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Chew on Life's Big Questions

What is a "religion"?

:: Touched by His Noodly Appendage—the de facto brand image for the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, created by Niklas Jansson

Pop quiz. Which of the following is not a "real" religion? The Catholic Church. The Mormon Church. The Church of Beer. The Church of Jedi.

If you guessed the Church of Beer, you'd be right. And yes, that would mean that there is indeed a Church of Jedi. In fact, the group recently came under scrutiny in Britain when Daniel Jones, the 23-year-old founder of the International Church of Jediism was told by a store clerk to take off his hood (the one that every Jedi, including the evil Emperor, dons) or get out.

Jones said that he felt humliated and victimized for simply following religious doctrine by remaining hooded in public. (Note that even Luke Skywalker and Yoda often appeared in public without their hoods.) Maybe he was discriminated against. Or maybe this was a simple misunderstanding complicated by the fact that Jediism is not widely accepted as a "religion."

Real religion or not, Jedi Jones felt unwelcome in a public place for adhering to his beliefs. Does it matter what values someone has? After all, there's no excuse for discrimination. But the story does beg the question: Is it religious discrimination if it’s not a “real” religion?

 

Don't get me wrong. I love Star Wars, with its philosophy that we’re all connected through a larger-than-life force, but it's just a movie, right? Doesn't a Jedi religion blur the lines between fantasy and reality? But then again, doesn’t Scientology?

These days, it seems anyone can start a religion based on any belief system. It's only a matter of time before the Church of Hogwarts emerges. But if Christianity and Buddhism are considered "traditional" religions, then what are Mormonism, Scientology, Paganism, hell, even The Branch (David Koresh's crew in Waco, Texas)?

What makes a belief system a "religion"?

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