The new Star Wars film hasn't just awakened the force; it has also awakened the faithful. The U.K.’s Church of Jediism — yes, that’s a real thing — claims the religion inspired by the beloved film franchise is attracting 1,000 new members a day in the lead-up to “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” The seventh film in the epic space series, opening this week, has been the focus of months' worth of media hype.
“[Membership has] 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,” Patrick Day-Childs, a member of the church’s five-person ruling council in the U.K., told British newspaper The Telegraph. He added that the church -- which has no physical location, just an online presence -- currently claims about 250,000 members.
So what exactly do these Jedi devotees believe? Members say the church is “a set of philosophies based on focusing, learning and becoming one with the Force.” But adherents don’t need to abandon other faiths to submit to the Force: The church says it encourages its members to have a second faith, which only complements the teachings of the Jedi.
“We feel that every religion offers deep knowledge that we can learn from. However, we find that there’s a cutoff point, and Jediism aims to help us find that point,” reads a frequently asked questions section on the church’s website.
Excellent short movie with one of our council members. https://t.co/luFGOieBtK
— Church of Jediism (@churchofjediism) December 15, 2015
Members don’t actually believe "Star Wars" is real, either. Instead, the church aims to take the “fundamentals” from the Jedi in "Star Wars" and learn from them. It purports that Jedi roots are based in the teachings of Buddhism and Taoism, and that its members can benefit from those philosophies.
The Jedi faithful didn’t always take themselves quite so seriously. The church began in 2001 as a joke, before the 2001 U.K. census, following an email campaign urging people to write “Jedi” as the response to the religious classification question. The campaign worked: 390,000 people declared that they were Jedi devotees. By the time the 2011 census rolled around, the number had dropped to 177,000.
The church found its own Yoda in 2008. Daniel Jones, a 23-year-old from Anglesey, Wales, decided to formalize the teachings and document the church's theology. He said it was based on the teachings in the films and various religious and philosophical texts.
“The use of The Force is basically, good things happen to good people. So, if you do good things, good things will happen to you. That's kind of like putting your good energy out into the universe and you will get something back,” he told Time magazine in 2008.
So do church members wield lightsabers upon initiation? It’s nothing so glamorous: To join, members must subscribe to the group’s online newsletter and complete a 10-part online training course. The church encourages its members to meditate as a way to “rinse” minds of “negative Force” that accumulates daily.
Once members join, they spend time studying the principles of Jediism, which include teachings like “There is no emotion; there is peace,” and “There is no ignorance; there is knowledge.”
Day-Childs says people are attracted to the church because it is consistent with modern values.
“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,” he said.
Members are also encouraged to wear the robes that mimic the Jedi masters from the "Star Wars" universe, but Day-Childs said that they focus on wearing them mostly for events, because “they’re not really very practical.”
"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" opens on Dec. 17 in the U.K. and Dec. 18 in the United States.