‘The Big Lebowski’ and Pop Culture Religion

The exploration of religion is popular in all narrative media, from television, film, music, video games, and literature; many people find spiritual and religious inspirations from the products of those media, some of which have even produced their own religions. In the book Visioning New and Minority Religions: Projecting the Future, Pavol Kosnáč describes pop culture-based religion as “radically de-institutionalized, eclectic, fun, experimental, parody-and sarcasm loving.” Despite their nature, these kinds of religious movements are usually populated by people whose beliefs, membership and spirituality are as genuine as those of worshipers of traditional religions. Kosnáč explains that one example of how pop culture-based religions are created is through the interpretation of a film’s message and its impact on one’s life. In other words, the fans of the film take the message and shape it into an ethical system.

The most famous example of a film-based faith is Jediism, which, according to its website, is “a religion based on the observance of the Force, a ubiquitous and metaphysical power that a Jedi (a follower of Jediism) believes to be the underlying, fundamental nature of the universe. Jediism finds its roots in philosophies similar to those presented in an epic space opera called Star Wars. It is a religion in and of itself.”

Yes, you heard it right: Star Wars. Created in 2007, the Temple of the Jedi Order has its own doctrine and sermons, and has tax-exempt church status like any religion. Other spiritual groups have emerged inspired by famous works like Lord of the Rings, My Little Pony, and even computer-based religions like Kopimism, which teaches, according to their website, that the “copying and the sharing of information is the best and most beautiful [thing there] is.” However, one of the most popular religions of the bunch is a phenomenon created by the Cohen Brothers’ 1998 cult classic, The Big Lebowski.

The religion is known as Dudeism, practiced by the Church of the Latter-Day Dude. Founded in 2005, with over 450,000 “dudeist priests” (male and female) around the world, it’s the largest pop culture-based religion. The abiding coolness of Dudeism was inspired by The Big Lebowski’s central character: The Dude, who is unemployed, usually stoned, and whose only skills are bowling and making white Russians. In an interview with Creative Review, the founder of Dudeism, Oliver Benjamin, explains that The Dude was his inspiration because he “represents a character who really knows how to just take it easy in front of all sorts of struggles and strife and negative things that come in the way … If we all were a little more like The Dude, if we all brought more Dude in our lives, the world would be a better place.”

 

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Jeff Bridges as The Dude in the film’s famous dream sequence.

In the book Fiction, Invention and Hyper-reality: From Popular Culture to Religion, Benjamin acknowledges that making a religion based on a film would seem ridiculous to most people. But, he writes, The Big Lebowski isn’t just any film. Practitioners of Dudeism believe that it is a “hologram for the entire human condition.” The Big Lebowski unfolds like a visual manifesto with a dialogue that is complex and allows the viewer to immerse itself in its ideas differently every time.

Despite the power of the film and its meaning to Dudeism, the faith finds inspiration elsewhere. Benjamin was also inspired by Buddhism where “taking it easy” is a way of life. This is easy to see when statues of the Buddha are always sitting in meditation. However, Christianity was also a point of inspiration, because Jesus said things like, “Do not worry about your life” and “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.” So, basically, Jesus was telling people to “take it easy” – the philosophy of The Dude as emphasized in Dudeism’s Take it Easy Manifesto.

In an interview with the Daily Mail, Benjamin denounced the most popular religions as “way out of touch and … corrupted by power structures.”

It’s easy find religious themes in Lebowski. There’s no right way to interpret a film like it, but there’s no denying its odes to Western religions with a character named Jesus (who is a villain) and a Narrator who sounds like the voice of God. To be clear, Dudeism doesn’t worship The Dude as a god, though. In fact, it’s a non-theistic religion. Benjamin explains that dudeists have no opinion on the existence of God, because they don’t think “God has been adequately defined to even pose the question.”

But it’s no coincidence that The Dude, dressed in his trademark robe and sandals, would be the perfect face for the biggest popular culture-based religion in the world. Surrounded by all the chaos seen every day, it’s hard not to be sucked in by a manifesto that reads: “[Dudeism] helps us abide through all the strikes and gutters, the ups and downs of the whole durned human comedy. It really ties your life together.”

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