Practicing Jedi overlooked on 2011 Australian Census

Practicing Jedi have been overlooked on the Australian Census. Then again, pretty much everything has been overlooked on the latest census, but the Jedi issue is more important than you might realise.

YodaIt’s important to me that statistics are as accurate as possible. After all, 76% of statistics are made up on the spot, including that one. But I’m a stats nerd, so when we have a census, we need it to be as close to truth as possible. With that in mind, I entreated my minions on Twitter to make sure they did the right thing on census night. If you have no religion, I told them from a lectern of self-recognised authority, make sure you put No Religion. Don’t mess up the stats by putting something stupid like Jedi or Pastafarian (bless His Noodly Appendage). I was very quickly corrected by a number of minions. It doesn’t matter, they said, because putting Jedi would automatically get counted as No Religion anyway. I was outraged. What about the actual practicing Jedi out there? Suddenly their voice is not being heard.

Apparently the reason for this is because Jedi or Jediism (and who doesn’t love a word with a double i?) has not been legally decreed as an official religion. This pisses me off. Who are the Australian government, or anyone else for that matter, to tell us what our religion can be? In the 2001 New Zealand census there were more Jedi than Buddhists or Hindus. Of course, most of those 1.5% of respondents were being smartarses, but a small number may well associate very personally with Jediism. And good for them.

The biggest “officially recognised” religion in Australia is based on “the belief that a cosmic Jewish zombie who was his own father can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree.” That’s the definition of Christianity from the Urban Dictionary and it’s pretty bloody bang on.

Jedi ChurchThe NZ based Jedi Church states: “The Jedi Church believes that there is one all powerful force that binds all things in the universe together. The Jedi religion is something innate inside everyone of us, the Jedi Church believes that our sense of morality is innate. So quiet your mind and listen to the force within you!”

Screw the “official recognition”, I know which one of those makes more sense to me. And which one is likely to be the cause of far fewer wars, oppression and suffering.

I don’t follow any religion. On the census I put No Religion to make sure the stats were accurate from my input. But the stats are way off because the things people choose to believe in aren’t recognised. If someone can be counted for believing in a self-fathering Jewish zombie, someone else should be counted for believing in the Force. If someone puts Jedi and gets counted as No Religion, there’s a problem. Imagine putting Catholic or Muslim and getting counted as No Religion. It’s the same thing. And the belief of Jediism is no less reasonable than Catholicism or Islam. Just because they’ve been around since medieval times doesn’t make them somehow more valid. It makes them medieval. And we’ve all seen where that leads us.

So not only did the Australian Bureau of Statistics give me no place note down my dog on the census form, even though he’s a very important member of my family, or let me note that I ride a motorcycle, stating that only cars count for some reason, they’re also telling me what I can believe. It’s one thing to recognise a religion for legal purposes. As far as I’m concerned all organised religions should be declared businesses and pay tax as such. Tax exemption for believing in an imaginary friend is really only something that should apply to pocket money for children. But legality aside, if I choose to believe in something, that’s entirely my choice. If the ABS want a true snapshot of the nation, they should accept all belief systems, not just a handful they think are worthy through some arbitrary decision. If they want to include religion on the census they need to make a proper job of it.


Christians upset about Muslim billboard

I know, those crazy Christians are always upset about something. For that matter, so are the Muslims. Let’s be honest, the religious of any persuasion have always got something to moan about. But it’s been a while since I lampooned a bit of religious idoicy here on The Word and when I saw this article in the Sydney Morning Herald, I knew I had to comment.

In a nutshell, an awareness campaign by Islamic group MyPeace has resulted in some billboards going up to try to point out that Muslims really aren’t so different to Christians, or anyone else for that matter. Of course, they’re just people like all of us. The religious, regardless of persuasion, are all far more alike than many of them will ever be comfortable admitting. If nothing else, they share a large portion of willfull ignorance. And, that one foible aside, they’re no different to anyone else. But I digress.

One of these awareness billboards says: JESUS: A PROPHET OF ISLAM. And there’s a number and a website.

Some Christians are upset because it demotes Jesus from the son of god to a mere prophet and thereby injures their delicate religious sensibilities. And here’s where the relevance to this blog comes in – I can turn anything I find interesting into a debate on words, language and storytelling after all. The Muslims in question are trying to point out that they revere Jesus too, just not in the same way. Meanwhile, the Christians are upset that the status of Jesus is not being recognised. What we have here are two fantasy epics warring about who has the better angle on truth, when, in fact, neither of them have anything even vaguely resembling proof. Ah, religious tolerance – what’s that then? Some of the quotes really made me laugh.

