At a time when many organized religions are losing parishioners faster than Anakin Skywalker can kill younglings, there’s another brand of faith that’s quickly growing around the world: Jediism. There’s the Jedi Church. There’s the Temple of the Jedi Order. There’s the Ordem Jedi do Brasil. And there’s the truly bizarre interpretation called Gadian Society, which seems to propose that George Lucas is a natural mystic who channeled a deep spiritual vein and shared it with the world symbolically.
The original Jedi church, however, was founded in 2007 by self-proclaimed Jedi Master Daniel M. Jones. While his Church of Jediism lacks any proscribed dogma or concrete set of beliefs, the faith draws its inspiration both from the Star Wars franchise and many of the spiritual traditions of earth. The Church of Jediism is also a refuge for all who seek community. In the mission statement for Jediism, he tells his potential parishioners and half-million-strong congregation, “When you are born in a world you don’t fit in, it is because you were born to help create a new one.”
Beyond serving as the patriarch of the Church of Jediism, the 33-year-old Jones is also an author, trained counselor, father and popular YouTuber who makes videos speaking to, and for, the autistic community. (He does the same over on Twitter, with his account @TheAspieWorld.) But no matter what he’s doing, Jones seeks to help, guide and instruct, as he labors in common cause with others to make the world a better place. I recently spoke to Jones about this crusade, why his church is no joke (or extended exercise in cosplay) and how Jediism is as much about Buddhism and Taoism as it is Star Wars.
Assuming there was no burning bush, what was the genesis for the Church of Jediism?
I found there was a gap in human society where we were turning our backs on the normal connection one has with the Universe — that was kind of lost. And I was thinking to myself, “How was it lost?” I wanted to try to educate people on the relationship with the Universe they’d started missing out on. It was difficult because there was no relation. So I decided, “Why don’t I find something that’s relative, and that could inspire people to take on those kinds of ideas and ideologies?”
You picked the Star Wars franchise. Was it because the films are so beloved and universal, or because they spoke deeply to you?
I was taken by Star Wars at a young age. It was the only thing that made sense. And so, I could relate the things I was trying to teach directly to the Jedi in the movies. It made perfect sense. And it was totally relatable.
To reach the faithful, you have a Facebook Jedi training forum. You offer a Jediism studybook. When you were coming up with these texts and a curriculum, how did you design the progress for the converts who join the Church of Jediism?
As with most things with training, it’s incremental. You look at karate, you start out at a white belt, and you have a black belt, and there are varying degrees in-between. Because if you come up with a different format — like, an intense 16-hour training format — at the end of it, everyone would be like, “What on earth?!?!” You have to make the training into something relatable. It just makes sense, doesn’t it? Like, you don’t want to overpower someone with training and give it to them straight away, because you’d most likely frighten them. Or something crazy might happen.
Do you have a favorite film in the franchise?
Everyone’s going to slate me for it.
Attack of the Clones?
No. [Laughs] It’s Return of the Jedi.
Do people make fun of you for saying that one is your favorite?
Everyone thinks Empire Strikes Back is like, the golden globe, you know. And I’m like, meh. [Laughs] Return of the Jedi has everything for me. There’s reuniting friendships. It’s into family heritage. It’s the closure of the father thing. It’s the fulfillment of the prophecy of Darth Vader. People die. People are reunited. The journey starts straight away with the freeing of Han Solo. You know, all of the lovely little loose ends are tied up. It’s a great film. I won’t think anything different.
Regarding Attack of the Clones, though, what did you think about the rest of the prequels? I’d assume you liked them for all the extra coverage of the Jedi Order.
They were great. They showed more of the Jedi, and that’s what you wanted. Fans were saying for ages that they wanted to see more of the Jedi and more of the backstory. I think all of the movies are great. Other than Jar Jar Binks, all of the movies are great. Even the new ones are fantastic. They stick closer to the original format. They also show more of the story, and people have been wanting that for years. There’s also a difference here, we’re talking more about the Star Wars fandom, versus ideologies of a non-dogmatic secular religion.
With the more recent films, you have the Jedis confronting the failures of their own teachings. You have Master Yoda burning down the tree that holds the ancient books of the Jedi order. What was that like for you to watch, when you’ve built a church from, ostensibly, what was in that magical tree?
It was a bit shocking when I saw it. I was like, “Oh! What are you doing?!?!?!” But at the end of the day, you think, It makes sense because those things won’t teach you anything. Self-exploration and self-knowledge will teach you everything you need to know, so I think that’s what the idea was.
How important is the emphasis Star Wars places on paths of redemption? Does that feature prominently into the teachings of the Church of Jediism?
It’s super important. Because nobody is evil — well, most people aren’t evil at heart — you can redeem yourself if you’re willing to look in and be honest with yourself. Once you’re honest with yourself, the path to self-awakening or self-enlightenment is quite easy. So it’s super-important.
