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The Big Lebowski: How The Dude inspired his own religion

"There is a teacher, like Buddhism, and that is the Dude and we follow his example"

USA. Jeff Bridges in a scene from the (C) Gramercy Pictures movie : The Big Lebowski (1998). PLOT:  Ultimate L.A. slacker Jeff
Jeff Bridges in 1998's The Big Lebowski. (LMK/Alamy)

We all know that the Dude abides — but did you know that he also inspired his own religion? Twenty-five years ago this week, the Coen Brothers released their laid-back classic The Big Lebowski.

In it, Jeff Bridges plays the Dude — bowler, stoner and permanently relaxed LA layabout who inadvertently gets embroiled in a kidnapping plot involving a local millionaire namesake, his porn star wife and a group of German nihilists that use a marmot as a torture device.

Meanwhile, amid all this chaos, all the poor old Dude wants to do is go bowling and find his beloved missing rug because, as he puts it, “it really ties the room together.”

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Despite all these distractions, the Dude tries his best to live an uncomplicated life ruled by a simple ethos dedicated to ‘taking ‘er easy’ no matter what struggles are thrown at him. This mindset — along with plenty of hard-boiled, detective-flavoured, Coen Brothers’ craziness — is partly why the film has risen from being an almost-forgotten comedy to a full-on cult masterpiece.

USA. Jeff Bridges in a scene from the (C) Gramercy Pictures movie : The Big Lebowski (1998). PLOT:  Ultimate L.A. slacker Jeff
Jeff Bridges in 1998's The Big Lebowski. (LMK/Alamy)

In the time since its 1998 debut, The Big Lebowski has amassed countless fans, inspired multiple Lebowski Fests across the world and became so popular, its slacker hero has become the unlikely centrepiece of a new-age religion.

According to its website, Dudeism uses Lebowski-inspired humour to preach a very practical and philosophical way of looking at life. Concocted by Dude-fan and The Abide Guide author Oliver Benjamin, it essentially encourages its followers to live every day like the Dude, taking a more laid-back approach to life’s troubles and the hurdles that threaten to throw us off track. Likening its teaching to Chinese Taoism, it doesn’t take itself too seriously and even has its own ‘Take It Easy Manifesto’ to help get you started on your path to Dude-like zen.

“The Big Lebowski is a hilarious film, everyone involved made a very interesting comedy — but I did not see the film as a starting point for a new philosophy or way of life,” admits writer, podcast host and Reverend of the Church of the Latter Day Dude, Phillip Kopp. “It wasn’t until I discovered Dudeism.com that I began to fully understand what its founders were trying to do.”

Raised Catholic before becoming rather disillusioned with its practices as an adult, Kopp found himself adrift and in search of a new outlook on life. “Letting go of my faith honestly felt like cutting off from an anchor and journeying out into the unknown sea,” he recalls. “I felt calm and free and with all that I had learned, I realised that I just wanted to find some tools to help me live a peaceful life — and Dudeism helped me do that.”

Boasting thousands of ‘Dudeist Priests’ around the world, in America, a Dudeist can ordain your wedding, oversee your funeral or deliver sermons, just like Kopp does on his life-affirming free podcast, The Dudeist Journey. While the church is not yet tax exempt and currently bills itself as the world’s “slowest growing” religion due to its lazy, Lebowski-esque views, it’s appealing to a growing number of people who find themselves disillusioned with modern-day belief systems.

USA. Jeff Bridges in a scene from the (C) Gramercy Pictures movie : The Big Lebowski (1998). PLOT:  Ultimate L.A. slacker Jeff
Jeff Bridges as Jeff 'The Dude' Lebowski. (LMK/Alamy)

“The main ethos of Dudeism is to ‘take it easy’ or ‘be peaceful,’ says Kopp, unpacking the basics of his attitude towards daily life. “It’s far better to approach a situation with a calm mind and demeanor so you can make better decisions. The main elements that I take away from the philosophy would be to have a kick back, calm attitude, enjoy some music and a drink every now and then, and smoke cannabis daily.”

Of course, there are some hard-and-fast rules to help guide new recruits, all of which are listed in founder Benjamin’s Dudeism explainer, The Abide Guide. Here, readers can learn seven tips to help live life more like a Lebowski, like ‘The Law of Being There, Man,’ which illustrates the importance of living in the moment, and ‘The Law of Laziness’ urging folks to keep things simple and follow their passions, the ‘Dude Way.’ However, as a practicing Dudeist, Kopp is well placed to detail how this chilled out way of living can be practically implemented into everyday life.

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“Dudeism is a philosophy, so any person, religious or not, can apply the ideology of ‘taking it easy’ into their own belief system. Dudeism has no God or deity. There is a teacher, like Buddhism, and that is the Dude and we follow his example,” he tells us. “I find that the ‘golden rule’ is to do unto others as you would have them do unto you — or as Dudeists say, ‘be cool to each other.’ Dudeists fully believe in having an open mind, listening to one another and having fun together.”

USA. Jeff Bridges in a scene from the (C) Gramercy Pictures movie : The Big Lebowski (1998). PLOT:  Ultimate L.A. slacker Jeff
The Dude abides. (LMK/Alamy)

That said, living like the Dude can sometimes be a tricky mix of strikes and gutters, especially considering the unpredictable nature of existence. “Taking it easy 24/7 can be tough,” reasons Kopp. “We get angry, feel pain and get frustrated which causes us to become uncool. You have to set your brain to trigger the peaceful teachings when these incidents occur. Always try to remain calm, no matter what is thrown at you,” he suggests. “Take a deep breath, step out of a room and smoke a joint or do whatever you gotta do to stay level and calm.”

If you can achieve this level of Dude-like enlightenment, Kopp is the first to admit that it can have a huge positive impact on your mental outlook. In addition to helping him “be a better person, father, husband and creative person,” he also insists that Dudeism has helped him to “rememeber that we are all doing our best and you don’t have to be perfect to function properly.” It’s also changed the way he views the Coens’ movie: “I try to watch the film with a sharper eye,” he smiles. “I still try to kick back and have a laugh but I have to admit, I give a more nodding approval to the film as a whole.”

If reading this has made you feel like your life could be improved with a new rug and a more abiding point of view, Kopp says that the religion’s website, Dudeism.com, is the best place to start. “I hope my podcast might help a few folks out there too and wipe away some of the rumours and stereotypes that we’re all just a bunch of stoned/drunk hippies that only care about ourselves and being lazy,” he says.

“Dudeists are productive people and have a vision that can unite all of us, regardless of our beliefs, to smoke a joint while listening to Creedance Clearwater Revival — because everyone has at least one CCR song that they enjoy.”

The Big Lebowski is available to rent or buy on digital.

Watch Jeff Bridges reviving The Dude