Dudeism: the religion? "Is this guy for real?" The quick answer: yes, man. You see, The Big Lebowski's much more than just a film to Oliver Benjamin and his officially ordained flock of Lebowski under-achievers. It's a way of life. No... scratch that. It's a full-blown religion! A hazier discourse where good and evil's been traded in for dude and undude. In 2005, watching the film for the "second or third time", Oliver had an epiphany - or as he calls it, "a religious experience". Inspired by The Dude's philosophical, hippy ramblings and laid back, "take it easy, man" approach, Oliver decided to make it official, founding what he's calling The Church of Latter Day Dude. Or Dudeism, for short.
First of all, are you totally serious?
Yes. "No funny shtuff". Except Dudeism is pretty funny. Laughable, man! So it's pretty hard to be totally serious about it. But the Dudeist tradition has always been light-hearted and humorous, in comparison to mainstream culture: Taoist vs Confucianist, Troubadours vs Theologists, Stoners vs Alcoholics, Dude vs. Lebowski. We think funny and true go together better than serious and true.
Is Dudely Lama your official ordained title?
As the current fella in charge, I'm the "Dudely Lama". So that's what you call me. But it's not permanent. I hope to step down one day and let someone else take over before I burn out and get very undude about it all.
Are you, like, a 'high' priest?
Ha ha... Yes, I'm all fucked up on life. I'm adhering to a strict Dudeist regimen to keep my mind limber.
And you say Dudeism's based on Taoism? What’s it all about?
We believe that the Dudeist tradition started as a response to the excesses of civilisation. That was Lao Tzu's deal anyway. Lots of similar traditions dealt with issues of work and status and anxiety and nature the same way. But they were all, pretty much, taken over by fascists and real reactionaries. Even Taoism was taken over by charlatans and phonies. But the pure undogmatic centre of lots of traditions (Christianity, Vedism, Buddhism etc) is all the same. And that's Dudeism.
Oliver at Lebowskifest 2009 © Andy Sternberg
Is smoking weed and drinking White Russians part of it?
Sure, if that's what you dig. A lot of people find that smoking dope and having a nice creamy cocktail can be profoundly relaxing. But it doesn't have to be that - you can also take a bath with candles and whale sounds, lay on your rug and meditate to tapes of old bowling tournaments, or go bowling with your buddies. Anything that helps you relax and not take life so seriously.
So bowling's quite important then?
Bowling is probably the most accepting, un-athletic sport in the world. Where else can you smoke and drink while you compete? And it doesn't matter if you're fat, thin, young or old. Plus, it's a perfect metaphor for life: ups and downs, strikes and gutters...
The Dude says they're a bunch of assholes. But they're cool about being called a bunch of assholes in the movie, so that makes them not a bunch of assholes. On the other hand, Glen Frey of the Eagles was supposedly unkind to Jeff Bridges for the same reason (the Dude says he "hates the fucking Eagles, man"). So that makes him undude. It doesn't matter if you're an achiever or not, only if you're dude or undude.
© Sage Idiot 1
Do you see The Stranger character as a kind of God figure?
Dudeism is non-theistic. We don't see anything as a kind of God figure. That's not to say we're not religious. We do think there's some far out shit out there, but it's not some old guy with a moustache. Anyway, The Stranger is probably more like a mirror of ourselves. He also may be the ghost of America's past - taking stock of what's become of the nation's integrity.
Where are your head offices?
Los Angeles, but I live most of the year in Thailand. It's an easy place to take 'er easy.
And what's your background?
I grew up in the '80s, in "The Valley" - which is where shopping malls were invented, I think. The '80s were very undude. As soon as I graduated university, I hit the road. I wrote three novels during that time, all of which desperately need an editor. After that I was a travel writer, journalist and graphic designer. I'm also a musician and I'm currently working on an album of Lebowski-inspired material.
To quote The Big Lebowski, “Are you employed, sir?”
At the moment, I earn enough to pay the bills selling t-shirts and other stuff on the website. But that's not saying much - life in Thailand is very cheap, so the monkey is easily fed. I still have a few writing gigs. And I'm just finishing up a book called The Abide Guide, that will be published in August. It's a Dudeist self-help book I'm writing with Arch Dudeship Dwayne Eutsey and other members of the church.
So is it an official religion, according to the law and so on?
Separation of church and state is so strong in the US it's hard to say what's "official" or not. Each state seems to have its own take on it, so we ask our ordained Dudeist priests to check with their local county clerks before presiding over a wedding or whatnot. Other countries tend to be a lot stricter. At some point we're going to have to launch a full scale recognition program, so we can stop being discriminated against. Hopefully we'll get recognised faster than the Christians did. It took them at least 100 years. We're hoping for five.
What’s your take on other pop culture-related religions, like Jediism?
Jediism is cool. There's a lot of Dudeism in Jediism. But that's probably because Jediism is based on Taoism and Zen, and those are the two most Dude religions that currently exist. Besides Dudeism, of course.
What about Scientology?
Uh, no comment. Those guys have an army of lawyers and will sue you for even looking at them funny.
Oliver and real-life Dude Jeff Dowd at Lebowskifest
You’ve met Jeff Dowd (the basis for The Dude character), what’s he like?
Dowd admits he's not all that much like The Dude. He's full of energy and ambition, for one thing. He was part of the Seattle Seven, he's a political activist and a film producer. So he might be a lot like The Dude when he was younger, full of vim and vigour and idealism. Anyway, he's a nice guy with a good sense of humour and a liver of steel.
What are his thoughts on Dudeism?
We only hung out for a few minutes, so I can't say for sure. But we made him one of our Great Dudes in History and he dug that.
Have you met Jeff Bridges and the Coens?
Nope. I hope to one day. Other Dudeist priests have met Bridges and say he's the coolest guy ever. Supposedly he digs Dudeism but for now he's keeping his distance. It would be great to get him involved somehow. The Coens seem to have less affinity for the cult of Lebowski than Bridges, so it's hard to imagine them being very proud of what they've spawned. But I can't think of two people I'd rather shoot the shit with. Besides Bridges, of course.
How many ordained members do have now, worldwide?
We're coming up to 120,000. Not exactly a lightweight. But I'm hoping that after this article is published, that number will at least double.
Are the members mainly male or female?
About three quarters male. But that's going to change, especially once we set up our Dudeist social network, tentatively titled, "The Rug".
Are you a fan of the Coen brothers’ other films?
Most of them. I'm a bit puzzled why most critics think Miller's Crossing is their best. I find it too cold and postmodern. But pretty much everything else is amazing. I think some of their lesser-loved films, like The Hudsucker Proxy and The Man Who Wasn't There are my favourites. But then, Barton Fink, Raising Arizona, No Country For Old Men... They're really the best films of our time. The Coens are better candidates for heroes of modern literature than Philip Roth, Don DeLillo, Will Self, Ian McEwan or any other award-winning novelist.
Lastly, what are your views on interior design? What ties your room together?
The most important element of Fungin Shway (Dudeist Feng Shui) is a nice big sectional sofa. Everything else is just vanity.
For more information (or to get ordained and buy a t-shirt), check out Dudeism.com, The Dudespaper or get in touch on Facebook.