In 2001, census-takers in the United Kingdom and other commonwealth countries noticed a curious trend: nearly 1% of responders designated their religion as Jedism. The impact of a film released nearly 40 years ago is obvious. It's only a slight exaggeration to say those who love "Star Wars" do so religiously. But an actual religion?
Many churches practice varying forms of Jedism, but none have more members than the Temple of the Jedi Order. The church has occasional in-person meet-ups, but by and large it exists almost entirely on the Internet. They have malleable doctrines and processes and are well structured, despite its leaders -- yes, a Jedi Council -- being scattershot around the world: France, the UK and even Texas. Like any religion, members of the church have a range of beliefs -- while one approaches it casually, someone else believes they can levitate cars with their mind.
When we asked the Temple to refer us to someone in the process of becoming a Jedi Knight, they gave us the contact information for Alex Bird. My first conversations with him revealed a guy far too rational to fall on the "mind control" part of the spectrum. Talking more, however, I was struck by just how grounded he was. He works as a behavioral therapist in upstate New York, living with his wife and a son who just celebrated his second birthday.
Everything about him felt "normal," minus the inordinate amount of his life devoted to exploring different belief systems. He's spent time in Catholicism, Buddhism and Atheism, and has studied a range of texts, from the Quran to Karl Marx to Ayn Rand. He admits he still carries bits and pieces of each, but no belief system perfectly aligned with reality. Which is to say, his reality: Rational as he is, he believes in more than just the scientific nature of things.
The Temple bridged that spectrum and brought with it an intricate set of values that, when distilled, resemble our perception of a Jedi: violence only when necessary, respect and simplicity. There's an implicit emphasis on impulse control which -- with respect to his job of essentially helping people with traumatic brain injuries re-integrate into society -- means he doesn't compromise many of his values.
The Temple strongly resembles Alex's most recent jaunt in traditional religion: Buddhism. His departure had less to do with its belief system than the lack of a stateside community (he practiced in a monastery in Asia). Because the Temple exists online, Alex is part of a community of open-minded people who encourage discussion and diversity and is also void of the heavy-handedness from his Catholic upbringing.
I was so taken by how honest, well thought out and happy he was that I knew a lot of people would appreciate his world view. I also knew a lot more people would sooner laugh at than listen to someone claiming to be a Jedi Knight. Why did he choose a religion and terminology that's so silly?
That's why I do it! When you stop having fun with something and you take it so seriously, you start to lose interest.
He doesn't care if people laugh at him. Whether it's his "Star Wars" literature, his "nerd armor" or his $10 lightsaber pissing off the dog, he laughs at himself.
More importantly, he's not looking for converts. He doesn't believe religion is for all people. He has no plans to raise his son into his religion. He just wants to raise a good person. And if becoming a Jedi Knight helps him do that, maybe it's worth it to laugh and listen.