Yesterday I laid out the initial 2011 British Census religion numbers, which showed a big jump in Pagan numbers from 2001, which of course means that the British press wants to talk about the Jedi.
“The new figures reveal that the lightsabre-wielding disciples are only behind Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Judaism and Buddhism in the popularity stakes, excluding non-religious people and people who did not answer. Following a nationwide campaign, Jedi made it onto the 2001 census, with 390,127 people identifying themselves a decade ago as followers of the fictional Star Wars creed. Although the number of Jedis has dropped by more than 50 per cent over the past 10 years, they are still the most selected “alternative” faith on the Census, and constitute 0.31% of all people’s stated religious affiliation in England and Wales.”
“The Sith Lord has been hard at work in England and Wales since the rise of the Jedis in 2001, with the Jedi population declining by more than half in the last decade.”
Also a popular topic of conversation: Metal Hammer’s campaign to get people to list “Heavy Metal” as their religion, which over 6000 people did.
“A further 65 people declared their religion as “heavy metal” – making Norwich the heavy metal religion hotspot of England and Wales.”
Metal Hammer would go on to brag that “it turns out that more people put Heavy Metal down as their religion of choice than Scientology, Druidism, Shamanism, and a shit-ton of others we haven’t heard of.”
As much as I sympathize with newspaper editors who know that leading with “data on religion reveals Jedi Knights are in decline” is Google page-views gold I believe there’s some serious religion-beat malpractice going on here. While I have absolutely no doubt that there are sincere believers in a faith based around the Star Wars Jedi mythos, everyone also knows that this census phenomenon, like the Metal Hammer campaign, is something of a laugh for most, a fandom-generated prank on the governments who ask questions about religion on their census. So when a reporter says that Jedi “are still the largest “other religion” by far named by participants in the 2011 census” there needs to be a giant asterisk next to that statement. Otherwise, you are playing into the prank, and burying the actual “other religions” lede, which is that modern Pagan faiths have grown, and that they are, in fact (and still), the 7th largest faith grouping in the UK behind Sikhism, Judaism, and Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam.
Indeed, modern Paganism has not only held on to 7th place (if you disqualify Jediism), but has grown considerably in the official census count, and will no doubt gain in numbers when the results for Scotland and Northern Ireland are released. If you lump the Pagan faiths together, you’re around, or over, 80,000 adherents (depending on who you include or don’t include). This is significant because Pagan faiths in the UK are still waging battles for equal treatment, and organizations like the Pagan Federation are still working on getting charity status. If the headlines had all read: Paganism growing, remains 7th largest faith, it could have had a positive effect on our treatment. It could have given Pagan leaders in the UK a new moment to establish themselves as an integral part of British society.
As for the declining Jedi, it wasn’t the Sith, it was the atheists and humanists, who launched a campaign to increase the number of people who checked “no religion,” and it seems to have worked.
“The British Humanist Association spoke of a “significant cultural shift” in a society where “[r]eligious practice, identity, belonging and belief are all in decline… and non-religious identities are on the rise”. The number of people with no religion at all in the UK has doubled since 2001.”
So here’s hoping for some better coverage of all the “other religions” in Britain in the weeks ahead, and maybe some better attention paid to the growth of Pagan faiths, and if these numbers are (still) only a fraction of our true presence in the UK.