; Phantoms and Monsters: Pulse of the Paranormal

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Paranormal / Spiritual News: Dudeism 'The Big Lebowski', Paranormal - Religion Connection and Recent Links

The man who founded a religion based on 'The Big Lebowski'

cnngo - People who intuitively perceive 2,500-year-old Chinese and Greek concepts, while knowingly nod to California's detached hippie philosophy and quote droll lines from “The Big Lebowski” are joining a revelatory religion that has illuminated its U.S. founder in northern Thailand.

Dubbed "Church of the Latter-Day Dude," the group also invites "mellow, unflashy chicks who hang around in their bathrobes and take baths with candles and whale sounds," says the religion's Dudely Lama, Oliver Benjamin.

"Everyone feels oppressed by society's pressures," he says.

"Everyone wishes they had more freedom. Everyone wishes they could be more carefree, to worry less about money and status."

Oliver's church is heavily influenced by the Tao of Lao Tzu (6th century B.C.), Epicurus (341-270 B.C.), and the “The Big Lebowski,” a 1998 film written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen.

The film stars Jeff Bridges as a surreal, hilarious, ironic, marijuana-smoking, satirical, 40-something character nicknamed "the Dude.”

Asked by a woman in the movie what he likes to do for fun, the Dude replies: "Oh, you know, the usual. Bowl. Drive around. The occasional acid flashback."

Chiang Mai-based Oliver says he thinks everyone potentially identifies with aspects of the movie, even if they may not wholly approve of the Dude's lazy lifestyle.

More on CNNGo: 10 ways to look like a local in Asia

"The Dude is an extreme case, but he provides an ideal which can help you to bring a little more 'Dude' into your life, without giving up on the rat race entirely," he says.

"I grew up in the 1980s, which was a very ambitious and materialistic time -- the era of the Yuppies. Even as a youth, I found it frightening and false.

"The reason I embarked on a 10-year backpacking journey was so I could avoid being brainwashed by the machine of industry, and find the space and freedom to indulge my imagination."

Or, as the Dude exclaims in the 1998 film, set in 1990: "It's all a goddamn fake. Like Lenin said, look for the person who will benefit. And you will, uh, you know, you'll, uh, you know what I'm trying to say."

Eastern philosophy and Dudeism

The Church of the Latter-Day Dude's website is ridiculous, absurd and lots of fun.

But it also wrestles with questions and answers that have gripped humans throughout the ages.

"We contend that The Big Lebowski is actually a modern form of Taoism," Oliver says. "Taoism is probably the most philosophical religion in the world.

"Though there are variants that are heavily superstitious, the original tradition has virtually no dogma or rules of conduct. It suggests that there is a natural way of living that people can return to, if they just learn to sense it intuitively.

"Though 'The Big Lebowski' is a story about an aging ex-hippie in Los Angeles who is trying to solve a kidnapping case, at its heart it's really a story about how to live your life, how to deal with conflict, and how to maintain peace of mind in a world that's gone crazy. So there's really no distinction between the movie and Eastern philosophy -- the movie is infused with it," he says.

People who aren't cool, ultimately go crazy, Oliver warns.

"Following Dudeism helps you to keep in mind what's important in life, what actually makes people happy instead of what makes them insane. Dudeism has a great deal in common with Epicureanism -- the original, uncompromised first draft -- which states that simple pleasures are best and that less is actually more."

Born in 1968, Oliver grew up in Sherman Oaks, southern California, and got a psych degree from UCLA before working in graphic design for a few years and then traveling while writing three "bizarre" unpublished novels.

He is currently a freelance journalist and photographer, based mostly in Chiang Mai, and plans to expand his church this year.

"There are now over 100,000 ordained Dudeist Priests worldwide," Oliver says. "Most are in the U.S., but it's surprisingly popular in the UK as well.

"There's going to be a Dudeist Music Festival in York this summer, and there's a movement to get it on the U.K. census as an official religion -- as Jedi was, in the last census."

'We're never going to compete with Christianity'

The Church of the Latter-Day Dude was actually born near Chiang Mai, in the hip resort town of Pai, where Oliver says he became transfixed by visions.

"In 2005, I was up in Pai at a small cafe, watching 'The Big Lebowski' with a crowd of people from all over the world. I had seen the film once before and enjoyed it, but this time the experience was totally transformative.

"I felt as if I'd seen a story that put all the difficulties of modern life into a manageable perspective. And it was probably the most touchingly funny film I'd ever seen.

"Oddly enough, I'd long wanted to start a religion. During my travels I'd become an earnest student of religion and philosophy."

Wedging his church into a world crowded by older, cash-rich religions is not impossible, but it may remain a niche belief system.

"Money is power. Dudeists don't tend to be the upper crust of society. So we're never going to compete with the really wealthy religions like Christianity.

"Ideally, we'd like to help people find ways to earn money with less work, but of course that's always a challenge. Fifty years ago, everyone thought that robots would be doing all the work for us and people would be living lives of leisure. That this has not come to pass is surely mankind's biggest tragedy," Oliver laments.

"One problem also is that too many people just think the Dude is a burned out hedonistic stoner. Nothing could be further from the truth. He's an intellectual with strong moral character and a lively, creative mind.

