Why can’t Jedis wear hoods?

Have you heard the story about the man who wore a Jedi outfit to a supermarket in Bangor, and was asked to remove his hood. As the man considers Jedi to be his religion, he’s claiming religious discrimination. The supermarket’s response shows good humour and is to be admired.

The interesting point raised by this, of course, is not whether this this man is ‘really’ a Jedi, or if it can ‘really’ be considered a religion. The question is whether religious clothing preferences should be treated any differently from non-religious clothing preferences, and if so, why. In practice, of course, people who dress a certain way on the basis of beliefs and views they call religious are more likely to get upset about it than people who dress a certain way because they think it looks cool. Well, on the whole, anyway. I think. Probably. OK, so let’s at least assume that this claim is accurate. It means that by exempting those people, the companies cause less upset. Moreover, religious people often belong to sizeable communities of like-minded people, who have a certain lobbying power. Supermarkets are doubtless wise to prefer risking the wrath of people who call themselves Jedis over risking the wrath of people who call themselves Muslims or Sikhs.

But is this all it is? Is this the only reason certain religious people are exempt form certain rules where non-religious people aren’t? To avoid offending the former (even though the latter are undoubtedly also offended)? Is this sensible, or is it weak-willed? Should we start requiring everyone, unless they have a really good (e.g. medical) reason not to, to follow the same rules? Wouldn’t that be less discriminatory?

This is an old question that’s been asked before many times in other places. And I have to admit that while my instinct is to assert that everyone should have to follow the same rules, and that religious people shouldn’t have special exemptions, I can’t help wondering that maybe there is some room for compromises in cases like this. I suggested here, after all, that there’s necessarily more ‘muddling through’ in morality than we’re often prepared to admit. If people do feel so strongly, even on irrational grounds, about covering their heads, then maybe we should let them. But yes, that feels wrong too—shouldn’t we allow the same rights to people who feel equally strongly about it on non-religious grounds? I think we should, but how do these people prove that they have such strong feelings? It actually has more to do with this than it has to do with religious privilege, I think. The religious people can at least say that they belong to community x, where it is well known that members of community x do things in a certain way. And some non-religious communities get the same concessions: Scotsmen in national dress are exempt (along with Sikhs) from certain requirements of UK legislation relating to knives. The real losers are the people who feel just as strongly about covering their heads as the religious people do, but who lack the context that helps justify their choice.

But this all remains unsatisfactory. Let’s assume that the rule on having heads uncovered in the supermarket is reasonable; what should the supermarkets do? Should they exempt anyone? If so, where should they draw the line?

2 Comments

Filed under Humanism, Religion, Atheism etc.

2 responses to “Why can’t Jedis wear hoods?

  1. My cousin and his wife are both archaeologists of, among other areas, the Egyptian desert. As such, they have spent a fair amount of time in the Arab world, and know a fair number of Westerners who also have spent some time in that neck of the woods. Among them is a journalist who lived in an Arab country for a while as part of his studies of Arabic and associated cultures. Apart from the fact that he wasn't allowed into the mosque on account of not being a Muslim nor having any intention of becoming one – a purely scientific interest is apparently not enough for access, which secrecy I suppose doesn't do the public image of Islam any good – he came up with this little nugget, which I think links into some of the things you're saying:He was struck by the way the public welfare system was set up in this country. Sunnis go to Sunni hospitals for example, Shias to Shia hospitals, and Christians to Christian hospitals. When he asked a local about this, and wasn't this discrimination, the answer was that they regarded the European monolithic laïcité approach as more discriminatory: it forces people to engage in cultural practices that they don't necessarily subscribe to.Note, by the way, that the friend is also from the Netherlands, a country still dealing with the aftershocks of a pillarised society exactly like in this Arab country.

  2. Assuming that the rule is reasonable, then I'm of the opinion that it should apply to everyone, without exception for personal belief. But I don't think the rule is reasonable. I think it's discriminatory, and targeted (and I'm sure enforced) not necessarily against just hood-wearers.But I'm more interested in the supermarket's response, because I'm curious as to their intent. Were they dispensing theological counsel, or were they ridiculing the man's faith? Should I visit Tesco for direction if I'm having a crisis of faith? Or will I be offended at the sign out the front that begins "The Following Religions Are Bogus:"?

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