By Jess Goulart
Photo courtesy of Dudism Facebook.
Every religion operates on one (or a few) key elements. Catholics are big on the Saints; Hindus appreciate meditation; Muslims have a penchant for worship; Dudeists really enjoy relaxation. And bowling.
No, you read that correctly. Dudeism is a religion based on the Coen brothers 1998 cult classic The Big Lebowski. It was founded in 2005 by journalist and author Oliver Benjamin, affectionately dubbed “The Dudely Lama,” on the quasi-spiritual, wholly-hippy principal belief of “que sera sera,” or, in more traditional lingo–“the Dude abides.” The group is known as the Church of the Latter-Day Dude.
A self-proclaimed implicit laziness makes this religion the slowest growing in the world. Slowest, but surprisingly widespread, as its now 200,000 priests are found in scores of countries across the globe. That breadth is due, in part, to their absence of a centralized locale. In lieu of a physical church, they rely on the internet to communicate, organize, and reach others. Or, you know, not.
As the Dudely Lama tells BTR, “I have many Dudeist deputies, co-authors, associates, compeers, comrades, colleagues and even a few worthy fucking adversaries whom I’ve accumulated via the Internet. We’re working on a system to get people to set up local Dudeist parishes via a social network, Dudeism.net.”
When you first navigate their website, you’re met with a very Dude-esque definition of the religion — “An ancient philosophy that preaches non-preachiness, practices as little as possible, and above all, uh…lost my train of thought there. Anyway, if you’d like to find peace on earth and goodwill, man, we’ll help you get started. Right after a little nap.” Quite the hook, to be sure, but there is actual substance behind that rouse of humor.
Dudeism is reminiscent of ancient Eastern philosophies that privilege an attitude of graceful acceptance in the face of adversity. The Dudely Lama had long been a student of these ideas, but had trouble swallowing the more dogmatic principles that always seemed to govern even the most holistically rooted faiths. For example, ornate temples and intricate rituals, or reincarnation and karma, all came with over-assuming guidelines.
The Dudely Lama cites elements of Taoism, Zen Buddhism, American Transcendentalism, Epicureanism, Stoicism, Gnostic Christianity, Jewish humor, Meditative practices, Evolutionary Psychology, Cognitive Psychology, and “lots of other what-have-you,” as influences, and hopes to develop methods of studying and organizing them with the founding of their online learning center, the Abide University.
Dudeist Arch Bishop Dwayne Eutsey tells BTR that just like any other religion, Dudeism has real life applications. In a sermon on the intersection between film and religion, he explores how a sense of community can emerge around either. Like mass at a church, a movie can “bind us in the shared experience of celebrating certain values.”
The Arch Bishop lives in a small beach community. He tells BTR about a moment in his life when Dudeism helped him through an intense struggle:
“When Hurricane Irene hit, the drain in my backyard clogged early in the night of the storm, and before I knew it water was up to my waist and rising. I had to spend most of the night keeping the drain clear of debris so it wouldn’t flood out where I live. It was a bit stressful, as you can imagine. But at one point as I sat out there in the water, desperately pulling away leaves and whatever else was clogging the drain, I just watched the rain falling around the street lights at an angle in the wind, heard the trees rustling around… I took a deep breath and enjoyed the beauty of the moment. There was a kind of peace in the midst of the storm. And I thought, you know, this is what the Dude means when he says ‘The Dude Abides.’ Through all the strikes and gutters, the ups and downs, do the best you can but just take it easy… abide.”
The knee-jerk reaction to laugh at Dudeism doesn’t bother the Arch Bishop or the Dudely Lama. In fact, both agree that humor is an essential part of their religion, and perhaps one of the most transcendent principles in life. Dudeists would rather be laughed at then taken too seriously. “When people hear about the Tao, they laugh at it; but if it were not sufficient to be laughed at, it would not be the Tao,” says a proverb from the Tao Te Ching. This, the Dudely Lama feels, is an appropriate summation of laughter’s place in religion.
Devout worshipers have a tendency to become so serious in their beliefs they are willing to go to unthinkable extremes. Just earlier this week, Abu Hamza al-Masri, a radical Islamist cleric, stood trial for terrorist charges in New York. Right now in Sudan, an eight month pregnant woman named Meriam Yehya is facing the death penalty by hanging for apostasy because she asserted she is a Christian.
Perhaps Dudeists are onto something when they say they’re “very serious about our lack of seriousness.”
If building a religion around The Big Lebowski seems arbitrary, we could ask ourselves why building it around ancient texts is deemed more appropriate, considering the latter is, by nature, less relevant. Perhaps Dudeism lacks historical lore, but The Abide Guide (the holy book of Dudeism) is far more accessible than the Bible or The Vedas, and in not imposing a strict hierarchical structure Dudeists manage to leave room for interpretation and even concurrent outside beliefs. That’s nigh unheard of.
Plus, a copy of The Abide Guide on your coffee table will really tie the room together.
To continue widening the community, there are LebowskiFests every year, which aren’t a part of Dudeism officially, but it’s something of a pilgrimage for many Dudeists, The Arch Bishop tells BTR. “Jeff Bridges is going to perform at the upcoming Fest in LA… sure wish I could make it to those finals, but life goes on.”
So how do you join?
“Visit http://www.dudeism.com/ordination,” says the Dudely Lama, “and ye, too, shall abide.”