By Jason Byassee, Ph.D
I’ve tried this theory out on university and ecclesial superiors and they’ve not been impressed. So let me try you, gentle reader, and see what you think.
I think slacker movies are a profoundly Christian thing. What looks simply like escapist nonsense or celebration of nihilism has a great deal to do with ancient Christian wisdom on the good life.
Exhibit A is “The Big Lebowski,” the cult favorite put out by the Coen Brothers (for a sensitive theological reading of the entire Coen oeuvre, see here). Jeff Bridges’ character, “the Dude,” bops from scene to scene in his life, smoking dope, bowling and working hard not to care about anything. His proudest accomplishment is that he wrote the “Port Huron statement. The first draft, not the compromised second version.” He was part of the “Seattle Seven,” in a great caricature of 60s radicalism. But he’s proudly unemployed now. Rarely a scene passes in the film in which he’s without his favorite drink, a white Russian (as a bruiser pushes him into a car in one scene he protests: “Hey, careful man, there’s a beverage here!”). And he spouts pearls of wisdom like a modern-day Buddha on Ritalin: “Well, that’s, just, like, your opinion, man” (fellow Lebowski lovers, please insert your favorite line here).
The Dude also happens to be the patron saint for my generation. Baby Boomers: be very afraid. We’ll choose your retirement homes and executive your living wills soon.
But this, as I say, is a sign of hope.
The desert fathers and mothers of the ancient church warned against despair. The demon usually strikes in the early afternoon, asking if all we’re working to achieve is worth anything and whether we’re not better off dead. The ancient Greek word the monks and nuns used was “acedia,” and contemporary spiritual writers have also fingered it as a crucial obstacle to the spiritual life. Mother Teresa, with her now-famous multi-decade struggle with the silence of God, is a sterling example of the power of this demon. One of the holiest people of our age felt that acedia got the better of her most of the time.
Needless to say the Dude was not afflicted by this particular imp. That’s because the Dude is the perfect exemplar of “apatheia.” Careful now, there’s a false cognate to this word. Apatheia in the ancient church meant refusal to be acted upon by the desires that play us. For the monks it meant to act, actively, out of love of God and neighbor. The Dude seems, in one way, apathetic indeed in our English sense of not caring. The Big Lebowski, a millionaire who shares the Dude’s given name, accuses him of simply being a ne’er-do-well. “The revolution’s over! The bums lost!” he bellows. But the Dude actually cares about a lot of things. He cares about bowling and his friends and his vices. He’s willing to risk his life for his friends or even a job he’s been asked to do. He’s just not willing to care about what people like the millionaire want him to care about. He’s not pursuing career, money, relationship, children. In short, he’s rejected advancement. Ladder climbing. Success. The very things most of us chase so vehemently they threaten to compete with our pursuit of the true God, fleshed in Jesus.
The ancient monks and nuns rejected those things — especially money, sex and power — as competitors for their devotion to God. Most of us have not rejected them outright. Just so, they endanger us more than they did our monastic brethren, for we hesitate to name them as potential idols. But their power as good gifts of the Creator God tempts us deeply to worship them, to arrange our lives around them, to die for them even. The monastic witness of rejecting them outright is an important one to keep alive (and this is done exemplarily in the New Monastic movement, an example of traditioned innovation if there ever was one).
The Dude rejects money and power too. They simply don’t hold sway over him the way they do over most of us. Even his non-rejection of sex is interesting, for what he actually rejects is fatherhood. Peter Brown has shown that the ancient Christian rejection of sex is actually rejection of building a family empire, of having children to carry on the family name and passing on multi-generational wealth in a desire for secular immortality. The Dude is not interested in any of that either. He just wants to roll.
And, just so, he’s an appropriate patron saint for Gen X. He’s a friend, a bowler, a slacker, someone willing to tell a hard truth to a friend, and someone passionately devoted to avoiding achievement. Those of us with the hammer down in avid pursuit of achievement do well to take note.
Jason Byassee is an executive director of Leadership Education at Duke Divinity.
From the Dudeism Forum:
Quote from: cakebelly on Today at 09:33:11
“Another crass attempt to superimpose Dudeism onto Christianity, forgive me but I’m too apathetic to respond, just now. This Dudeism thing is wearing a bit thin with me, at the moment. Think I need to take a break.”
