World

Better to be an atheist than a 'Jedi'

Atheists are urging Australians not to describe themselves as "Jedi" in an upcoming census, warning that doing so in homage to movie franchise Star Wars makes the country appear more religious than it really is.

Ahead of the Aug 9 five-year census, the Atheist Foundation of Australia has requested that citizens mark themselves down as having "no religion" if they do not consider themselves tied to a faith, AFP reported.

"If old religious men in robes do not represent you... don't mark yourself as 'Jedi'," says a campaign poster featuring Yoda and two other Jedi masters.

Jedi and other joke religions are not placed in the No Religion category but classified as Not Defined. This makes Australia seem more religious than it really is," said the foundation's president, Ms Kylie Sturgess, who's encouraging people "to be counted as what they are".

She told AFP: "Our attitude is, well here's an opportunity to have a say on the census; pop down what you are. Maybe 'no religion' suits you, maybe you are someone who has drifted away from the church.

"But unfortunately 'Jedi' is just not an option on the census."

The joke arose years ago when an e-mail campaign wrongly claimed that if 8,000 people put themselves down as Jedi, it would have to be officially recognised as a religion.

At the 2001 Australian census, more than 70,500 people listed their faith as "Jedi knight" or something similar, which would indicate the country had nearly as many believers in the Force as it had members of the Salvation Army.

OTHER COUNTRIES

"Whether or not people took the claim seriously, it was the start of a reporting phenomenon that gained speed internationally," the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) said in 2013, adding that New Zealand, Canada, England and Wales subsequently reported large Jedi contingents.

Ms Sturgess admitted she has put down Jedi as a "bit of a laugh" in the past.

"But the fact is that the ABS just doesn't count it, they consider it 'not defined'," she said, adding "the joke is kinda getting a bit old".

Australian statisticians could instead follow Britain's example. In the 2001 England and Wales census, 390,000 people, or 0.7 per cent of the population, entered their religion as "Jedi" but they were included among the atheists.

Or they could embrace non-traditional movements as New Zealand did last year when it recognised pastafarians - who wear colanders on their heads, revere pirates and believe the world was created by a giant deity made of spaghetti.

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