When people come to you and the Church of Jediism, seeking counsel, how do you determine what advice to give them? Do you quote passages from the films? Do you talk about the balance of the Force?
Basically, when you counsel someone, you don’t give them advice. That’s the number one rule in counseling. You’re not giving advice. What you’re trying to do is to ask the person how they’re going to fix their problem. You ask it in a way where they solve it — because they know the answer. People just need realizations. It’s almost like holding a mirror to somebody. Everyone needs to know who they are; sometimes they’re lost, and they need reassuring, so you tell them to tell you who they are. And that’s how that works. You don’t need any books to know that. You just need somebody to say, “Tell me who you are.” And then to listen. In a crude sense at least.
Is helping others something that’s always been important to you?
Helping people is in my nature. It’s all I want to do. My dad’s a martial artist and has been for years. He started his own form of karate called Yamashima. Coming from a disciplined household of martial arts and freedom of expression, my father was always compassionate and wanted to help people; so he taught me a lot about that growing up. My default is that I want to help people all the time. Any time I can help someone, I should — and will — help someone.
Have you counseled any real-life Jedis through grief and issues around death or loss? Do you shepherd your Jedi followers through the major transformations of life?
Counseling through grief is one of the biggest ones we do. Counseling through mental-health trauma is another big one. And just counseling, in general, really. We do a lot of that. It’s one of the big things people come to us for. Because they’re kinda looking for a voice of reason and something to ground themselves in and relate to.
That’s a lot of responsibility to tend to people’s mental trauma and grief.
I’ve got Asperger’s Syndrome. Everything’s black and white for me. So it’s not really taxing, like, I’m not really emotionally involved with things like that. I’m able to disassociate myself with that emotion. The second thing is I have a Level II NVQ in counseling, which is qualification here in the U.K. So, professionally, I have that.
For people who are on the spectrum, would you say that the harmonious nature of Taoism, Buddhism and the Force — and how they all speak of balance — is something you have a real affinity for?
Completely. Because they have rules of engagement in a way. They also have very simple and clear good-and-bad. That works really well for someone with that type of personality trait.
You also have resolution of tension, like you find in the yin/yang idea that if something goes this way, then eventually it has to go back the other way. Does that also align with an Asperger’s view of human interactions?
Absolutely. Because we have that “do, or do not.” It has a very clear outline. There’s no middle ground or grey area. There’s just one thing, or another. That’s kinda how people on the spectrum’s minds work. So it’s comforting. Because you can understand it.
You’ve been rather explicit in saying that Jediism isn’t technically a religion, that it’s more of a spiritual movement. What’s the distinction for you?
Take Buddhism, for instance, it’s secular in a sense, but it’s not dogmatic, i.e., it can be both. It’s like a Schrödinger’s faith. It could be classified as a religion, or it could also be classified as a way of life. Buddhism and Jediism are one and the same, really, if you think about it. They have the same attributes. They’re just different avenues to get to the same place. But in terms of the definition, because it’s non-dogmatic, it’s still secular. And so, it is, and it isn’t a religion. The idea of Jedis in Star Wars is based on Taoism. George Lucas based it on that. If you read my book, Become the Force, the core principles are pretty much the same as Buddhism and Taoism. It follows those same ideologies, just from a different angle or viewpoint.
You’re a guy who’s started his own religion. You also sell a book about your faith. You advocate for greater self-awareness and being honest with oneself. You have instructional materials to help your followers overcome fear, anxiety, confusion and the daily stressors of living. But I could just as well be describing Scientology. What’s your take on Dianetics, L. Ron Hubbard, and that other space-based religion?
I actually read a lot about Scientology because someone asked me what do I thought about Scientology, and I said, “I don’t know anything about it.” So I got the book Dianetics. I read everything I could. I listened to everything I could. And it kinda gets a little crazy after 1986, after L. Ron Hubbard died. I think Scientology has a place in society. I don’t think they should charge for it, and I think the Church of Scientology has gone a bit extreme. I’d say I’m critical of anybody, because they need to prove themselves. Everybody should be scrutinized if they’re doing stuff that affects people’s wellbeing.
If someone wanted to put God and the Devil into Jediism, where do they fit?
It depends. Because it’s subjective. I mean, what is… God? Like, in the Gospel of Matthew, they say the kingdom of God is within all men, not just a handful, or one. So what does that mean? That means that God is everything you see around you; it’s the consciousness and the form the consciousness considers. So one can put God and the Devil into whatever they want. The Devil could be that creeping edge or shell of emotion that makes you feel anger, hate or resentment. It depends on how one defines those terms.
Would you say that Jesus was a Jedi?
[Laughs] Of course, of course.
Ultimately, then, is Jediism a lightsaber-swinging, space-opera-inspired, ideological fusion of the earth’s great Western and Eastern spiritual traditions?
Yes, it’s exactly that — 100 percent.