I’m an Accomplice, and You Might Be Too

This will be one of millions of blog posts, opinion pieces, vlogs, and commentaries on the shooting this weekend in Orlando, but it’s probably going to be one of the few confessions. I’m an accomplice; I supported the worldview that underpinned this and thousands if not millions of similar attacks. I’m ashamed to say that there was a time in my life when I was part of the problem we saw play out yet again in the largest mass shooting in U.S. history.

Back in the 90’s I attended a moderately conservative Pentecostal Bible college, and during that time I became aware of Evangelical Christian views on gay rights and homosexuality in general. Transgender and other identities weren’t even on the horizon at that point, but I’m sure the general position would have held just as strong there too. It’s deeply embarrassing to think back on times I’d spend in discussions telling people just how wrong and sinful it was to be gay, throwing out chapter and verse, but understanding little and expressing a loving attitude even less. It was an argument that appealed to my gut feelings, that it was wrong, dirty, gross, and unnatural, so of course I went along with it and parroted it whenever the opportunity arose.

God said it was a sin, said it was even an abomination unto Him, so what else was there to say on the matter, right? If it’s written down in the rule book, that’s the end of the appeal process, it’s got to be wrong, and anyone who says otherwise can just take it up with Jesus. I won’t put this on any of my professors, because I honestly can’t think of any of them who would have taught such a blind, graceless, simple-minded view of the issue, but I certainly talked with some pastors, church members, and fellow students who were all too eager to drive home this idea as the only true reading of the matter, and I bought it.

What I didn’t realize when I bought in though was that I was becoming part of a much bigger problem, a tradition of bigotry, and that what I was saying was having an impact, if only in normalizing the prejudice of others who would commit violent acts out of the hate I was implicitly endorsing. Sure, I never actually beat anyone up, never killed anyone, but the beliefs I was spreading around gave the ones who did the violence their justification. I didn’t commit it, but I helped them excuse it; I was their academic getaway driver.

All of the talking heads going on at length about how we should be afraid of transgender women  in bathrooms, how hurricanes display God’s wrath against gay communities, and all the other insane nonsense they spew, it’s the soil these seeds grow in, it’s the bullshit that fertilizes them. If you tell the world over and over again that a group of people are an abomination, that they’re sinners, that they don’t deserve to share the rights everyone else in society takes for granted, you’re loading the bullets in the shooter’s gun, plain and simple. You can’t whip up fear of hypothetical perverts dressing in drag to get into women’s bathrooms and expect those words will never have any unintended consequences (being really charitable on the “unintended”) that will bring harm to others.

I was part of this, I was one of the people going on in public about how wrong “those people” are, and how sinful their “lifestyle choices” were. (I had to close my eyes as I typed that last one, it’s such an embarrassingly trite and idiotic thing to remember yourself saying.) Back then, it wasn’t a matter of arguing the issue of gay couples getting married or adopting children, it was the even more fundamental matter of whether it was ok to recognize them as full citizens deserving protection under the law against discrimination, and I was fighting on the wrong side. I had no idea what I was actually arguing for, but I was really speaking out in favour of protecting the oppressors rather than the people being discriminated against. I was in favour of keeping people down for no other reason than I found them vaguely icky, and the book I was trying to cram into my head said they were bad.

Now, that’s not to say that in the intervening years since Bible college I’ve had some sort of epiphany and now I’m 100% super ok with everything;  that “yuck” thing in my head is still there being just as shitty and repressed as ever and it’s something I have to consciously reject whenever it comes up. When I took my son to the petting zoo yesterday, there were a couple of guys holding hands in the parking lot, and that ugly garbage part of my soul reacted immediately, so I had to force my attention somewhere else to avoid being that disapproving asshole who judges people for being different from myself.

The Orlando shooter’s dad claimed his son murdered 50 or more people because he saw two men holding hands, and I have to confess that I share in a piece of that ugly, fearful, shameful instinct; that whether it’s something innate to me or something that got drilled into me over years of Bible college discussions, it’s something I have to fight against whenever it spits its bile into my mind. I’m ashamed to say I understand it at least to some small degree, it’s a part of who I am too, and I’m willing to bet I’m not alone in this to a terrifying extent. The shooter in Orlando clearly decided to fight on the side of those base instincts, but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking there was a difference in anything but degree when we’re carrying the same kind of darkness within us. His rationalizations and actions might have been different, but that core instinct at the heart of it is something I know way too many people would recognize in their mirror.

