This article originally appeared on VICE.
A long time ago (2011), in a galaxy far, far away (England and Wales), 176,000 people declared their religion as Jedi on the national census. It's easy to see this as a simple dad joke gone nationwide – a Boaty McBoatface for the Fathers4Justice generation – but delve a little deeper and it looks like it wasn't all people doing banter.
The Church of Jediism, founded by Daniel Jones in 2008, has over 200,000 registered members and an active digital community. Impressively, it's also got more followers in the U.K. than Rastafarianism, Paganism, Humanism and Scientology combined. And next year, Harper & Collins are set to publish an official book of scripture written by Jones.
So what exactly is it? A thought-experiment questioning the entire concept of religion, or a genuinely valid belief system? I called the founding Knight to find out.
VICE: What's the book going to look like?
Daniel Jones: It might be looked upon as a book of scripture, but it's also partly autobiographical. It's there to set the basis of why I came to the conclusion to put this teaching down. The bulk of it is understanding modern day spiritualism—a religion for millennials.
What do George Lucas and Disney think of the book?
Disney are a weird bunch of people—they kind of said, "You can write a book on whatever you want, as long as it doesn't infringe on copyright material." So we have a legal margin, but they're not really bothered about it—as long as it doesn't sell 100 million copies I don't think they'll be that bothered.
Can you explain some of the Church of Jediism's central tenets?
The idea of the book is to enlighten people that you're living in a cocoon and to shake you out of the social norm you are forced into. It's escaping from this weird ideology that everything is like it is for a reason. It's waking up the masses to understanding their full potential.
What other religions is it inspired by?
It's heavily influenced by Buddhism and new-age theories. All religions start from a single seed, like a deity or a higher power. Jediism focuses more on experiencing life properly rather than waiting to die like other religions tell you.
I guess some critics might argue that Jediism is nothing more than a thought experiment, like Pastafarianism, to see how far tolerance can go.
Although Pastafarianism is a good laugh and protesting against modern day religions, we're not like them. We're not a protest religion and are serious about our teachings. One way to explain the relativity is that you have this teaching that's been developed that's probably already been around, but no one has ever thought about it. The book is showing people what it is and putting it into practice. You can see that that is like the Jedis in the Star Wars universe; so that's how the two tie in together. Pastafarianism sets out just to piss people off; but that is not our aim. We want to get away from people saying it's make-believe and using stuff from a film; it's just that it draws parallels with it, and so you can use it as a way to connect to people through something they already know about.
A lot of media hype it up as, "Here's this guy who thinks he can fly!" and all this nonsense. The media can say what they want – at the end of the day it puts us into the public eye and helps people understand about us more. As soon as people pick up the book and start reading about it they'll understand. It's so accessible. I'm currently doing a BA in Science and Chemistry and writing my dissertation – I could have gone into this in a far more complex way. But we made it so anybody of any background can pick up the book and get it. We want it to be accessible for everyone, not just a few people.
In terms of accessibility, obviously you want as many people as possible to sign up, but a lot of people might only know it through the censuses and think it's all a joke. Do you encourage people to write Jedi on their census forms? Or does that detract from the actual teachings that you want to communicate?
I don't discourage it; I think it's cool that people do things because they believe in it. I mean, I wrote down "Jedi", because there's so much taboo about religions and so on. People do things like that because they are lost and need guidance. I don't think there is anything wrong with those things. I did send emails around to help it happen. But as you said, just because people put down their names on the census it doesn't mean they are a member of the church. We do have a database on our website now, but you could just go to Waterstones and get the book and practice it at home.
What did you think of the new Star Wars film?
I loved it. To me it was perfect, though I didn't like the fact that Han Solo died—but it does have to be epic and have something amazing happen. A lot of people gave it stick, but to me it was so good, and true Star Wars.
Jediism focuses a lot on optimism. Why should we be optimistic?
You've got to be optimistic with everything. Optimism is so important, because we create the universe we surround ourselves in. If you go around angry at everything you will have created a negative world. If you go round with a smile on your face and tell people that you love them, it will benefit everyone in many, many ways. Jediism aims to get people to want to do their best with a positive attitude; everything happens for a reason, but we are going to enjoy it. As Vivian Greene said, "Life is about learning to dance in the rain."
Follow Kyle MacNeil on Twitter at @kylemmusic.