Tuesday, May 13, 2003
OTTAWA -- May the Force be with you. And also with you. Amen.
An astonishing 20,000 Canadians declared themselves to be followers of the religion of Jedi, the guardians of peace and justice in the Star Wars flicks, Statistics Canada reported Tuesday in the latest, and final, data to come from the 2001 census.
Will the holy trinity one day be replaced with "in the name of Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker?''
Not likely, says Denis Dion, a 44-year-old produce manager from just outside Vancouver who circulated an e-mail urging anyone who wanted to have fun with Canada's census to identify themselves as Jedi when asked about their religion.
In the blockbuster George Lucas sci-fi films, Jedis are depicted as holy warriors who use the powerful strength of "the Force'' to overcome sinister elements. Unfortunately some Jedis use the Force for evil instead of good, but ultimately the virtuous Jedis prevail.
When asked if he was a practising Jedi knight, Dion replied: "Well some people claim I am.''
He and some friends who volunteer at the Canadian Ski Patrol in Vancouver had been talking about their love of all things Jedi when they came up with the idea to see how many Canadians would be willing to tell Statistics Canada they too were followers.
"We all get along very well ... and it's strange but we all watch Star Trek and Star Wars,'' said Dion, who had thought only he and his free-thinking ski-patrol buddies would agree to poke fun at the census.
The Jedi membership drive was his way of thumbing his nose at the government for asking what he feels is an inappropriate question.
"My religion is my issue, not the government's,'' Dion said.
The Jedi gag is the latest in a global census trend that has left some statisticians red-faced as the number of Jedis has eclipsed some centuries-old religions.
In the U.K., for example, there are more Jedis than Jews. Nearly 400,000 people identified themselves as Jedi in the 2001 census. Only 260,000 said they were Jewish. The Jedis seemed to be concentrated in England and Wales.
Just last year, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that more than 70,000 people named Jedi as their faith.
The high response rate can be traced to an e-mail that told people the government would be forced to recognize Jedi as an official religion if enough people identified themselves as followers.
"Whether Jedi becomes a new category in the classification will depend more on other criteria, such as the existence of a formal organization structure rather than the number of responses,'' John Struik, Australia's census manager, said at the time.
Half the Jedis in Canada were in B.C., with the rest in Ontario and Alberta.
Statistics Canada didn't report the number of people who responded Jedi in tables listing response rates for other religions, saying that their analysis did not include the "media-driven'' response, in part because the sample was so small. However, statisticians did when asked produce tables showing a much smaller number of Rastafarians, Scientologists and Satanists.
Derek Evans is the director of the Naramata Centre just north of Penticton, B.C., which is affiliated with the United Church of Canada. He understands why young people may be drawn to the Force.
"It's part of a journey of a young man discovering the powers that rest within himself and how he can access it for his own strength and nurture, or of the people he cares about, through focusing his intentions on good,'' said Evans.
"I think that's what most great religious traditions teach us.''
Frustrated with organized religions, increasingly secularized young people are willing to experiment with spirituality, said Rabbi Yosef Wosk, director of the interdiscipline program in continuing studies at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver.
"You're getting many, not all, of the experiences that you would get through a religion in so-called non-aligned spirituality through Star Wars, the X-Men, the Matrix and Lord of the Rings,'' said Wosk.
Evans had never heard of anyone practising Jedi but "might check it out if I knew where you could go to get the training.''
Although it began as a unique way to "spoil his ballot,'' Dion says the exercise has cemented his belief that if Jedi was recognized as a religion, "I'll be there with bells on.''
[Source The Canadian Press]