It’s known as the “Jedi Knight phenomenon,” and it started in 2001. But now an atheist group is tired of the joke.
It was most prominent in The United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia. In England and Wales in 2001, nearly 400,000 people marked Jedi as their religion on the official census, making it the fourth largest reported religion in the country. In New Zealand, 1.5 percent of people wrote Jedi as their religion in 2001, which would’ve been the second largest religion in the country (officials chose not to count it).
Australia had a smaller percentage in 2001, with about 73,000 people marking Jedi, or 0.37 percent of the population. But to atheists dismay, the joke has stubbornly held on in the country.
The Atheist Foundation of Australia is pleading with Star Wars fans to take the census more seriously and mark the “no religion” box if that’s how they identify, rather than choose “other” and use it to write in a joke such as “Jedi” or “Pastafarian” (someone who believes in a flying spaghetti monster).
“If you write things like this in the ‘Other (please specify)’ box they all get lumped together and counted as ‘Not defined,’” the group said in a media release. “While it may be funny, it makes no difference and is a wasted answer.”
While the subject matter may be silly, the atheist group has a valid concern. The non-religious category of the Australian census grew every time the census was held since 1971, when the category was introduced. The only exception was the year 2001, when the Jedi Phenomenon first started.
In 2011, those who identify as non-religious — which does not necessarily mean atheist — made up 22.3 percent of the population. The only religion with a higher response rate in the country that year was Catholic, with 25 percent.
“Answering the religion question thoughtfully and honestly matters because it benefits all Australians when decisions on how to spend taxpayer dollars are made on sound data that accurately reflects modern-day Australia,” AFA President Kylie Sturgess said in the release. “That’s why we’re making people aware of the ‘No Religion’ option and inviting them to think about whether it’s right for them.”