1. Longtime residents of Chiang Mai might recall an article I wrote here a few years back about a religion I started called ‘The Temple of Earth’. I have to confess now that it was rather a failure. Turns out it’s easy to start a religion, but not so easy to get people to believe in it. Perhaps I should have arranged a few phony miracles, or at least taken out some ads in Citylife.
2. In retrospect, the problem was obvious: It was a religion for Atheists. As it turns out, Atheists are a smug bunch who don’t need a cool logo to help them identify their worldview. Nevertheless, down deep I still really wanted to be a religious prophet. I don’t know what it was exactly. Perhaps because I was losing my hair I wanted an excuse to shave my head. Or maybe it’s just that I like to wear men’s clothes which actually feel like a woman’s dress.
3. In any event, it wasn’t long before I had a revelation that would install me as the leader of a significant religious movement: Dudeism. The Church of the Latter-Day Dude.
1. It all started in 2005 while watching a DVD in a café in the small tourist hamlet of Pai. Even though I’d seen the film before, I realised right then that it was without a doubt the greatest movie I’d ever seen in my entire life.
2. Under the spell of the hilarious and insightful dialogue of the film, the collective enthusiasm of the audience, and five beer Changs, I experienced a striking revelation. It felt like a profound religious experience, just like the one Saint Paul had on the road to Damascus or the one Bob Dylan had after he banged his head in a motorcycle accident. Only, instead of seeing Jesus Christ, I beheld Jeff Bridges in a ratty bathrobe playing a lazy antihero called ‘The Dude’. The Dude, I felt, could truly be the saviour of all mankind, man. Or some of it, anyway.
3. Like many an established religion, this extraordinary film, the Coen Brothers’ 1998 The Big Lebowski, was replete with pertinent examples of how to ‘abide’ in the face of tough times. Its protagonist, the Dude, managed to ‘take it easy’ in the face of outrageous misfortune, never letting the weight of the world drag him down. Inspired by the Dude attitude, I felt peace of mind wash over me like a warm ocean wave on a southern Thai shore.
4. The following day I visited an internet café and discovered that I was not alone in my quasi-religious reverence for this largely-underappreciated film. Though considered a total failure on its release in 1998, by 2005 a steady and rapidly-growing cult of fans had already come out of the woodworks. Most surprisingly of all, there had been annual Lebowski festivals held in the United States since 2002! At these ‘Lebowskifests’ thousands of fans would show up dressed as characters from the film who would imbibe the Dude’s favourite drink (White Russians), practice his favourite pastime (bowling) and recite expletive-laced lines from the film to each other as feverishly as Christians quoting the Bible itself.
5. The Church of the Latter-Day Dude (Dudeism) was founded shortly thereafter. With the Lebowskifest fellows helping to promote it, folks from all over the world flocked to the website to read the Dude word and get ordained for free as ‘Dudeist Priests’. Many who didn’t subscribe to any particular religion suddenly realised that they’d been religious all their lives, only didn’t realise it. I certainly didn’t expect the flood of interest which continued. But I dug how it flowed.
1. What exactly was it that endeared myself and others so much to this unlikely hero? By most contemporary estimates he would be considered a total wreck of a human being _ middle-aged and unemployed, never-married, stoned and buzzed a lot of the time, and driving a piece of crap car. Moreover, he received no respect from anyone save a couple of hapless bowling buddies.
2. Despite his superficial failures, the Dude managed to resolutely ‘go with the flow’, ‘keep his mind limber’ and ‘take it easy’ even in the most humiliating circumstances. And although he sometimes lost his cool, it would be only seconds before he once again donned his ‘deeply casual’ attitude. It wasn’t exactly a new philosophy _ the more I looked into it, the more I realised how closely the ‘Dude Way’ matched that of the ancient Chinese religion of Taoism. The Dude even resembled an old goateed Chinese sage, comfortable wearing a bathrobe and flip flops when out in public.
3. But Dudeism didn’t end with Taoism: Looking further into it, I discovered variations of the ‘Dude Way’ running alongside the major currents of civilisation, down through the ages, across the sands of time.