The thing is, it’s not the instinct that defines you or determines that you’re going to be a moral monster kicking down at people who want nothing more than to live in peace with the same rights and freedoms the rest of us have. What matters is whether you make up arguments and build an entire theology around it or if you fight against the hateful instinct and choose to reject the rationalizations and moralizations people have fortified over the years. It’s not about becoming an enlightened saint who loves everybody unconditionally by nature; it’s about getting down into the trenches of your own soul and consciously choosing to fight your own worst instincts every day so that you don’t let yourself get used by them to hurt others.

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Fighting the War on Christmas

To hear certain people in the news tell it, there’s a concerted effort on the part of atheists, socialists, and whatever other group you’d care to name to tear down any reference to Christmas in the public square, and Christians are under attack from Black Friday till Boxing Week. Secular humanists are suing schools to keep kids from getting presents, atheists are banding together to force people to say “Happy Holidays” instead of a Christmas greeting, cheeky Seinfeld fans are erecting Festivus poles beside nativity scenes, and it’s all a part of the ongoing culture war being fought in classrooms, courtrooms, and most of all in living rooms on the 24 hour TV news. It’s gotten to the point where Christians are feeling attacked at every turn, like they need to run everything they say or do past political correctness censors to avoid blowback over every little crèche and marble monument to the Ten Commandments on public property. And it’s not enough just to gag them, even Satanists have gotten into the act, petitioning to add a monument to the Oklahoma state legislature, and a Hindu group is proposing the same for their monkey god, Hanuman. As if that wasn’t enough, people are even talking about giving Santa Claus a serious makeover!

Or, could it be a group that has enjoyed a cultural hegemony for centuries is facing a changing demographic landscape in a world they used to unconsciously dominate, and the adjustment just isn’t going very smoothly for various reasons?

I remember back in junior high, as we were moving up to the big school on the hill, legends of Freshie Week and the hazing that would go on for small, vulnerable 7th graders at the hands of the almost-men in grade 12 was a source of profound terror. Stories of paddling, of humiliating ceremonies designed to strip you of not just your clothing but your basic human dignity, of . . . rose bowls, were whispered among us as we counted down the last days of that summer of 1986. But all that fear turned out to be over nothing (nearly) because as we entered the big school, word came down that there were some new policies banning all the tortures we’d been spending the summer in fear of, we were to be put through nothing but some mildly messy games in the gym, and that’s it. No paddles, no cracker walks, and unbelievably, no rose bowls, just some tricycle races, a slip and slide, and egg balancing, that’s it! However, while we were elated not to have to go through the gauntlet, there were some who were more than a little upset at the move, particularly the students who had recently gone through it and were looking forward to inflicting everything they’d gone through on a new batch of freshmen. They claimed it wasn’t fair that they had to go through it and now weren’t allowed to enjoy being on the giving end of things, and that the school was destroying a tradition that had stood for as long as any 17-year-old could remember. This is not to say that hazing had been completely eliminated, it’s still the reason I never went out for football, despite being one of the bigger guys in my class, out of fear of what I’d heard the gym teachers were turning a blind eye to. As much as I did want to play (big kid in Saskatchewan in 1989? How could you not have Grey Cup dreams?), the fear I had of walking into that locker room, of entering that culture and all that entailed, it was more than enough to balance off my desire to score a touchdown or make a sack, so I never played until college rec league.

That dominant culture, the one that had hazing, humiliation and all the cool kids, it was a big factor in making me feel like an outsider even though nobody could have spotted a visible difference. The fact that this culture was “under attack”, that their traditions were being overwritten against their will by the “politically correct” people of the day, meant that they responded by pushing back and taking out their frustrations on guys like me. I was one of the lucky ones, I was big enough to protect myself and had a few friends, and after a few fights I was pretty much left alone by the bullies, but others weren’t so lucky and paid the price for progress. Looking back, I can see things with an adult’s eyes and know that the bullies were acting on motivations not so different from what’s motivating the “War on Christmas” uproar. Their status quo was changing, and they didn’t like it so they acted in order to maintain it; what was hazing then is not so different from the way Christian culture has been imposed in the past, and it’s easy to forget that at times when you’re celebrating the nice bits of the tradition. Is it really so hard to understand how those on the outside might feel about having reminders of their “other-ness” plastered all over every public space, especially in a country where everyone’s faith is supposed to be seen as equal?

