Meet Oliver Benjamin, a writer and philosopher who has a very unique accreditation to add to his existential resume. During a drunken viewing of The Big Lebowski in Thailand, Oliver decided to create an entire ethos.
Initially viewed as a parody of religion (despite this never being the founder's intention), Dudeism was written off as an American novelty act; The product of obsessive fandom and rampant imagination. These ideals were quickly inverted as the followers of Dudeism were seen to be serious about their newfound devotion to what they believed to be a progressive and transcendent denomination.
While the doctrine Oliver (who is also known as The Dudely Lama) has created uses The Big Lebowski as an obvious inspiration, it is, at its core, a hodgepodge of ideals that are viewed as ubiquitously virtuous.
Don't be fooled by its pop-cultural underpinnings, the philosophy of the Church of the Latter-Day Dude uses concepts from many other established religions such as Buddhism and Taoism for its foundational message.
Where this religion differs however, is that it doubles down on "taking it easy" as opposed to preaching penitence, pilgrimage, or prayer like other dogmas. This quote taken directly from the Dudeism website further expounds on this notion:
"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. Stop worrying so much whether you’ll make it into the finals. Kick back with some friends and some oat soda and whether you roll strikes or gutters, do your best to be true to yourself and others – that is to say, abide."
With this in mind, we can begin to see why so many people have opted to cool out and simply abide. The religion has now amassed over 450,000 Dudeist priests and counting.
I spoke with The Dudely Lama himself to gain some insight into the culture of Dudeism.
Prox: Having seen the film so many times, what are some insights that you have gleaned in some of your more recent viewings as opposed to when you initially saw it?
TDL: To be honest, after writing and editing four books on the philosophy of The Big Lebowski, as well as The Dudespaper, the new insights don't come as fast and furiously as they used to. But the avalanche really never ends. I'm also touched by the continued Lebowski references in pop culture, such as the AMC TV show Preacher.
Lebowski is becoming like the Bible in that you incorporate elements from it if you want to give your story, or song, or article some cultural gravitas. The risk, of course, is that it will become overplayed. However, few people have ever become sick of it.
So, as far as your question goes, rather than gleaning new insights, these days I'm only confirming my early assertion that Lebowski is life. In other words, it's a miraculous mirror of humanity.
Prox: While the ideas are pretty timeless, have you ever considered expanding the concepts presented in the religion’s core tenets? How has your relationship with Dudeism changed as you’ve matured?
TDL: Yes, in fact I'm working on expanding Dudeism beyond the Dude. My next book will be a manifesto that trandcends the Dude, and encompasses "the whole durn human comedy." Oops. It won't be full of Lebowski quotes like that one. My relationship with Dudeism has changed a bit, in that as Dudeism expands and brings in new members, I'm more keenly aware of how undude a lot of people are. The popularity of our Facebook group has brought to light some of the unsavory elements of the average Netizen. In the beginning, those who were drawn to Dudeism were the coolest, most easygoing people in the world. These days the majority is still Dudeish, but we have to keep the undude at bay. So I guess, I've become a little jaded. Not completely, but the Internet is a tough place for the good-intentioned.
Prox: Some scholars have said that The Big Lebowski actually encompasses a more Judeo-Christian ideology. Why have you chosen to model Dudeism after Eastern mysticism?
TDL: Well, that's just the thing - since Lebowski is a mirror of humanity, it touches on all sorts of ideologies. I wouldn't say that Dudeism has much in common with evangelical Christianity or Roman Catholicism, which are steeped in strict dogmas and traditions, but it certainly does with the earlier aspects of the New Testament such as the Gospels. We contend that all religions have at their core something resembling Dudeism. That's because the questions and answers that mankind has come up with are pretty universal, at least at the beginning. Unfortunately, what happens next is that when the Big Lebowskis of the world see a profit motive, they muscle in and end up taking over those creeds, reversing a lot of the original ideas. This happens time and time again in history.
Dudeists persist throughout history regardless, usually setting up small offshoots of those religions in an attempt to recapture the original message. However, the Eastern religions have done a better job of preserving the original messages and philosophies, and kept them alive alongside the superstitious and organizational accretions -- Buddhism and Taoism particularly. That's why we tend to focus a bit more on elements from those religions. We have a Dudeist version of the Tao Te Ching, for example (The Dude De Ching). But we aren't likely to make a Dudeist version of the Bible. Which may be a relief for some Christians, of course! On the other hand, we do reference non-religious Western philosophy a lot, like Epicureanism and Stoicism. Dudeism is a universal philosophy. We'll utilize any vehicle we feel appropriate to get the message across.
Prox: The core beliefs of Dudeism are the very antithesis of Western capitalist culture. In your opinion, how does the Dudeist ethos elevate the life of the average citizen caught in the rat race?
TDL: Just as with religion, people also see all sorts of congruity with various economic and governmental models. Some say Dudeism is Anarchistic, some say it's Libertarian, some say it's Socialist. In some ways, it is all these things. Or elements of each, at least. I wouldn't say Dudeism is the antithesis of Western capitalism. I think they can be rather congruent, actually. But capitalism has become a victim of its own idealism. Dudeism is fundamentally pragmatic. The important thing is not to be idealistic about anything. Every economic model ultimately struggles because they are sabotaged by idealists rather than pragmatists. When problems arise, instead of retooling and fixing them, most idealists (who are usually the ones in power) dig in and refuse to see the signs of impending doom. This is where we are with capitalism right now. What could be a great system that Taoistically creates value while also nourishing the needy is gradually becoming an Old Testament religion of sorts, where Neoliberal commandments must be adhered to regardless of signs that they're tragically misguided.
Prox: With the current political climate, I think there is truly something to be said about people who can kick back and quote The Dude. How do you think he would react to our present situation in the U.S?
TDL: We believe that throughout history, the ancestor philosophies of Dudeism (Taoism, Epicureanism, Yogism, American Trancendentalism, etc.) have served to help alleviate the pain that humanity has had to endure as a result of crooked leadership and economic disparity. It's not easy for a good portion of the U.S. to deal with what's happening right now. Dudeism can't provide the answers to the problems, but it can help provide some comfort and a way to help them get through the day, and also to provide a community of like-minded people. I think it's no secret that the Dude would be flabbergasted by what's going on, but he wouldn't be surprised, and he wouldn't let it get him down.
Prox: Does it ever surprise you that so many people seem to be interested in the teachings of this idea? What has been your greatest realization as The Dudely Lama?
TDL: It’s always wonderful to find someone else who sees the world the way you do. Even more so when it's nearly half a million and counting. As perhaps the world's first religion based on reason and pragmatism rather than metaphysics and moralizing, I'd like to think we'll make a difference, however minor. My greatest realization is that you can't change people's minds, but you can provide them a place in which their minds might change naturally. Everybody loves the Dude -- they just don't know why. Dudeism is there to provide the "why" and eventually perhaps, the "way."
Prox: Finally, what do you hope to see this movement accomplish?
TDL: I’d like to see the very concept of religion be redefined so that it will make more sense in a world governed by reason. The unseen and unnameable have too much power over us. They are just, like, our opinions, man. I hope that Dudeism will help show that religion and reason are not incompatible, and that a new metaphysics might be fashioned by marrying the two.
On the other hand, I'd just be happy if Dudeism continues to make any number of people feel better about their lives. I get emails every day telling me as much. Makes me feel all warm inside.