What would the Dude do?
That is the central spiritual, if not theological, concern of the Church of the Latter-day Dude, the totally not-fake religion based on the ethos of Jeffrey "The Dude" Lebowski, the slacker savior of Joel and Ethan Coen's 1998 cult masterpiece "The Big Lebowski."
Organized (or rather, disorganized) in 2005, the Church of the Latter-day Dude, aka "Dudeism," which prides itself for being "the slowest growing religion in the world," has ordained more than 120,000 Dudeist priests worldwide -- including yours truly.
Dudeism has evolved (yes, slowly) over the last six years from its birth as the brainchild of founder Oliver Benjamin, a journalist and native Californian who splits his time between Los Angeles and Chiang Mai, Thailand. But the transmission of Dudeist beliefs and practices have been largely an informal affair that has escaped formal codification.
Well, Dude, that is about to change with the publication of "The Abide Guide: Living Like Lebowski," the official Dudeist Bible, if you will, assembled by Benjamin and Dwayne Eutsey, who is better known in Dudeist circles as "The Arch Dudeship" and founder of the Dudest monastic order known as The Brotherhood Shamus.
"The Dude may seem an unlikely figurehead, but in this day and age where our greatest concerns aren't Armageddon or the afterlife, but generalized anxiety and existential engagement, the Dude helps us enlighten up to a greater quality of life," Benjamin, the "Dudely Lama," said. "We don't need heroic figures to lead us to a promised land. We need Dudeists to help us abide where we are."
While Dudeist-themed publications have appeared in the past, most notably Benjamin's book "The Dude De Ching" and the church's official online periodical "The Dudespaper" -- a lifestyle magazine for the deeply casual -- "The Abide Guide" marks the first time the religion's central tenets, such as they are, have been collected in one volume.
"We, the Dudeists, in order to form a more perfect groovin', establish just taking it easy, and promote inner tranquility, do ordain and establish this guide on abiding," the Dudeist "survival guide" begins. "For in this world there are two paths you can go by. ... There's the uptight way and there's the Dude way."
Dudeism traces its origins back more than 2,500 years to the "rebel shrug" of Chinese Taoism and its progenitor, Lao Tzu. Through the ages, the Dude's "way" has surfaced in various spiritual traditions, the "Abide Guide" explains, including Christianity, Sufism, "John Lennonism and Fo'-Shizzle-my-Nizzilism," to name but a few.
Much like Buddhism, Dudeism is more of a philosophy than an actual religion. And because of its laid-back beliefs, it can be practiced in concert with other religious traditions.
I find the Dudeist philosophy to be a splendid complement to my Chrisitan faith. Dudeism's charge to "take it easy" fits nicely with the our Golden Rule: Treat others the way you'd like them to treat you.
In fact, in the Dudeist tradition, Jesus Christ is considered to be a proto-Dude or prophet, along with various other gurus of grooviness such as the Buddha, Walt Whitman, Bob Marley, Jerry Garcia and Emily Dickinson.
"The Abide Guide" is quick to point out to its faithful that Dudeism is an egalitarian ethos. Traditional gender roles and stereotypes need not apply.
"Regardless of what your gender identity might be, those of us who dig Emily Dickinson's style see her as a distinctly abiding Dude who went her own way and made writing poetry her very own zesty, natural enterprise," it says.
Perhaps the most enlightening and surprising inclusion in the Dudeist guidebook, even for an elder in the faith like myself -- a few years back, the Benjamin and the Arch Dudeship bestowed on me the honorific of "Dudey Satva" -- is a section on Dudeist Feminism. (Don't even think about it, Mrs. Bachmann.)
The essays on Dudeism's feminist tradition, also known as "Special Ladyism," are meant to be a corrective to the misconception that Dudeism is a patriarchal boys club.
Far from it, the "Abide Guide" says. While the Church of the Latter-day Dude's members are men, there are plenty of women among its ranks.
The problem is basically semantic. The meaning of the word "dude' has changed since it was first introduced in American culture during the colonial era. Over time, the term "dude" has described an elitist dandy, a wealthy frontiersman, an urban African-American alpha male, a beatnik poet, a hippie and a surfer (dude).
None of those definitions fits with how the term is used in its religious tradition. "In addition to getting everyone, male and female, to just take it easy, one of Dudeism's objectives is to rid the word 'dude' of any masculine bias," the guide says. The church hopes to correct any language problems by "co-opting the word ... and promoting it to suit our own special-innerest group."
Certainly, much of Dudeist philosophy can rightly be taken as tongue-in-cheek, but on this point, gender bias and Special Ladyism, the church is quite serious.
Stella Quinn, one of the women Dudeist priests who penned the section on Dudeist Feminism, argues that the Dude, by rejecting conventional social restraints, is nothing but good for the women who seek to emulate his approach to life.
"Dudeism offers a way of thinking about the world that will never ask them to self-censor or conform to arbitrary gender roles," Quinn writes. "Your'e not going to see any neurotic casserole-baking Stepford Wives in this religion, because no Dudeist would ever cut a woman down like that."
That's a dogma I can gladly abide.
But that's just, like, my opinion, man.
Cathleen Falsani is author of 'The Dude Abides: the Gospel According to the Coen Brothers' and the forthcoming, 'BELIEBER!: Fame, Faith & the Heart of Justin Bieber.'
A version of this column originally appeared via Religion News Service.