The Force may be too strong in Australia.
Since around 2001, some cheeky Australians have been listing Jedi or a variant as their religion in the country’s census. During Australia’s last census in 2011, the number of Australians who claimed allegiance to The Force rose to about 64,000 ― a little bit less than the number of Sikhs in the country and more than the number of Seventh Day Adventists.
But what started as a “post-modernest Star Wars joke” has turned into a headache for the country’s atheists, who claim that it makes Australia seem more religious than it is.
Kylie Sturgess, president of the Atheist Foundation of Australia, told the Brisbane Times that the census shouldn’t be treated as a joke. According to the AFA, when Australians use the “other” box in the religion section to write in a religion like Jedi, it gets counted as an undefined religion, rather than “no religion.”
The AFA’s Mark No Religion campaign is encouraging people to respond honestly to the 2016 census, which is scheduled to take place on August 9.
Jediism is inspired by The Star Wars series and patches together aspects of Taoism, Buddhism, Catholicism, and other faiths. While some see it as a serious religious affiliation, others see the rise of Jediism in Australia as a reflection of the fact that the country is becoming an increasingly secular.
Australia’s religious landscape has changed significantly over the past century. In the 1911 census, just .4 percent of Australians chose “no religion” when asked about their religious identity. In 2011, 22 percent of Australians answered “no religion” in response to the census. With a few more percentage points, this group could potentially knock Catholicism, which at 25 percent is currently Australia’s largest religious denomination, out of the top spot.
An accurate portrait of Australia’s religious groups matters because, according to AFA, exaggerations in the data may “lead to groups wielding disproportionate influence within government.”
“Answering the religion question thoughtfully and honestly matters because it benefits all Australians when decisions on how to spend taxpayer dollars are made on sound data that accurately reflects modern-day Australia,” Sturgess said.
In response to recommendations from users, the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which is in charge of the census, moved the “no religion” option to the top of list of choices of religious affiliation, making it easier for people to find.
Brian Morris, a secular activist in Australia, is hoping that this move encourages people who are “culturally religious” but have drifted away from their faith’s tenets to be honest about where they stand now ― whether they’re atheist, agnostic, or something more undefined.
“Having ‘No Religion’ as first option also encourages a more considered response, rather than a reflex action to mark one’s past ‘family religion,’” Morris wrote in a blog for The Huffington Post. “The new ABS format may also encourage those who mark Spaghetti Monster, Jedi and Santa Claus to think more seriously about their religious affiliation, or lack thereof.”