There’s a census coming up soon here in the UK. Now, just as in most countries, the stuff the Government learns from the census is taken far more seriously by ‘Them, the Government’ than it ever is by ‘We, the people’ ticking the boxes.
The information on religion has in the past been used to attribute cash – real, hard, taxpayer’s cash – to religious projects and organisations rather than secular ones, on the grounds of there being significantly more people who claim to have a faith than those who come straight out with it and say ‘Nah, it’s all nonsense.’
The trouble with such a system, and letting the great British public loose with it, is that the nature of the great British public is fundamentally to take the piss and go for the gag. No really – we’re a nation that, above all – above its ability to queue, above its insensitivity to flavour and its casual racism, above even its own staggering apathy, prides itself on its over-inflated Sense of Humour. Get a Brit in an airport and watch them physically struggle not to make jokes about the bomb in their luggage in loud theatrical whispers. We’re just that funny.
Now, what that means in real terms is that while there are genuinely a minority of people who have a strong, guiding faith, and a minority who don’t believe in anything and are quite prepared to say so, the actual majority of British people are piss-taking shruggers who really couldn’t give a toss about religion.
That means, when faced with the census, and having to define their ‘religious affiliation’, they do one of two things. Either they shrug and go ‘ah to Hell with it, I’ll tick the box I was brought up in’…or, if you give them a comedy option, they will flock to it in droves.
Which is why in the 2001 census, Christianity claimed 70% of the population, despite dwindling church attendance records, and why a staggering 0.7% of the population of England and Wales chose ‘Jedi’. Yes, really.
Now, on the one hand, I love this, and it genuinely does represent the sense of humour – and largely the position – of the more than 390,000 people in England and Wales, who really, frankly, couldn’t give a damn about religion, and chose to be a Jedi in 2001. It was a movement that wasn’t confined to England and Wales – in Scotland, there were 14,000 Jedi. In Australia, more than 70,000. Over 53,000 in New Zealand, and 21,000 in Canada. Worldwide, there were enough Jedi hanging about the Earth in 2001 to kick the Sith’s ass back to a galaxy far far away. I even toyed with the idea myself, before going for the more accurate and honest ‘No Religion’ option (You could tell, couldn’t you?).
On the other hand, every Jedi contributes to the idea that Britain (and the other countries where the Jedi option is on the list) is a country ‘of faith’ – as indeed do those who choose the faith of their childhood if they no longer actively espouse it. And while I’m not about to tell anyone they don’t believe in a religion they say they do, the latest research shows that just 15% – rather than 70% – of people in the UK go to church at least once a month.
In the 2001 census, incidentally, those who had the courage of their atheism in England and Wales amounted to 14.7% of the population. Now let’s do the maths. 14.7 plus 0.7 would equal 15.4% – that’s more than the UK population of regular churchgoers.
So how about this: If you can persuade Imperial Stormtroopers these aren’t the droids they’re looking for; if you can pull spaceships out of swamps with the power of your mind; and if you can come back from the dead for cameos in other people’s lives, looking all blue and fuzzy, and just occasionally being played by an entirely different actor – then you can call yourself a Jedi. Unless you can bring the Force-mojo, save the laugh for people who appreciate it – the British Government don’t – and come join the dark side; tick the ‘No Religion’ box in the 2011 census.