The Church of the Latter-Day Dude
The Coen Brothers’ film, The Big Lebowski, earned cult status after it’s release in 1998. The film grossed over $40 million at the box office, and has a current Rotten Tomatoes rating of 81%. It follows the story of Jeffrey “the Dude” Lebowski, played by Jeff Bridges, a slacker stoner from Los Angeles who wants nothing more in life than to get high, listen to music, and go bowling. All that is threatened when he is assaulted as a result of a case of mistaken identity. The Dude learns that there is a millionaire out there also with the name Jeffrey Lebowski, and soon the Dude and his friends get tangled up in a kidnapping plot. (Coen & Coen, The Big Lebowski) Naturally, the Dude faces these challenges with his signature nonchalance and laissez-faire attitude. The film and the character resonated so strongly with one Oliver Benjamin that he decided to organize a religion based around the worldview of the Dude.
Enter the Church of the Latter-Day Dude. Dudeism is a philosophy and lifestyle that preaches non-preachiness (Dudeism.com) — Benjamin , or the Dudely Lama, as he is known in Dudeist tradition, describes it as “an open-source attempt” to remake religion that fits with modern times. (Rush, 2014) He believes that everyone can identify with aspects of the movie, even if they do not wholly approve of the Dude’s lazy lifestyle. (Ehrlich, 2013) Benjamin himself grew up in America in the 1980s, surrounded by the ambition and materialism of yuppie culture (Ehrlich, 2013) ; as the Dude says, “it’s all a god damn fake.” (Coen & Coen, The Big Lebowski) It is easy to make the inference that the adoption of such a carefree worldview is directly reactionary to the type of rigid society that Benjamin was previously exposed to.
While the direct creation of Dudeism stems from The Big Lebowski, many of its beliefs find their roots in much older sources. Its origins can be traced back to Chinese Taoism and the writings of Lao Tzu from the 6th century BCE. (Falsani, 2011) Taoism is one of the most philosophical religions in the world; Dudeism is Taoism stripped of all of its metaphysical doctrine. The Big Lebowski presents a story about how to live your life, deal with conflict, and maintain peace of mind in a chaotic world. Following an interpretation of the Taoist tradition, Dudeism advocates going with flow and taking it easy. Instead of placing heavy emphasis on personal achievements and fortune, Dudeism looks to reconcile and alleviate feelings of inadequacy.
Dudeism also looks towards Ancient Greek philosophy, and in particular the teachings of Epicurus. Original Epicureanism emphasizes that simple pleasures are the best, and that less is actually more in life. (Ehrlich, 2013) Similarly, Dudeism places an emphasis on everyday pleasures; bathing, spending time with friends, and, of course, bowling, are seen as preferable to the accumulation of personal wealth.
The Church of the Latter-Day Dude presents their teachings as a worldview, not as faith, in a means to differentiate from the divine worship of some religions. (Rev. Eutsey, 2013) Dudeism has no doctrine, preferring direct experience to systematic formulation of religious teachings, nor does it have any formal rituals. This follows their belief that once a religion gets too complex, things will start to go wrong. Instead, Dudeism is an attempt to keep religion simple. (Rev. Eutsey, 2013) While the Church is 75% male (Ehrlich, 2013), Dudeism strives to present itself as an egalitarian community, where traditional gender roles do not apply. (Falsani, 2011) Dudeist feminism — also known as Special Ladyism — tries to correct the misconception that Dudeism is a male exclusive religion, and has been trying to the rid the word “dude” of its masculine bias. Many people tend to confuse Dudeism with anarchism or just simple laziness, based on perceptions of the Dude as a lazy, burned out stoner. Instead, the teachings of Dudeism can be boiled down to this:
“The idea is this: life is short and complicated and nobody knows what to do about it. So don’t do anything about it. Just take it easy, man […] Do your best to be true to yourself and others — that is to say, abide.” (Rev. Eutsey, 2013)
Following the pattern of many popular religions, Dudeism boasts its own bible of sorts, The Abide Guide: Living Like Lebowski, written by the Dudely Lama Oliver Benjamin with Dwayne Eutsey, the Arch Dudeship. The Church also puts out an official publication titled The Dudespaper, a “lifestyle magazine for the deeply casual.” (Dudeism.com) Here, various members of the Church can share current events and lifestyle articles through a Dudeist lens. The prayers of the Dudeists are virtual, spiritual, and “based on the Holy Principle of Placebo.” (Dudeism.com) The way in which they are carried is out is through the completion of an online questionnaire on the Church’s website. In this sense, Dudeism places an emphasis on meditation and reflection rather than prayer to a higher power. The Church’s website also showcases a “Dudenheim museum” section, a clever play on the Guggenheim Museum. Featured here is a virtual holy display of all the art created for the Church, which the Church themselves refers to as their own version of the Sistine Chapel. (Dudeism.com) Dudeism even has it’s own sacred high holy day; March 6 is known as the Day of the Dude. Dudeism even has its own foundation myth in the form of the film The Big Lebowski — the Dude of history, Jeff Dowd whom the character in the film is based upon, and the mythical Dude of the film act as a reflection of the Christian foundation myth based on the Jesus of history and the mythical portrait of the Christ figure. (Rev. Eutsey, 2013)
The Dude himself makes quite the unlikely figurehead for a religion. He is by no means the ideal of a successful member in society. Benjamin himself sees the Dude as “an extreme case,” that provides a model to work towards. (Ehrlich, 2013). The struggles of contemporary times do not revolve around Armageddon or the afterlife. Instead, there is general anxiety around society and existential engagement. There is no need for a heroic figure to lead the masses to the promised land, but rather for someone to help us abide where we are. This is where the Dude comes in, helping us lighten up to experience a greater quality of life. (Falsani, 2011) Yet, traditional religious figures are not completely abandoned. Dudeist tradition sees Christ as a proto-Dude or prophet, but here Christ loses any religious significance. Instead, he joins figures like Walt Whitman, Bob Marley, and Snoopy amongst the ranks of “Great Dudes in History.” (Dudeism.com) These are figures that the followers of the Church of the Latter-Day Dude see as exemplifying the basic tenets of Dudeism.
