Words & Interview
Of all the holy deities humanity has invented over the years, none are quite as laid-back and rug-obsessed as the Dude. First appearing in the Coen Brothers’ 1998 slacker detective masterpiece The Big Lebowski – a cult hit that turns 25 this week – Jeffrey Lebowski AKA the Dude (he’ll also answer to ‘Duder’, ‘His Dudeness’ or ‘El Duderino’) has emerged as an unlikely hero for the troubled times we constantly find ourselves in.
Played comfortably high by Jeff Bridges, the Coens’ ruffled the Dude’s zen by sending him on a quest to retrieve his beloved rug – something that, as he’s keen to remind us, “really tied the room together.” What followed was a hard-boiled tale that skewed the worlds of bowling and crime, as LA’s laziest resident crossed paths with a tricky millionaire sharing the same name, his missing porn star wife and a group of German Nihilists determined to separate the Dude from his Johnson.
Still, throughout it all, the Dude managed to stay relatively chill. With a White Russian in one hand and a joint in the other, this robe-adorned, shades-wearing hero set a shining example of the best way to react to life’s many unpredictable problems. It was not only enough to make The Big Lebowski an unlikely fan favourite — one that’s since inspired dedicated Lebowski Festivals all over the world — but lead to the creation of its very own religion.
“I wasn’t raised religiously but I was encouraged to be very philosophical,” remembers Oliver Benjamin, author of The Abide Guide: Living Life Like Lebowski and founder of Dudeism, a new way of looking at life that, despite billing itself as the world’s “slowest growing” religion thanks to the Dude’s laid-back attitude, has managed to attract thousands of followers. “My interest in religion was always ‘Why do so many people believe things that are so clearly untrue or at least unprovable?’ I came to the conclusion that the desire for meaning was greater than the desire for truth – and I realised that I desperately wanted more meaning in my life as well. My studies in Buddhism and Taoism led me directly to create Dudeism – a simplified and modernized version of those two traditions.”
Urging mankind to ‘Take ’er easy,’ Benjamin’s Lebowski-inspired life view has its own manifesto boasting a set of rules designed to teach us how to be more Dude and treat others as we’d like to be treated. Ordained ‘Dudeist Priests’ can deliver weddings and oversee other religious events, with the church’s Abide University dishing out degrees on ‘Lebowski Studies’.
“I’d always been a big fan of Coen Brothers’ films and yet most of their movies were dark and depressing investigations of human greed and misconduct. The Big Lebowski also had these elements but it also had something most of the others didn’t: hope and a ‘solution’ to the problem – ‘The Dude Way’,” explains Benjamin. “I fell in love with the film immediately, although it took several viewings to make proper sense of it. I’d sort of given up on my quest for an all-encompassing worldview when I stumbled across it and realised it’d work as the perfect framing for what I believed about the best way to achieve some sort of harmony with the world.”
So what was it that Benjamin saw in the Dude that made him feel that he deserved his own followers? “Primarily, his resiliency. It’s almost like some sort of underrated superpower,” he tells us. “Although he briefly loses his cool in tough situations, he also snaps back to his cool, laid-back demeanour extremely rapidly. I don’t believe truly saintly people exist – even the most advanced Buddhist monks get pissed off or depressed. The question is, do they wallow in those bad feelings or do they find their ‘centre’ again after quickly shrugging them off?
“The Dude’s ‘shrug’ is almost Herculean. I also find his immunity to the pressures of society and the opinion of others extremely admirable,” continues Benjamin, pointing to his appreciation of the Dude’s ‘you do you’ mindset. “We’re very social creatures and not designed to think for ourselves. It takes a special sort of mind to be sceptical about what other people insist to be the truth, and at the same time not be instantly dismissive of their ideas. The Dude sees everything as provisional,” he reasons. “As he jokingly puts it, he adheres to a strict regimen to keep his mind limber. It’s not an easy thing to do.”
It’s this mix of big ideas – shaken together like some sort of philosophical White Russian – that inspired the cornerstones of Dudeism. “In a nutshell, Dudeism is a simplified version of Taoism,” explains Benjamin. “The essential message is that there’s an efficient, harmonious way to approach the problems of life – mainly we should learn to ‘go with the flow’ and not react by creating bigger problems.”
To illustrate this point, Benjamin points to the way the Dude handled one of the biggest issues to threaten his vibe. “The Dude’s one mistake was that he ‘valued’ his rug so much he was willing to let go of his peaceful life to pursue some moral recompense.” However, despite his easily-aggravated bowling buddy Walter (John Goodman) adding fuel to the fire, ol’ Dude still managed to keep his cool. “The Dude is profoundly patient and forgiving but he takes no shit and doesn’t care what people think of him. While the Dude is lazy and unemployed, Dudeism is not about being lazy, but rather having the courage to be lazy if that’s what you want to do. You can be a hard-working Dudeist — the key is in the attitude.”
Dudeism boasts over 700,000 ordained Dudeist Priests across the world – and while Benjamin’s keen to mention that these are primarily based in English-speaking countries, he does reveal there are a surprising number of German Dudeists, despite their Nihilist representation in the Coen’s film – “I’m happy Germans don’t seem to take that personally,” he laughs. For many, he believes Dudeism offers a modern solution to the problems of modern living, where answers aren’t always black and white.
“I think for a lot of people, religion merely functions as a convenient heuristic to help simplify a complicated and difficult world and while a lot of what’s in traditional religion is very helpful, a lot is really old and outdated,” suggested Benjamin. “I think a lot of people would love to have an easy worldview that helps them get through their day. It just seemed to me that the lessons in The Big Lebowski could help a lot of people be happier and how how to act – and react – in certain situations.”
If followers are faced with aggressions that simply will not stand, through Dudeism, they can be better equipped to handle them. As its founder, the religion’s popularity still comes as a bit of a surprise: “It’s always fun to see photos of Dudeist Priests marrying people,” he chuckles. “Sometimes they even do so in bathrobes or Pendelton sweaters like the Dude.” And no – you don’t have to be a fan of White Russians and weed to join: “I’m all for drug legalization but I don’t smoke weed because it makes me paranoid and I like White Russians but after two or three I get a little queasy from all the dairy. I’m also a terrible bowler,” he adds. “The point is not to BE the Dude but to be LIKE the Dude.”
On a more grounded level, creating Dudeism has also left Benjamin with an unexpected sense of community and acceptance, two things that are surely the cornerstones of any successful religion. “I felt a little lonely for most of my life before Dudeism because I felt like I thought differently than most people, “he admits. “Dudeism and Dudeists have always been around, even way before I started Dudeism. Mainly, it’s just nice to know that a lot of people see the world the same way I do.”
Published 6 Mar 2023
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