I know what you mean. I’m afraid these overt attempts to Christianise (xian, if xmas=christmas, the xian=christian) Dudeism are for ever prevalent, it’s the underlying impetus in the xian doctrine to evangelise under any guise they can find.
I don’t mind xian’s, and have know some nice ones (apart from the Jehovah that took my “Ordained Dudeist Priest” as an incitement to convert instead of a concrete statement that I didn’t want to know about xianity from their point of view.) the only thing I can think of is that I use Buddhist and Taoist, and Yoga terms to understand and analyse other religions, xian’s by default will use xianity to interpret Dudeism.
I am happy with the idea that Jesus was a Dudeist, I am not happy with the idea that Dudeism is Christian.
I’m not sure I don’t find this slightly offensive.
If I log onto xian forum and point out all the Pagan origins of their festivals they get a little upset at me.
Should they not actually have the same respect for my religion?
(Also posted at http://dudeism.com/smf/index.php?topic=1500.msg13840#msg13840)
The Dudespaper says
Au contraire, mon Meekon. Don’t you think the onus is on us to allow people to see in the Dude what they want, so long as they do it with style, then steer them in a direction we feel is in keeping with the core Dudeist philosophy? We regularly point out the parallels with Zen and Taoism. If Christians want to do the same, that’s their prerogative, so long as they do it intelligently, and without resorting to scripture as proof. I think the author did exactly this, and sensitively too, with a sense of “bridge building” between cultures.
If Christians take offense at people pointing out the pagan elements (and Manichean and Jewish and Roman fascist and Zoroastrian, etc. etc.) that’s their problem, not ours. Just as every zealot’s lot in life is his own, no matter whom he chooses to blame…er. Fuck it.
Poor Christians. They’ve got it rough. It’s too easy to employ a knee-jerk anti-Jesus Club attitude just because of the fact that some of them can be so annoying in so many ways. As you’ve said, there are plenty of broad-minded, intelligent and non-dogmatic ones. I presume that Dr. Byassee is one of the goodies.
You’re right – we need to see Jesus as a Dudeist, not the other way around. If others want to skew it the other way, let them do so, but with a style that is diggable.
It would be nice if we had more Dude Buddha, Dude Lao Tzu, Dude Krishna and Dude Zarathustra articles, to balance out all the Dude Jesus ones. The editorial we offices are waiting with open inboxes…
Still posting here:
You act as though they are mutually exclusive, that Dudeist Christian is not the same as Christian Dudeist. The author was merely saying that the Dude’s philosophy is compatible, if not admirable, with Christianity.
Sorry if yu are getting that vibe from what is here please have a look at the conversation on the forum as well.
I don’t think any of us have a problem with Dueist Christians or Christian Dudeists. The problem we have is the co-opting of what we actually think of as a very serious religious point of view.
The problem we (particularly Cake and Myself) have is the feeling that we are continually embattled by Christians telling us that we are not practicing Dudeism but really just Christians.
As Dudeists we are not Christians that is our choice. There are Dudeists who are Christians, we have no problem with this point of view.
The point of view we do have a problem with is that we are not Christians (those of us who are not Christian), we don’t want to be Christians.
Please, please stop trying to make us Christian.
Rev. Tom says
I have to agreewith Meekon, for myself anyway, I don’t feel right about trying to co-opt Dudeism as some new variant of christianity. I’m also onboard with the idea of Jesus (Yeshua) as a dudeist; but as I myself don’t believe in the Divinity of Jesus, which is THE central Idea of Christianity, I can’t look upon Dudeism as a Christian religion.
The Dudespaper says
For the benefit of the argument could you fellers post links to the forum discussions where The Jesusists say that Dudeism is Christianity in disguise? We do remember a few Dudeist-Christian tiffs but don’t remember anyone explicitly making that claim.
However, for the record, anyone who thinks that has got it backwards. According to the Dudeist point of view, Christianity (the original, uncompromised first draft) is but one of the many realizations of Dudeism, which have come to light throughout history. Parts, anyway. Relatively small parts, at least since the fifth century AD (Anno Dudeni).
Also, there’s no room for the concept of divinity in Dudeism, unless it’s utterly metaphorical in nature, or candy.
Rob Thornton says
Ime with meekon5 but this is all a little heavy now guys?Christianity and Dudeism?Cmon dudes,fuck it?