What Makes a Religion?

Interesting stories posted here and here about the founder of a International Church of Jediism and some difficulties he encountered recently while attempting to do some grocery shopping.  If you aren’t already familiar with getreligion.org, and are interested in the portrayal of religion by the press, definitely start viewing their site.  Their brief take on the story is where I first heard about it.  There appear to be several different Jedi churches or religions, with the one linked above homed in the New Zealand, and another homed in the UK.  This particular story has to do with the UK-based group.

The founder of the group was ridiculed and ejected from a supermarket because, when asked, he refused to remove his hood, claiming that as an adherent of the Jedi Church, his doctrine prevented him from going bare-headed in public.  This caused some understandable snickering, and he was told to unhood or leave.  He is now considering legal action and is accusing the store chain of religious persecution.

So is the Jedi Church, or the Church of Jediism, a legitimate religion?  A religion is traditionally defined as a set of beliefs and practices.  There is often much more tangible associated with the religion, but at core it breaks down into these all-encompassing aspects of a person’s life.  Speaking broadly, a religious belief or a religion exerts this level of influence in an individual’s life because it is believed by the individual that the beliefs and practices represent truth.  At a fundamental level, the person believes that they are engaging in, pursuing, and living out  truth. 

Is this how the Jedi Church/Church of Jediism sees themself?  As a means of understanding and participating in Truth? 

These two expressions(?) of the Jedi religion seem related with one another, yet they make conflicting statements as to the reality of the Jedi faith.  New Zealander Jedi’s seem convinced that what they believe is truth, and that this truth actually predates the movies that expressed it:   

The force has always existed and always will.  Our faith in the force existed well before the fictional Star Wars movies brought popular recognition to the terminology and concepts that our members always innately held, but had difficulty describing in a shared forum.

I find this an impressive assertion, because almost all of those who describe their religion as ‘Jedi’ were born after 1970, which would mean the sagest of them would have been seven when Star Wars was released and gave voice to the truths that they had, hereto for, “innately held, but had difficulty describing in a shared forum.”  I had difficulty describing much of anything in a shared forum when I was seven.  These guys were apparently some pretty deep-thinking second graders.

But I digress.

So the force is truth that has always existed but was only revealed as such in the Star Wars movies.  Gotcha.  Except that, when pressed with a basis beyond the movies on which to legitimize themselves, the New Zealand-based Church of Jediism very quickly change tunes.  Truth is what we make it, what we like it to be.  “So in summary, no religion is truth.  It is all just a matter of faith.” 

Ummmm…so which is it?  Is it an eternal truth that finally finds expression in the Star Wars mythos, or is it just another example of something claiming to be true without actually being true?   It’s the typical postmodern argument – truth doesn’t exist.  Except they said just a few sentences earlier that truth does exist, and that this is truth.   Yet at the same time, they don’t feel required to provide any greater explanation or validation for their beliefs.  They don’t have to be actually true, because in fact, there is no such thing as religious truth, or perhaps truth at all.  A convenient argument that can be used to justify pretty much any belief or practice you’d like to subscribe to.  And an argument that ignores the fact that for all of the major world religions, truth is pretty important.  They all claim to be describing ultimate truth.  While some might be more tolerant in the short term of other beliefs, all of them believe that ultimately, you wind up with a very particular

The UKers also pay lip service to this idea of Jediism being eternal truth, but then go on to admit that it’s rather a fanciful thing which basically provides major inspiration for living one’s life.   They sum this up nicely with the statement that:

In closing we encourage people to watch the films, read the books and enjoy them for what they are, wonderfully entertaining stories.  But most of all to take a look at the positive messages expressed within and apply them to your own lives.  
Daniel Morgan Jones, the one who was mocked when he tried to buy food while wearing his Jedi hood, has himself indicated on the website itself that this isn’t really a true religion.  Although he claims that the energy field that binds us all together was only described by the movies, not invented by them, he also claims that the Church of Jediism is based on the films, just as Christianity is based on the Bible and Islam is based on the Quran.  He embraces the “positive messages” of any and every belief system, while also promising to create a community where there is no “bias or any type of prejudice.  A community that does not reject other religions”.  That’s awesome, but is it really a religion?  He’s describing something far more akin to the social teachings of Confucianism, which is viewed by many as a philosophy rather than a religion.

And is he really being persecuted in the way a Muslim woman wearing a head scarf would experience persecution if forced to remove it?  Is he being persecuted for his faith in the way the Jews were during Hitler’s reign, or the way that the early Christians were under Nero and other Roman emperors?  Considering the fact that the store owners were able to craft a pretty convincing rebuttal of the Jedi Church’s “doctrine”, his position would seem problematic at best.  His web site makes no mention of the head covering issue in the section on doctrines.

Jediism doesn’t seem to purport to provide Truth, one of the hallmarks of credible religious organizations.  The followers’ efforts to gain for themselves the status of religion, including the right to claim that they are being persecuted for their faith, ultimately only makes a mockery of religion in general, and all those who have suffered – even to the point of death – for their beliefs. 



One Response to “What Makes a Religion?”

  1. construct Says:

    Who are the coupons?

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