4. Dudeism, in fact, was an ancient tradition which went by many names and fell under many guises: Around about the same time that Lao Tzu’s Taoism sprung up in China, ancient Greece birthed the philosophies of Heraclitus (‘Ups and downs, strikes and gutters’), Epicurus (‘Just take it easy, man’), and the Stoics (‘roll with it’). Soon afterwards, in the Levant, Jesus Christ preached an extremely Dudely way of life before the Church brushed aside his ‘lilies of the field’ message of mellowing out and celebrating the meek.
5. Later on, the European Middle Ages celebrated wandering troubadours who were like western incarnations of Taoist priests _ singing songs and tramping ’round the countryside in tattered tunics as they sang paeans to all things natural. When the Middle Ages ended, Dudeism was brought out in the open with the invention of Humanism, individual liberty, and ultimately the Enlightenment, all of which freed mankind from superstition and exalted the power of perception and the senses.
6. More recently, the Romantic poets, the American Transcendentalists, the Beatniks, the Hippies, and even recent Rave culture have all carried the torch (and sometimes burned the roach) of the holy Dudeist creed. And though its central message has been often ultimately co-opted and perverted for commercial ends, Dudeism is always rediscovered and reinvigorated by succeeding generations of easygoing-but-revolutionary relaxionaries, both male and female. (Note: Dudeism doesn’t recognise the feminine epithet, dudette).
7. Yet despite its long pedigree, Dudeism has long remained marginalised – a fringe philosophy which has no strong economic base to support it and a freethinking outlook which is hard to couch in concrete terms. The result is that, like Sisyphus rolling that big boulder up and down the hill repeatedly and to no apparent end, most people end up stuck playing a game they don’t even enjoy.
8. Unlike poor Sisyphus, perhaps more of us should follow the teachings of The Big Lebowski, instead saying “F%#k it, dude. Let’s go bowling”. Dudeism is currently investigating ways to bring the natural yin/yang roll of the Dude’s bowling ball into the lives of those who would seek it.
9. The yin/yang bowling ball, by the way, is Dudeism’s super-cool logo. Despite the failure of the Temple of Earth, a good religion still depends partly upon a suitably awesome symbol.
1. In May of this year I was invited to deliver the opening benediction to the Los Angeles Lebowskifest. Some 3,000 fans repeated after me as I recited lines from The Dude’s Prayer – a modified version of The Lord’s Prayer of Catholic tradition which incorporated lines from the film.
2. The second night of the festival an advertising agency asked if they could film me discussing Dudeism for a Volkswagen ad campaign to support independent cinemas in the UK. It became a viral hit on You Tube and helped secure a book deal for ‘The Tao of the Dude’ – a philosophical investigation into The Big Lebowski and what it all means to me and many of my fellow Dudeists.
3. Today, the Church of the Latter-Day Dude has 70,000 ordained Dudeist Priests with about 10,000 more signing up every month. And while many of those are just ordaining for a laugh or because it’s easy to do so, clearly this film and its character have touched a chord in the hearts of many who would otherwise not even consider themselves religious in any sense of the word.
4. As implied earlier, Dudeism is trying to reignite a tradition which has stretched back from the dawn of civilisation – namely, a humanistic rejection of civilisation itself, or at least, of its worst excesses. It goes without saying that civilisation is an inherently unnatural mode of living for human beings – we’re genetically designed to ‘take it easy’ and pick fruit on a tropical African savannah, not live in cities and toil away in cubicles.
5. Thus, if Dudeism has one central message about life, it is this: No problem, man. That is, life is only a drag if we make it so. It’s our roll, Dude, and up to us not only to score, but to have a good time while doing so and deal with the consequences when gutterballs are thrown. We can choose to enter a ‘world of pain’ or we can ‘take it easy’. As the Dude puts it, it’s all “just, like, our opinion, man”. The Buddha (also considered a great Dudeist prophet) said precisely this a long time ago.
Amen to that, man. And abide.