Alternate facts: New York Times posits 'Jediism' as actual religion in credulous feature

Pardon the trite expression, but I just got sick, a little. I got my nausea through The New York Times.

The newspaper once positioned as America's "newspaper of record," the one whose slogan, "All the News That's Fit to Print" might well have been carved in stone, that newspaper has just served up a positive puff piece positioning a group of "Star Wars" movie aficionados as a religion.

In the process, they offered yet another installment -- is anyone keeping count? -- of how the fabled institution is more tone-deaf on faith than was Ludwig von Beethoven at the end of his life.

Here now, the "news," or perhaps, "alternate facts, faith division":

The makers of the “Star Wars” franchise on Monday [Jan. 23] announced the name of the films’ next installment -- “The Last Jedi” -- just as “Rogue One” hit $1 billion in global box office. Onscreen, it’s a great time to be a Jedi.
But Jedi is also a real-life religion that drew headlines last month when the Charity Commission for England and Wales ruled that it would not grant religious status to the Temple of the Jedi Order, a Jedi church. So, what is Jediism, and who is in the temple? We caught up with some practicing Jedi to find out.
What is Jediism?
Several Jedi communities exist around the world. Some call themselves religions, though others shy away from the word.
Interest in the religious potential in “Star Wars” first bubbled up online in the early 1990s, Michael Kitchen, one of several directors of the Temple of the Jedi Order, said in a recent interview.
The religion exploded into the mainstream in 2001, when fans in several countries listed Jediism as a religion on their local census. Hundreds of thousands did so. For many, it was a joke. But the phenomenon led others who were serious about Jediism to start considering the possibility of full religious status.
John Henry Phelan, of Texas, founded the Temple of the Jedi Order in 2005. The temple uses the movie’s plot and terminology as a gateway into world religions. It draws on the writings of Joseph Campbell, a scholar who examined the underlying structure of myths in religions and whose ideas inspired the filmmaker George Lucas.
“We are absolutely looking to achieve the outcomes of any other religion,” Andy Young, 40, a Jedi in England, said. “A better life, and a better death.”

There's more of this Q-and-A that seeks to posit Jediism as something serious. And, perhaps it is to the 2,000 adherents claimed in the United Kingdom, that country which denied charity status to the aforementioned Jedi temple there.

What The New York Times forgets to mention is that with the U.K.'s 2013 population of 64.1 million, having 2,000 members translates to a whopping 0.00003120124 percent of the population, if I'm doing the math correctly. 

By contrast, Wikipedia tells me there are 4,100 Zoroastrians in the United Kingdom, double the number of Jediism followers. I don't remember a puff piece about Zoroastrianism in The New York Times. Does anyone else?

OK, this article is written by someone who follows pop culture and writes for the movie section. I get it, and I get that there's a ton of interest in "Star Wars." It's click bait, then -- after all, we're discussing this, right?

Posting uncritical stories such as this, however, would equal taking out an electronic billboard in New York's Times Square (named for the newspaper, which has since decamped to a space on Eighth Avenue away from the bright lights) to advertise how foolish they are in covering religion, even religion and Hollywood.

As I write this, word has come from "the coast" that a movie which has a basis in an actual religion -- the Seventh-day Adventism of Desmond T. Doss, Sr. -- has been nominated for six Academy Awards. It was my privilege to meet Doss a number of years ago. And as a co-religionist of his, I'm partial to that tale.

But where is The New York Times when it comes to describing a church with 19 million baptized members -- and, at 38,000 in the U.K., nineteen times as many as the "Jediists"? Yes, the Times took a look back in 2015 during Ben Carson's presidential run, but nothing much since, and certainly nothing tied to a motion picture that's won critical acclaim and now six Oscar nods.

For that matter, consider another faith-related movie, ironically also featuring the star of "Hacksaw Ridge," Andrew Garfield. I'm thinking of "Silence," the Martin Scorsese-directed epic built around difficult questions of faith and practice. At least here, the Times took a serious look at Scorsese's own faith issues.

And while it's possible to understand the novelty surrounding "Jediism," it's also possible to see that when it comes to linking traditional faith with popular culture, such a goal often doesn't have a prayer at The New York Times, not when Jediism is uncritically advanced.

Pardon me. I may need to find a bucket.

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