One complainant said that Jesus “must not be associated with such [an] aggressive religion”. Oh, the irony! She burns!

Here’s my favourite:

“What [my child] knows of Islam she has learnt from watching mainstream news broadcasts and to have her saviour identified as being part of this malicious cult was very traumatic!”

Your child told you that, did she? After a considered exploration of available religions and a decision to be Christian? Or did you just tell your kid that’s what she thought?

Anyway, a complaint was lodged with the Advertising Standards Bureau and, thankfully, common sense prevailed:

”such a statement does not, of itself, discriminate against or vilify people who hold different beliefs… The board acknowledged that the Islam faith does consider that Jesus is a prophet of Mohammed… and that it is not unreasonable for children to be exposed to a variety of information in their daily lives, some of which may conflict with the views with which they are raised”.

No shit, Sherlock. We can be thankful for that decision, at least.

MyPeace founder Diaa Mohamed said, ”[The advertisement] conveys the message that, like Christians, we the Muslims also regard Jesus with extreme reverence. The idea being that the people will see beyond the words in the advertisements and recognise that Islam and Muslims are not much different from any other ordinary Australian.”

Which you’d think was quite fair enough. I wonder if he would be equally magnaminous if the Christians put up billboards all over town saying, “Mohammad is not a prophet of god and the only way to heaven is through Jesus.” The Muslims would be fine with that, right?

These kind of things give me so much fuel for characterisation and plot in fiction. People really are fascinating creatures. Or, to put it another way, as my old Grandad used to say, “There’s nought so strange as folk.”


Religious quote of the week

Possibly religious quote of the year. I simply could not let this one go by, for I nearly laughed my morning cereal out of my nose when I read this. To be honest, there’s a plethora of fantastic quotes in this story. The Reverend Avril Hannah-Jones of the Uniting Church in Romsey, north of Melbourne, is having a themed service where sci-fi and fantasy fans are encouraged to show up in costume for a “Sci-Fi and Fantasy Friendly Church Service”. They will hear passages from The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter as Hannah-Jones explores parallels between fantasy and Christianity, taking inspiration from Dr Who, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Star Wars.

You can see where this is going, right? I was already sniggering at this point.

The whole thing is aimed at increasing church attendance, but it has many flaws. For starters, a lot of SF fans are agnostic or atheist, but even putting that aside, when you start comparing the teachings of the Bible to great fantasy epics, while you’re being surprisingly honest, it does little to promote the supposed “truth” of the Bible. Especially when those literary classics are far more cohesive and interesting.

And naturally, the religious community is rather split on the whole thing. Here’s where those fabulous quotes start coming in. Brace yourself for a +10 Crushing Irony attack and be sure to don your Pot-Kettle-Black armour:

Catholic priest Gerald O’Collins said, “There should be no need to dress it up.” He’s referring to the Bible and the Christian message, of course. “There is a magical story there already. We just have to start selling ourselves properly.”

That’s right – what you need is a better PR department.

Uniting Church moderator Isabel Thomas Dobson said, “We’re always looking for ways in which we can connect the community with the truth of the gospel. We’re talking fantasy, not reality.”

Wait, are you talking truth or fantasy? In two sentences she sums up all the problems with religious scripture as fact. I know I’m being slightly facetious here in my interpretation, but the point is clear.

But all this pales into insignificance in the light of this gem from Mentone Baptist minister Murray Campbell: “I don’t have a problem with people enjoying sci-fi, but church isn’t the place to encourage escapism and fancy dress.”

Has he been to a church lately? The clergy love a bit of fancy dress, with their robes and hats and dog-collars and habits (denominationally determined, of course). And what more escapist activity is there than sitting in a building dedicated to communicating with your big imaginary friend who’s supposed to sort out all your problems and grant all your wishes, while hearing about virgin births, walking on water, raising the dead and so on?

Given that the Bible is one of the greatest fantasy epics of all time, even if it does need the input of a good editor, this whole thing amuses me no end.

Source: Herald Sun


Pentecost by Joanna Penn – review

Pentecost“When Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead, the Apostles took stone from his tomb as a symbol of their brotherhood.

