Can't you feel the excitement building as the holy day draws near?
No, not Christmas. A am referring to the media build-up during this advent period before the arrival of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."
I am old enough to remember the early conversations in newsrooms about whether, under the doctrines of the Associated Press Stylebook, stories about the Star Wars franchise should refer to "the force" or "the Force." Just about everyone on the religion beat back in those days wrote features about whether parents should tell their children that the Force was or was not another name for God.
If you follow discussions of Star Wars as a pop-culture religion, you surely know that fans on the other side of the pond took this discussion to a higher level about 15 years ago. Here is the background section of a new story in The Telegraph about the impact of the new film on the leaders of the Church of Jediism.
Jediism started as a joke, ahead of the 2001 census, in which respondents were asked to declare their religion for the first time. At the time, 390,000 people declared that they were Jedis, a number that fell by more than half, to 177,000, at the following census, in 2011.
Now the organisation, described by its members as “a set of philosophies based on focusing, learning and becoming one with the Force”, claims to have more than 250,000 followers. Patrick Day-Childs, a member of the church’s five-strong UK ruling council, said that more than a thousand people a day are signing up for the religion. He said: “It’s gone up substantially in the past couple of days. The real test will be in a couple of weeks when the film hype has died off. “
Daniel Jones, who founded the religion and who goes by the Jedi name Morda Hehol, said: “We’ve been rushed off our feet. People want to know more about it. It’s great for us.”
Now, the "leading figures in the Church of Jediism," as the Telegraph team identifies them, are saying that they are gaining about 1,000 new members a day as the release of the new film draws near.
This Telegraph story does provide a quick kind of "nones are us" overview of the doctrinal approach in this new faith. It also answers a crucial question, stressing that the Jedi leaders do not believe that the events in the Star Wars canon are real.
Following the church involves learning about the principles of Jediism, which include tenets such as: “There is no emotion; there is peace,” and “There is no ignorance; there is knowledge.” Mr Day-Childs said: “I think people are shying away from traditional religion because it doesn’t reflect their views. We’ve got no problem with homosexuality or anything like that. We are very accepting.”
Members are allowed to wear robes, but Mr Jones was ejected from a Tesco, in Bangor, in 2009, for refusing to pull down his hood. Mr Day-Childs said: “We encourage people to wear them for events, but if I’m brutally honest, they’re not really very practical.”
So what is missing in this report?
But this is semi-serious journalism. There are all kinds of questions that could have been asked in this story, if the Telegraph team had been willing to see this as a religion-beat story as well as an entertainment story.
Well, for starters, is the Jedi phenomenon in any way related to what, here is America, is being called the rise of the religiously unaffiliated, or the "nones"? I am sure that someone at the media-savvy Pew Forum would have been willing to address this question, especially in light of the doctrinal contents of the "How to be a Jedi" sidebar offered by The Telegraph.
* Joining the Church of Jediism involves signing up to the group’s online newsletter and completing a ten-part training course
* Jedis believe in the Force, “a unifying energy, which everything exists within, around and always returns to.” ...
* Meditation is a key tenet of Jediism. The church says: “Our minds are like sponges, which soak up information daily. In order to keep our minds 'clean', we must 'rinse' them of negative Force.”
* A belief in God is optional. The group says: “There are no strict rules in Jediism, as we believe in freedom and so joining the Church of Jediism would not pose any restrictions on your life. “
So far, so good. The problem is that the story never takes the Church of Jediism (official website is here) very seriously as an institution. If you do that, there are questions that really need to be answered.
For example, have the Jedi registered as a religious body in the United Kingdom or (attention reporters in North America) elsewhere? Are its leaders claiming to be ordained? For example, do the "Jedi Unification Ceremonies" mentioned on the church's website qualify as weddings, under British law?
There are financial questions, as well. What is this body's tax status? When people use the click here to donate button on the church website, are these donations treated as gifts to a legal church? While its leaders call it a "digital church," is there a headquarters somewhere and what is its tax status?
One final question: What about George Lucas and the folks at Disney?
The creators and managers of the Star Wars universe are known -- when it comes to legal issues -- to be among the most enthusiastic defenders of their brands and products in the history of this galaxy or any other. Do the leaders of this pop empire plan to strike back against this legal use of a key element of their creation?
In other words, is this merely a wink-wink entertainment story or an actual story about an emerging religious institution? If the lords of Disney continue making one "Star Wars" movie a year, as is their plan, this story is going to have legs.