First signs that the purity of census results may be swayed by internet campaigning emerged this week, as the Twittersphere declared itself opposed to Jediism. Elsewhere, Jewish organisations were urging people to put themselves down as Jewish, in order to increase pressure for more Jewish faith schools.
Earlier this week, as the first census questionnaires were dropping through letterboxes, the British Humanist Association (BHA) launched its anti-religion campaign by declaring that "the figures on religion produced by the 2001 census gave a wholly misleading picture of the religiosity of the UK."
In their view, the use of a flawed question, asking individuals "what is your religion?" distorts the true picture, by approximately cutting the number of non-religious people in half.
So, when Cory Doctorow, creative freedoms campaigner, author of Little Brother and co-editor of the massive Boing Boing blog, tweeted yesterday that "we’re all going to put our #religion down as #Jedi", the response was instantaneous.
A flurry of counter-tweets followed, with reaction typified by the likes of Andrew Carter, who tweeted: "NO! It screws up the demographics and makes it look like there are fewer 'Non-religious' than there are!"
Doctorow thought about it, and shortly after, his blog conceded an absolute about-turn. He wrote: "When I joked on Twitter that my family were going to list ourselves as Jedi, I was deluged with outraged responses from atheists asking me to tick the 'no religion' box; this is part of a larger campaign to get people who tick 'Christian' out of habit (though they have no faith) to switch to 'no religion' as well, as some atheists believe that the number of religious people in the UK is misreported through a combination of habitual box-ticking and smart-alecky 'Jedi' like me." He concluded: "I'm convinced; we're atheists and we will list ourselves as such."
Strike one for the BHA, who themselves suffered a minor setback earlier this month when the Committee for Advertising Practice endorsed a ban by railway companies on the BHA's proposed billboard campaign using the allegedly provocative headline "If you're not religious, for God's sake say so".
The battle for the nation's soul is definitely hotting up with the Board of Deputies of British Jews advising that "British Jews could miss out on funding and facilities in the coming years if community members fail to indicate their religion in next month's census".
At the same time, theology think tank Theos criticised the BHA’s campaign as "misconceived" and "unnecessary". According to a report in Christian Today last week, Paul Bickley, senior researcher at Theos, congratulated the humanists on doing a good PR job but felt this campaign was "clearly a mistake".
He said: "The campaign grossly exaggerates the extent to which the religious affiliation results of the 2001 census have shaped government policy or influenced spending decisions.
"In any case, the British people are quite capable of judging for themselves what box they should tick. They don't need to be told.
"If the Archbishop of Canterbury were to launch a campaign pleading for people to tick the Christian box, it would be rightly ridiculed as a sign of desperation.
"I suspect that this is what may happen with this campaign, too."
The argument looks set to continue, with the BHA now firmly aligned with the Dark Side – at least as far as the census goes. ®