By Heidi Mitchell
What was the genesis of Dudeism?
I founded Dudeism because I couldn’t find a spiritual path that agreed with me, so I decided to forge my own. However, in doing so, I discovered that the path had always existed, only, it had been obscured by a bunch of fancy dogma and superstition. What I and my associates now call “Dudeism” is actually the essential message of most of the great spiritual traditions. And that is, in a nutshell: “Just take it easy, man.”
I spent most of the 1990s traveling the world, studying various spiritual traditions and reading hundreds upon hundreds of books. I had discovered many suitable answers to my questions, but no viable framework to fit it all together. After giving up and starting a modest career as a journalist, I stumbled across the Coen Brothers’ 1998 film The Big Lebowski and had a profound religious experience. They say that God can be found in the most unlikely places. Well, I don’t believe in God, but as it turned out, the Dude (the film’s main character) would serve as a suitable figurehead. The movie basically summed up everything I had studied and come to believe about the human condition. So, I had my framework. And after starting the website Dudeism.com I found that I wasn’t alone in feeling the way I did. The site has attracted over 400,000 ordained “Dudeist Priests,” many of whom are reasonably devout followers.
What are its tenets?
The main ethos of Dudeism is actually pretty congruent with a lot of what modern psychology teaches us. Namely, that being an integrated human being is no easy task. We aren’t really adapted to this modern way of life and our neuroses and discomforts are largely the result of civilization and its unnatural demands. All of our modern religions came about in response to the rise of mass civilization and the concomitant pressures and expectations it imposes upon us. Aside from their obsessions with the afterlife and appeasing universal overlords, they all try to convince us to “play well with others”. Dudeism jettisons the superstious stuff but enhances the emphasis on ethics. In The Big Lebowski, the Dude (played by Jeff Bridges) is almost supernaturally able to relax in tough situations and get along with people regardless of their background or objectives. Dudeism teaches us that in lowering ourselves, we are actually taking the high ground. Similar ideas can be found in Christianity, Buddhism and most powerfully, Taoism.
Why did you start a religion?
Many people have suggested that Dudeism isn’t really a religion, but rather just a philosophy. Which is fair enough. But defining words like “religion” and “philosophy” is very difficult to do. Many religions (Like Buddhism and Taoism) don’t have deities, and many philosophies (Like Epicureanism) are so broad and all-encompassing that they could probably be considered religions. I fashioned Dudeism as a religion primarily because I wanted try to free religion from superstition so that people could rethink what it means in the 21st century. If we can respect the religious impulse and at the same time employ our rational minds to make sense of the world, we can mend the rifts that force people to choose one over the other. I believe that a purely rational religion is not a contradiction in terms.
Some numbers…how many ordained ministers in how many countries and how many practitioners?
We have over 400,000 ordained Dudeist Priests all over the world. Most are in the US, but we have a great deal in other English speaking countries as well. The appeal of Coen Brothers films is primarily in the way they play with language, so it’s no wonder that The Big Lebowski is much more popular in the original vernacular. Still, we do have many followers in non-Anglophone countries. Our book, The Abide Guide is very popular in Italy, under the title Il Vangelo Secondo Lebowski (The Gospel According to Lebowski).
There seem to be quite a few modern religions cropping up in this millennium. Why do you think this is?
People need a heuristic with which to make sense of the world. Everything is so complicated that it’s not possible to digest it all without some sort of simplification system. And as the world grows ever larger the necessity for tribal affiliation grows more necessary, not less. Our brains are not designed to think monolithically. This is why fascist states can never last too long. Ultimately we need to organize ourselves into much smaller groups. Religion is one way to do it. And for those of us who cannot adhere to the ancient worldviews, new ones will have to be created–even if they are not meant to be taken seriously.
I see religion as having benefits – community, larger purpose, shared values, social stuff – would you agree? If so, why not join an established faith?
The problem with the established faiths is the baggage that they have to carry with them. There is some wonderful and inspiring stuff in the ancient religions. But there’s also a lot of stuff that has been rendered utterly irrelevant by the advent of modern sciences. Rather than struggle with rules that were laid down for ancient peoples, there are some of us who would rather start fresh. In Dudeism we still allude to aspects of Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism, and other belief systems, but only by way of analogy. We have no sacred cows and thus we have no contradictions or dogma.
How do you defend criticism (if any) that Dudeism is a joke, or a cult, or not a religion at all?
Why does religion have to be serious? One could argue that there’s more spirituality in irony, humor, laughter and satire than there is in stern seriousness. As the Tao Te Ching tells us, the stiff and rigid are characteristic of death, while the supple and yielding are characteristic of life. In playing with religious tropes and ideas we ensure that our inspiration will never become ossified. The one thing that all religions have in common is a form of meditation–and the purpose of this is generally to transcend material concerns and presumptions. Humor functions in exactly the same way. People can laugh at Dudeism all they want–we welcome it! They can say we’re not a religion as well, because by some definitions of the word we aren’t! And they can say we’re a cult, but what is a cult other than a religion with no political power?
Who is your typical practitioner and how do they congregate?
One of the things that prevents us from getting too rigid and ossified is precisely the fact that we are largely “virtual.” Nearly all of our interactions take place over the Internet, via our various websites, forums and Facebook groups and pages. However, we’re about to launch Dudeism.net which will feature a directory so that Dudeists can set up local “Dudeist Abodes” in which physical congregations can assemble.
In today’s world of The Feed and tribalism and closed borders and Fear, do you see Dudeism as a bright spot? Can it survive in this cruel world?
Reading any of the comments sections of major online newspapers, or many of the Facebook groups out there, one might be prone to lose faith in humanity as a whole. It’s horrifying. But a lot of those sites encourage that behavior as all the hubbub brings them more revenue. It doesn’t have to be that way, however. Our sites and social media pages are some of the most peaceful and easygoing places on the Internet. Even if they do contain a lot of vulgar jokes. The movie, after all, is filled with expletives and bawdy references.
If you know of other new modern religions and their founders, I’m all ears. The Diamond Approach? Landmark Forum? Any others?
Probably our closest cousin is The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (Pastafarianism). But they are quite different from us in that they’re openly mocking established religion. We’re not mocking anyone, just having fun with the whole shebang–in Douglas Adams’ words: Life, the Universe and Everything.