May The Farce Be With You

The universe is a living entity where all things have a connection and affinity with each other. Following a path of peace, altruism, devotion and moderation is good. Giving yourself over to violence, genocide and hatred is evil. Peaceful cohabitation is better than totalitarianism. Sublimating ourselves to the higher power of universal love is the path to true happiness.

Am I describing the Christian faith? Buddhist? Islam? Scientology? Hare Krishna? No, the sentiments listed above are those of the Jedi faith, as outlined in the Star Wars saga.

If the recent New Zealand census results are anything to go by, thousands of Australians will be following the suggestion of a widely distributed e-mail to list Jedi as their religion on their census forms. The Australian Bureau of Statistics has chucked a wobbly over the prospect, threatening fines and prosecution for those who dare to raise their lightsabres in defiance of the upcoming information bonanza.

Bollocks to them. The ABS is all bark and no bite. Here’s why.

The Christian churches that will dominate in the census numbers base their faith on a book. A Good Book, sure, but just one book.

The Jedi faith, however, is based on more than a hundred books, four films and countless story cassettes, music albums, pillowcases, money boxes, toys, stationery and a vast variety of fashion accessories. If we’re comparing Christianity with the Path of the Jedi in terms of source material, Yoda and his brothers win three-fingered hands down.

Your average Jedi follower could recite word-for-word the sayings of Yoda with greater accuracy than most Christians could recite Bible passages.

The Path of the Jedi is known to countless millions. Its teachings do not incite violence or dissent. (No one ever blew up a Belfast school bus in the name of Darth Vader. If they had, the telltale scorch marks of a Deathstar ray would give them away.) The Jedi do not discriminate on the basis of race, sex, religion or even species, unlike some. The Jedi Path is user friendly, modern and free of ethnic rivalries and ancient hatreds. You could argue it’s a better religion than most.

So, when the ABS threatens to fine us $1000 for nominating Jedi as our chosen faith, don’t believe them.

How would a cross examination of the supposed Jedi unfold?

Q. You claim to believe in The Force. What is that exactly?
A. You might call it God, Allah or L.Ron.

Q. But this “faith” is simply the invention of one man’s imagination. 
A. Sorry, are you talking about Jesus, Mohammed or Buddha?

Q. Aren’t the teachings you claim to follow just part of a cynical money-making exercise? 
A. I’m Jedi, not Catholic.

Q. And what about the ludicrous beliefs of your faith – that humans came from other planets, that they whizzed about in spaceships and conversed with aliens races? 
A. Uh, sorry, that’s the government-recognised, non-tax-paying Church of Scientology you’re talking about there. Talk about wacky. Besides, Star Wars is a fiction where spaceships don’t whiz – they zoom and whoosh.

And so on. The lawyers advising the ABS to make such silly threats must be laughing all the way to the spaceport.

A magistrate must, by law, presume that a defendant who’s nominated Jedi as their religion on their census form is telling the truth, until the ABS can prove otherwise. Given the attributes of the Jedi Path, one could safely argue it is a religion. Any prosecution must be based upon the presumption that the defendant does not believe in the Jedi Path. Good luck with that one.

I should come out and say that, as a slightly embarrassed Star Wars fan and duster, hugger and plastic bag-wrapper of reportedly the largest Star Wars toy collection in Australia, I will not be nominating my faith as Jedi. While I have a vested financial interest in seeing my anal-retentive treasures transformed into religious artefacts, I find the idea of religious faith a bit square. (As for you other lonely, friendless geeks out there, don’t bother robbing me, the toys were hidden a long time ago in a warehouse far, far away.)

But there is a deeper issue here, one which will surface in the build-up to census day. As the Jedi shenanigans have shown, the information age is rife with possibilities for dissent and mischief. It is also a time when private information about all Australians is a source of intense auctioning between marketing companies. The information to be gathered by the ABS will be worth millions if it falls into the wrong hands.

If you are satisfied that every single one of the people working for the ABS is honest, fine. I am sure they are. If you believe in your heart that your private details, even something as deeply held and precious as your religious faith, are the government’s business, terrific. And if the mishaps of the last census collection (hundreds of forms lost, stolen or found floating in street drains) do not concern you, that’s just great. Fill in your form with all the details of your life, content in the belief the information will not be misused, misplaced or e-mailed to countless millions.

If you are not so sure, you may wish to make other arrangements and risk prosecution.

May the Force be with you.

By Tim Ferguson, The Age, 23rd April 2001