Jedi still believe in the Force despite census snub

BEN HEATHER
Last updated 05:00 19/12/2013
jedi renee lee
KEVIN STENT/FAIRFAX NZ
SUCKS, IT DOES: Renee Lee has a tattoo of Princess Leia.

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The Kiwi Jedi are being purged, with nearly 20,000 followers of the force still not enough to qualify as a legitimate religion.

Figures released on Thursday show 19,089 people put down Jedi as their religion in the 2013 Census. They make up more than two thirds of 28,300 people who professed faith was deemed an invalid response by Statistics New Zealand and recorded as "out of scope".

On the face of it, there are more Jedis in New Zealand than Jews, Jehovah's Witnesses, or Brethren.

And while the number had dropped sharply from 2001, when a global campaign convinces 53,000 Kiwi to claim to follow the Jedi way, they appear to have stabilised, dropping only slightly from the 20,262 recorded in 2006.

Wellington Jedi Renee Lee said it "sucked" that Jedi were not recorded as followers of a legitimate religion, particularly given it had more devotees than some more accepted faiths.

"Jedi is definitely a valid thing," she said.

"The idea started from a story, but you could say a lot of religions started that way."

Ms Lee has always been a Star Wars movie fan and converted to Jedi a few years ago.

She has tattoos that include Jedi master Yoda and Princess Leia.

As a faith, it was mostly about being peaceful, kind and fighting the dark side, she said.

She and several friends all put Jedi as their religion on the census, although most did not take it as seriously as she.

"I just think they are cool principles to live by."

Craig Thomas, formerly of Auckland, ran unsuccessfully for council on a Jedi platform in 2010, promising to bring "wisdom and balance".

He now lives in Australia, and continues to follow the Jedi way.

He was disappointed Jedi did not make the census list of religions. He said the Church of Scientology managed to get on the list with 315 devotees, and was similarly based on science fiction.

"Jedi is just aslegitimate, if not more so."

Statistics New Zealand last did a full review what religions it deems within scope in 1999. Several appeals to include Jedi were received in 2005 but were unsuccessful.

Broadly, Statistics NZ counts a religion as any set of beliefs and practices, usually involving a higher divine power, that people use to guide their lives, practically and morally.

Political beliefs, such as Marxism, or lifestyle choices, such as vegetarianism, do not make the cut.

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Census manager Gareth Meech said many of the 28,300 "out of scope" religions - including beer and rugby - were clearly people being silly.

There were no plans to review the classification in the short term but there was no reason why Jedi, or even Pastafarianism, could not eventually qualify.

But Victoria University Professor Paul Morris, who specialises in religious studies, said Jedi and Pastafarianism still had a long way to go.

While some devotees might be genuine, many treated the notions almost as religious satire rather than a set of beliefs about the real world.

"Star Wars, for all its glory - and I am a fan - is still in a galaxy far, far away."

On the other hand, Scientologists were generally genuine believers in a complex mythology and their church was an established institution.

- The Dominion Post

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