from the Jedi faith.  The Jedi do seem to have a hard time protecting children in their Temples and convincing their teenagers to resist the temptations of the Dark Side.

It’s hard to know how seriously to take this.  But George Lucas essentially took some mythic tropes, stuck them together with vague New Agey concepts of “balance” and “flow” and “let go” and “the force,” gave it an ostensible scientific basis in, you know, the science of midichlorians, and then portrayed heroic monks of the faith combatting unmistakable evil.  It’s designed to be appealing.  The Jedi Church websites says: “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 [sic] of us, the Jedi Church believes that our sense of morality is innate.  So quiet your mind and listen to the force within you!”

If you’re not going to believe anything else, why not believe in the Jedi faith?  What do you have to lose?

The Census report goes on to say that over six thousand people subscribe to “the Heavy Metal religion,” which was devised in 2010 by Metal Hammer magazine.  Far, far more common (to the tune of 13.8 million) were those who refused to identify with any faith, ticking “No religion,” and 4 million did not answer the question.

It’s easy to scoff at this, of course (and we can count the minutes until an atheist, or perhaps a Jedi Knight, leaves a silly note that Christian beliefs are just as absurd).  It would also be easy to cite G.K. Chesterton’s famous (and unsourced) epigram that the problem with those who cease to believe in God is not that they will believe nothing, but that they will believe anything.  Gallup’s 2008 “What Americans Really Believe” study (with Baylor’s Institutes for the Study of Religion) found that the “irreligious” were far more likely than evangelicals to believe in paranormal pseudoscience like palm reading and divination, haunted houses and Atlantis and mythical monsters like Bigfoot and Loch Ness.  Or witness the ridiculous enthusiasm today for the Mayan Apocalypse theory.

Jesus, however, rarely walked the easy road.  I wonder what Jesus would have thought of this?  If the imitation of Christ is our guide to action, what should our response be?

Jesus was not afraid to correct the Samaritan Woman he met at the well, but he addressed her more pastorally than pedagogically.  He saw in her actions a yearning for God and a confusion over where God is to be found.  I believe that Jesus would look with compassion on those who are lost and those who are confused, those who are afflicted with doubts and fears.

I’m less disturbed by the 176,000 who ticked off “Jedi Knight” than the 14 million who chose “No religion.”  In fact, you might say that the Census does more to challenge than to confirm the epigram of Pseudo-Chesterton.  But it’s more complicated than that.  What else do those 14 million believe?  What are their beliefs and superstitions?  Perhaps they participate in the religion of celebrity-worship.  Perhaps they worship themselves.  Perhaps they venerate wealth and leisure.  Perhaps they have placed their faith in a politician or a party, a cause or a philosophy.

I would much rather see people seeking, restlessly seeking, than “resting” in faithlessness or losing themselves in materialism and petty distractions.  What do Christians say to those who claim they have no need for faith?

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  • I appreciate your concern related to post-Christendom spiritualities, but I would urge Evangelicals not to causally dismiss them as either irrational or as Christopher Partridge put it, “the froth” of pop culture. Jediism, Matrixism, and other hyper-real or fiction-based spiritualities take their inspiration from genre works in pop culture, including science fiction, fantasy, and horror as foundational mythic narratives. This represents an important development of spirituality where the boundaries of “legitimate” religion shifts from the institutional and traditional to the individual sourced by pop culture myths. I have explored this academically from the perspectives of theology, religion, and cultural studies, and have contributed a chapter on Matrixism to the Handbook of Hyper-real Religions (Brill, 2012), edited by Adam Possamai. Perhaps an essay by me for the Evangelical Channel at Patheos sketching these spiritualities and their significance for Evangelical understanding in a post-Christendom West would be in order, Tim?

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Looking forward to it, John. And in case it wasn’t clear, I was saying that it would be easy to scoff, but not Christ-like, and that there are deeper things to consider here.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    Hi Tim, I’m a fellow blogger at Patheos. I linked to yours here…

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      I’m quite familiar, Father Dwight! Thanks for the link.

  • kenneth

    “…….the “irreligious” were far more likely than evangelicals to believe in paranormal pseudoscience….”
    Someone ought to tell the young earth creationists.

  • kenneth

    I think we pagans need are behind the curve on evangelizing the Jedi! How do we help these lost souls understand that the only way to bring balance to the force is to get right with Cernunnos and Cerridwen? Oh, wait, we don’t do that schtick. I will, however, insist that all light sabers remain off and secured in their holsters with zip-ties during ritual….

  • Superstition is when you arbitrarily associate some particular effect with some particular cause in the absence of any plausible or verifiable, non-magical connection between them.

  • JoFro

    I remember reading that the Humanists and the Atheists, upon hearing that the number of Christians has gone down to only 59% of the English population, were ecstatic, saying they are hoping to see a collapse of the ancient faith even more in the next five years. I believe they are right, though I give it around 10 years, for Christianity to hover around 20% of the population.
    What I find interesting though is that the latest census also claimed that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the UK – they now make up 5% of the population and in the next 20 years that number should rise to at least 25% of the population.
    I wonder how the Humanists and the Atheists plan to deal with Muslims and Islam as their numbers rise? Do they honestly think they will be able to deal with Islam the way they have dealt with Christianity?
    As the Zen master says, we will see!

  • Jeff Martin


    Your post struck me as odd because you seem to be arguing with yourself. First you say that those who are not very religious are very superstitious, and we should use that to our advantage when witnessing to them, but then you are disturbed by those same people who put down no religion?! Wasn’t your original argument based on the idea that there is hardly a person who doesn;t hold to some sort of belief. So I am confused.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      I often argue with myself, Jeff. That’s what philosophers do. Some times more coherently than others!

      I said “it would be easy” to make these points about the non-religious believing in anything. On the other hand, far more people cited “no religion” than some kind of alternative pseudo-religion, so that doesn’t exactly support the Chesterton quote. But then, on the (yet) other hand, just because they cited “no religion” does not mean that they don’t believe in astrology or divination or etc. So it’s a complicated picture.

      I think the deeper point, though, is that I would rather see people seeking the transcendent than settling so deeply into the immanent that they forget there’s anything higher.

  • kenneth

    There’s no inherent contradiction when someone says they have no religion but continue to practice paths of spiritual development or employ metaphysical methods like astrology etc. The fact that someone believes no organized religion has definitive answers does not mean they abandoned the idea that there are answers and at least proximate ways of approaching them. “No religion” does not, of course mean that all these folks are hard-boiled Dawkins atheists or pure materialists.

    Many of these “New Age” tools like astrology in fact have deep roots in Christian cultures, if not the religion itself. They are not religious beliefs in and of themselves. As a polytheist myself, I sometimes employ Tarot or other methods of divination, and I don’t attribute any supernatural power to them at all. I find that they work simply by helping people access and confirm things they already know through deep intuition and their subconscious. I believe humans have some capacity for prescience not too unlike “Jedi”, but on a much smaller scale. If someone ditches their X-wing in a swamp, I’m still calling a crane barge…..