"He's also a stoner, but that's not a bad thing. Too many people confuse Dudeism with anarchism or selfish laziness. Dudeism recognizes the need for organization and rules, and the laziness it touts is disciplined and determined.

"Free time should be used to free your mind and cultivate inner peace. Not to play 'Grand Theft Auto' all day and gorge on snack food," he says.

Asked if he financially benefits from having the church, Oliver replies: "I earn a modest income from the sales of some products on the site. We have plans to expand, and when we do, those increased profits will be used primarily to help spread the word of Dudeism via events and advertising, and maybe to provide jobs to Dudes who hate the ones they currently have."

The church is evolving, and hopes more members will know each other in the biblical sense.

"Perhaps it's not surprising that the Church is about 75 percent male. But we are trying to actively bring in more women. We think that women suffer even more than men do from the dictates of modern society," he says.

"We hope to start a Dudeist dating service soon, and a chapter in our forthcoming book, 'The Abide Guide,' will be devoted towards Dudeist feminism. Incidentally, we don't recognize the word 'dudette.' We're trying to help promote the idea of 'dude' as a gender-neutral word."


The Complicated Connection Between Religion and the Paranormal

HP - by David Briggs - Don't expect Hollywood to give up the ghosts.

The parade of paranormal entertainment filling American screens -- from the movie Paranormal Activity 2 to television shows such as Ghost Hunters, Psychic Investigators and Paranormal State -- is meeting an intense interest in otherworldly experiences, new research shows.

More than two-thirds of Americans have paranormal beliefs, sociologists Christopher Bader and F. Carson Mencken of Baylor University and Joseph Baker of East Tennessee State University report in their new book Paranormal America from New York University Press.

And the interest is only expected to increase, scholars say, with the growth of immigrant populations more open to paranormal beliefs.

Not everyone is interested. Those with no religious beliefs, Jewish people and the most committed Christians are among the least likely to believe in UFOs or psychics or Bigfoot.

But a generation of spiritual seekers are opening their minds and bank accounts to beliefs, practices and experiences that are not recognized by science and not associated with mainstream religion.

Whether it is a study showing nearly half of Americans believe extraterrestrials absolutely or probably exist, or ghost-hunting groups and documentary producers rushing to find the latest "haunted" house, interest in paranormal phenomena has entered the mainstream.

"What we can say with certainty is that we live in a paranormal America," write Bader, Mencken and Baker. "Put another way, the paranormal is normal."

Men hunt, women gather in New Age

In the 1980s, the actress Shirley MacLaine was ridiculed for discussing her interest in channeling, reincarnation and UFOs in her book Out on a Limb. But research indicates she may have been less a wacky outcast and more representative of the population than the image ingrained by late-night comics suggested.

The average American holds slightly more than two paranormal beliefs, report Bader, Mencken and Baker.

"Statistically, those who report a paranormal belief are not the oddballs," the researchers said.

But there are major differences in the types of people who gravitate toward different paranormal phenomena. Bigfoot conventions are almost all-male outings, while psychic affairs attract a largely female audience.

The 2005 Baylor Religion Survey found that women are twice as likely as men to believe in astrology, that people can communicate with the dead (a big reason Medium lasted for seven TV seasons) and that at least some psychics can foresee the future. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to believe in UFOs.

"Women tend to want to improve themselves, to become better people," said Bader, who is also a director of the Association for Religion Data Archives. "Men tend to want to go out and capture something, to prove it's real."

In reviewing the research, other findings reported by Bader, Mencken and Baker include:

• Belief in Bigfoot, ghosts, psychic abilities and other paranormal phenomena declines noticeably with increases in age and income.
• Unmarried and cohabiting individuals are far more likely to embrace the paranormal. Asked whether they have had any of five paranormal experiences from witnessing a UFO to contacting spirits, the typical unmarried respondent claimed close to two experience, while the average married respondent had no paranormal experiences.
• Republicans are "significantly less interested" in the paranormal than Democrats or independents.

Overall, the researchers said, conventional lifestyles and stakes in conformity are strong predictors of paranormal beliefs, with highly unconventional people the most likely to turn to otherworldly possibilities beyond the realm of traditional religion.

There are conflicting theories about the relationship between religion and the paranormal. Among them are the idea those outside mainstream religion would be more likely to embrace the paranormal as a substitute set of beliefs. Another theory holds that religious individuals, already open to transcendent ideas, would also be more likely to hold paranormal beliefs.

What Bader, Mencken and Baker find in their research is that both individuals with no religious beliefs and the most committed individuals -- those who attend services weekly -- are among the least likely to hold paranormal beliefs. Those who believe the Bible is the literal word of God are also highly unlikely to hold paranormal beliefs.

It is in the middle, among people who have an interest in religion but who are not regular attenders, that there is greater belief in the paranormal. Belief in paranormal topics is at its highest level among people with more liberal views of the Bible, researchers said.

What does all this mean for the future?

The researchers say the aging of America's population and projected gains in income likely will reduce belief in some aspects of the paranormal, but the increase in immigration and the tailoring off of conservative religious growth is expected to lead to increased interest.

Going out on their own limb, the researchers predict that by 2050 nearly three-quarters of Americans will report at least one paranormal belief.



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