At Pentecost, the fires of the Holy Spirit empowered the stones and the Apostles performed miracles in God’s name throughout the Empire. Forged in the fire and blood of the Christian martyrs, the Pentecost stones were handed down through generations of Keepers who kept their power and locations secret.

Until now.

The Keepers are being murdered, the stones stolen by those who would use them for evil in a world transformed by religious fundamentalism. Oxford University psychologist Morgan Sierra is forced into the search when her sister and niece are held hostage. She is helped by Jake Timber from the mysterious ARKANE, a British government agency specializing in paranormal and religious experience.

From ancient Christian sites in Spain, Italy and Israel to the far reaches of Iran and Tunisia, Morgan and Jake must track down the stones through the myths of the early church in a race against time before a new Pentecost is summoned, this time powered by the fires of evil.”

Pentecost by Joanna Penn is a religious thriller and a damn good one. Penn is a non-fiction writer, blogger and public speaker who has turned her hand to fiction and this is her first novel. It’s a great achievement. A long time fan of thrillers, you can see Penn’s passion for the genre in every part of this book.

Morgan Sierra is a great character – a real female hero without being contrived or cliched. The ARKANE group is a great invention, with a solid history making them very believable. The novel races around the world and Penn’s research in location and religious mythology is clear, with every aspect of the plot considered and fleshed out in fine detail. The pace is high, the stakes are higher and very quickly we care about Morgan, her family and whether or not she’ll succeed.

This book has elements that will appeal to all thriller fans – there’s a bit of Indiana Jones, a bit of Wilbur Smith, a bit of Dan Brown and a lot of Joanna Penn. I was fortunate enough, as a friend of Joanna’s, to get a chance to beta-read this book and I have no hesitation in recommending it. It’s a rollicking good read and a cut above a lot of stuff out there. Penn tells us there are more Morgan Sierra books on the horizon and I’m glad. If she’s started out this strong, I’m excited to see where she goes next.

Joanna will be guest posting here as part of the New Age of Publishing series I’m running, so look out for that, and we’ll have a chat with her on the ThrillerCast soon as well.

Pentecost is coming out on February 7th, when you can join in her launch competition and maybe win a Kindle. In the meantime, you can download some chapters in PDF format here.


Fun with Google Ngrams

There’s this thing Google have put together which is really addictive. It’s called Ngrams. Essentially, when you enter phrases into the Google Books Ngram Viewer, it displays a graph showing how those phrases have occurred in a corpus of books. You can set various parametres of time, which types/language of books are searched and so on. The graphic results are very cool.

For example, instances of the words horse (blue), bicycle (red), car (green) and motorcycle (yellow), between 1800 and 2008, in English:

(click for larger images)

Pretty cool, huh. So naturally I started searching all kinds of comparisons. Regular readers here will know I’m fascinated with religious mythology, so I did a search on instances of Christian (blue), Muslim (red), Jew (green), Hindu (yellow) and Buddhist (blue), again from 1800 to 2008 in English. Look at the massive decline in Christianity’s dominance over the written word in that time.

On that front, what about instances of heaven (blue) and hell (red):

Hell holding steady while heaven sees a steep decline. This amuses me.

All right, enough of this nonsense, let’s get onto the serious stuff. Between 1800 and 2008, let’s look at instances of fantasy (blue), science fiction (red) and horror (green):

Sci-fi doesn’t register until around 1950, fantasy has a slow growth right through, really peaking in the last thirty or forty years and horror saw a steady decline until a resurgence around 1980. I imagine that’s largely down to the pulp horror revival of the 80s and the emergence of superstars in the genre like Stephen King and James Herbert.

So the natural progression from there is to see which is really the most popular when it comes to the big three supernaturals. Here we have vampire (blue), werewolf (red) and zombie (green):

Relatively even, though vampires clearly more popular, till around the early 80s, then the vamps went nuts. Anne Rice, Lost Boys and the like are clearly marked there.

But that was an easy one – of course the vampire is the most popular, as it is the coolest. Though I predict the werewolf has yet to really see its heyday. But now let’s sort out once and for all the ongoing rivalry that all SF fans get heated about. I should start by saying that I’m a big fan of both. But what says Ngrams in the great Star Wars (blue) vs Star Trek (red), in English since 1960:

Jedis FTW!

Man, I could play with this thing all day.