Jedi is not a religion: official

A ruling from the Charity Commission yesterday, has determined that Jediism, the worship of the mythology of Star Wars, is not a religion. This marks the release of the latest Star Wars film, episode 3.5, Rogue One, which in deference to the Charity Commission’s ruling does not feature (spoilers?) a single proper Jedi Knight, though there is a blind kind-of-Jedi monk, with whom is the force, and who seems to do as much damage with a stick as a proper Jedi does with a light sabre.

I’ll confess I was ignorant that the Charities Commission’s powers and competence extended to determining the validity or frivolity of theological doctrines, and I now look forward to many more theological disputes being settled by the same good people.

Having said that they do seem to have blundered into the no man’s land of the culture wars, with observations (pdf) like

29. The Commission considers that there is insufficient evidence that Jediism and the Jedi Doctrine as promoted by TOTJO [Temple of the Jedi Order] is a sufficiently structured, organised or integrated system of belief to constitute a religion. There is insufficient evidence of an objective understanding of Jediism as opposed to a self-defining system which may be pursued outside the confines of a religion and in a secular manner.

and

33 … Given the lack of formality around the expression and promotion of values and behaviours coupled with the ability of individuals to interpret and develop their own guidelines, the Commission is not satisfied that there is sufficient evidence to conclude that TOTJO promotes doctrines and practice of benefit to the public.

This strikes me as a limited view of what religion is – something essentially defined by doctrines – which would not be recognised by many believers, while at the same time crediting recognised religions with attributes that are hotly disputed by outspoken atheists and secularists.

I accept these are difficult judgements to make, doubly so when you are required to maintain some sort of impartiality. But to cast the net so narrowly as to exclude the Jedi and simultaneously so widely as to include Scientology …

I should say, for what it’s worth I agree that the Jedi don’t promote a particularly ethical doctrine. If they hadn’t denied Anakin the love of both his mother and his wife he would not have become the monster he did. The vile anti-love doctrine of the Jedi must be considered a cause of all the crimes of the Empire. And for what? Denying love won’t defeat Xenu.

I do hope this can be cleared up in time for episode 8 of the Star Wars saga, and in the meantime I look forward to clarification from the Charities Commission on the nature of the Holy Spirit, the location of the Hidden Imam, and maybe even the existence of God for good measure.

I have been a little flippant and I hope nobody has been offended. The real issue here is that the Charities Commission has an impossible job in fairly judging what is religion and exactly what ethical doctrines would by their promotion benefit humankind. A liberal society is characterised by its freedom to dispute these things and thereby continuously improve its understanding of them. A quango can no more competently sit in judgement of religion than it can of politics or philosophy.

* Joe Otten was the candidate for Sheffield Heeley in June 2017 and Doncaster North in December 2019 and is a councillor in Sheffield.

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16 Comments

  • I’m no particular fan of the Charity Commission, but the ruling was in the context of an application for charitable status from The Temple of the Jedi Order, so the Commission was just doing its job in assessing whether the organisation meets the public good test set out in charitable legislation. It wasn’t, as you suggest, setting itself up as an arbiter of religion generally, but to the point of charitable status specifically.

  • Scott Craig 20th Dec '16 - 8:24am

    Clouded by the dark side of the force, the commission has become.

  • On the other hand, they also said no to Scientology in 1999, so they do get some religious decisions right.

  • I am converting to Sith!

  • Tom Papworth 20th Dec '16 - 11:25am

    An excellent use of public money.

  • 2013 the Supreme Court effectively ruled that Scientology *is* a religion

    and thus open the door to it claiming charitable status and gaining access to favorable tax treatment. I’m sure if the backers of The Temple of the Jedi Order have, like Scientology, access to substantial financial resources and think there is money to be made from The Temple of the Jedi Order then they will appeal this decision of the Charity Commission…

  • That’s stopped a little bit of tax avoidance.

  • Jenny Barnes 20th Dec '16 - 4:29pm

    We pastafarians deny the right of the charity commission to determine our beliefs. In fact, we don’t believe in the charity commission. So there.

  • Matt (Bristol) 20th Dec '16 - 5:11pm

    Can I point out that there is a “special” status for a church as a religious charity in that it gets slightly less financial and legal scrutiny (if it’s income falls under a certain amount) than otherwise … so mock the law, but there is a serious point at issue which the cc has been given scrutiny of.

    Although I do agree that the legislation is too complex and there is no obvious reason why this distinction should be so.

  • @Cllr Mark Wright – what the Supreme Court (somewhat dubiously) accepts as a religion and what the Charity Commission accepts as being one of public benefit can be two different things.

    When the CC said ‘get lost’ to the not-at-all-mental Scientologists, they explicitly said that even if it were established for the advancement of religion (rather than, say, wealth generation for a few leaders) “public benefit should not be presumed” and “had not been established”.

    Similarly, when they said it didn’t meet the criteria of having “the moral or spiritual welfare or improvement of the community as a charitable purpose”, they also said that even if it did, any public benefit had not been established.

  • Toby Keynes 21st Dec '16 - 8:35am

    It really should be none of the Charity Commission’s or the state’s business whether a particular body is or is not religious, to grant tax benefits or for any other reason.
    In respect of charities, there’s simply no reason to make such a distinction: religious organisations that serve a public purpose should not need to invoke their religious status.
    There are so many other ways of determining whether an organisation is worthy of tax-previleged status.

  • The Charity Commission’s ruling sounds like a sensible one, at least at this stage. A key part of this is around the “public benefit” aspect — which is not the same as ruling on the religious dimension.

    But this does bring up a really complex question because of how fragmented faith has become. My recollection is that this one began in the 2001 census, when some people, instead of ticking a faith, wrote “Jedi” in the “other” box. Other things written in that box included “anglican” — presumably from people who didn’t tick “christian” as that was not sufficiently specific. But actually working out where faith/spirituality sits is a long way from straightforward now that this is often not the same as “the faith tradition in which I and my ancestors were brought up”.

    This one starts to look rather different if it’s spoken of as “a part of life that is really important, but hard to talk about” — which should be a check on our throwing around religious labels too lightly.

    In the 1930s, the Nazis behaved as if Jews were some sort of dangerous “other” group. Today, some seem keen to treat Muslims in a similar way (or at least, to assume the tiny minority who turn to violence are an excuse to attack the majority).

    I am wondering if a Liberal voice might have a role to play in enabling discussion of religion and between religions, and where less well-defined “religious feelings” sit? That offers an alternative to the fundamentalism of those who say their religion is uniquely valid — and the fundamentalism of those who dismiss all religion.

  • Apart from the relatively small proportion of their assets that are actually spent on charity work I don’t think religions should have charitable status and the tax perks that go with it.

    From what I understand the Anglican Church, for instance, has some £6.1billion worth of assets and investments under management, a figure it hasn’t denied. Much of that in times gone by would have been raised through church tithes and taxes on the poor.

    The Pope, through the Catholic Church, is probably managing the biggest corporation in the world!

  • Stephen Hesketh 26th Dec '16 - 12:55pm

    @Toby Keynes 21st Dec ’16 – 8:35am
    Precisely!

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