While Dudeism seems to be a pseudoreligion to many, Benjamin and the rest of its adherents regard it very seriously. (Mathijs and Sexton, 2012) The Church of the Latter-Day Dude has ordained over 350 000 Dudeist priests worldwide, and marriages have been legally officiated by Dudeist clergy in some U.S. states. (Dudeism.com) However, an argument comes from those who oppose the advent of a religion so adamantly rooted in popular culture. Some scholars argue that real religion draws on sources intended to be vehicles for religious experience, whereas popular culture is not intended to act as a source for spiritual inspiration. (Porter, 2009) Religious studies scholar Edward Bailey refutes this idea by introducing the concept of implicit religion; it can be found in unexpected and infrequent transcendent experiences, and is what happens when someone’s basic beliefs about the way of the world is or should be are affirmed or changed. (Porter, 2005) This is exactly what Benjamin experienced when creating Dudeism. He saw popular religion as “out of touch” and corrupted by power structures; he “longed for a worldview that both could be looked at rationally without recourse to magical thinking, and also had a sense of humour”. (Rush, 2014) Instead, while watching The Big Lebowski, Benjamin “saw it contained all of the good parts of every [religion] I had studied.” (Rush, 2014) This experience in itself, as well as the fact that almost 400 000 other people can relate to it, places Dudeism as at least an implicit religion.
It is also important to consider what constitutes a religion when examining the case of the Church of the Latter-Day Dude. According to Bruce David Forbes, religion can be defined as the organizing principle in a person’s life, and the values or concerns to which everything else is subordinate. (Forbes, 2005) Similarly, Corbett refers to religion as “an integrated system of belief, lifestyle ritual activities, and institutions by which individuals give meaning to (or find meaning in) their lives by orienting themselves to what they take to be holy, sacred, or of the highest value.” (Forbes, 2005) Dudeism provides for its followers a set of spiritual ideals and values, no matter how lax they may be, that come together under the Church of the Latter-Day Dude to unite all its followers.
Come join the slowest-growing religion in the world - Dudeism. An ancient philosophy that preaches non-preachiness…dudeism.com
And for those who still scoff at the Church of the Latter-Day Dude? Yeah, well, that’s just, like, your opinion man.
“Church of the Latter-Day Dude.” Dudeism.com.
Ehrlich, Richard S. “The man who founded a religion based on ‘The Big Lebowski’.” CNN Travel, 20 March 2013.
Ernest Mathijs and Jamie Sexton, Cult Cinema, John Wiley & Sons, 2012.
Forbes, Bruce David. “Introduction: Finding Religion in Unexpected Places.” Religion and Popular Culture in America. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005.
Falsani, Cathleen. “The Dudeist Bible: Just Take It Easy, Man.” The Huffington Post 20 July 2011.
Porter, Jennifer. “Implicit Religion in Popular Culture: the Religious Dimensions of Fan Communities.” Implicit Religion in Popular Culture. London: Equinox Publishing Ltd., 2009.
Rev. Eutsey, Dwayne. “The Take it Easy Manifesto.” Dudeism.com: The Church of the Latter-Day Dude. 2013.
Rush, James. “The Dude abides: Meet the founder of Dudeism, the laidback religion based on the Big Lebowski which now has more than 250,000 followers.” The Daily Mail 12 July 2014.
The Big Lebowski. Dir. Ethan Coen and Joel Coen. Perf. Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Gramercy Pictures, 1998.