Something tragically missing from the talk about the “War on Christmas” is any sort of recognition for what it’s like for people who aren’t part of the dominant religion/culture in society, except to dismiss them with pejorative terms like “Scrooge”, “Grinch” or “Politically Correct”, often with some reference to the Nazis or Gestapo, as if objecting to having public funds spent promoting one religion’s traditions over all others was something Hitler was a big supporter of. Anyone expressing discomfort at being pressured into participating with traditions that aren’t her own is just being oversensitive, or morally defective in some sinister way that means we should look down on her, because good, moral, upright citizens say “Merry Christmas”, not “Happy Holidays”. Telling people that they need to take part in celebrating the birth of a saviour they don’t believe in or face social repercussions and ostracism is hardly what I’d call in keeping with the Christmas spirit of love and sharing. When people stand up for themselves and assert their rights not to participate, have their children participate, or have their tax dollars pay for the traditions of a faith they don’t share, it’s not political correctness, it’s not being a Grinch, it’s standing on one of the rights our society claims it was built on, the right to freely follow your own conscience in religious matters, and to not be co-opted into the festivals of others as if it was the default for all.

Speaking of being co-opted, Christians, and particularly white Christians, have had their way in the public forum for a really long time, traditions are entrenched, and for some most importantly, an awful lot of money is made on this stuff. Christmas advertising starts at 11:59 Thanksgiving night in the States, and the shopping frenzy kicked off by Black Friday is something retailers and advertising executives have come to bank on every year. More than a threat to tradition, muddying the Christmas brand poses the greatest threat of all, which is why news outlets are paid by those advertisers to devote so much time and effort into shoring up the bulwarks of the shopping season against anyone who would dare to take Santa away from Coca-Cola’s marketing department or encourage consumers not to go out and buy the latest piece of shiny disposable plastic and glass being sold this year because the same thing in a different box didn’t make them happy last year. To my view, this is the real underpinning of the whole “war”, the desire to protect profits related to a brand, not anything to do with the birth of God’s son. If it really was about deep-rooted Christmas tradition, North American Christians would be encouraged to observe Advent, a solemn time of reflection and self-denial in preparation of the coming Christ, not an orgy of consumer feeding frenzies and company Christmas party excesses. The real threat posed by people standing up for themselves in the face of this merry monolith isn’t to a baby in a manger, it’s to the bottom line of the market, and that is why so much time and hand-wringing is devoted to this farce. By playing on the fears of a vocal minority of Christians and hammering further on the anxieties that come with social change, marketing has replaced theology, and the whole thing becomes just one more way we’re being played against each other for the profit of the people writing copy for news channels, politicians and ad companies.

The person wishing you a Happy Holiday isn’t spitting in your face, he’s meeting you half-way and greeting you as a person; any offense at such a greeting is a kind of stealing, taking something that wasn’t being offered to you. The person standing up for her right not to pay for your religious observance isn’t attacking you, she’s asking you to extend the same respect to her as you’d like given to you in such matters. It’s funny to watch the reactions of Oklahoma legislators after the consequences of their Ten Commandments monument came back to them in the form of Satanists and Hindus asking for equal representation in the public space. Well, I say funny, but in the sense that seeing hypocrisy come into full bloom is kind of amusing to watch as the mental gymnastics involved twist the speaker’s logic in elegant loops of special pleading and self-reference. Nothing any of the atheists, Satanists, or Hindus have done to take back their public spaces is an attack on any Christian’s right to celebrate their holiday; by all means, go to church, put up decorations, sing songs and be merry, just don’t do it in a way that hooks in people who don’t want to be included. Nobody is saying they want to ban Christmas or anything remotely of the kind, they just want to keep the public forum open to all, and unless you’re willing to pop up a Festivus pole and a Hanuman statue next to your Nativity down at city hall, maybe just enjoy it in your own churches and homes, the way you insist other faiths do with their holy days and traditions.

And maybe don’t buy quite so much plastic and glass crap you don’t actually need this year.

The Bible Lebowski: Biblical Themes and Tropes in The Big Lebowski

1. The Story

The Big Lebowski is a story of mistaken identity, kidnapping, violence, death and bowling. In the opening of the film, its narrator describes the Dude as the man of his time, as the man who just fits perfectly in his place and time, as, well, as the Dude. He first appears on-screen in sandals, shorts and a bathrobe, long-hair and bearded, wearing sunglasses in a grocery store shopping for half & half, strongly suggesting an image of a burnt-out hippie Jesus of Los Angeles, circa 1991.

The story is driven by the Dude’s desire to receive compensation for the soiling of his living room rug at the hands of thugs who were looking for money from the Big Lebowski, another Jeff Lebowski with a prodigal wife. When Big’s wife is kidnapped, the Dude is called in to act as bag man for the ransom, but through a series of errors and poor decisions, the kidnappers do not get the money and Big receives a toe as evidence of their resolve. It is eventually revealed that almost nothing is as it seems, nobody is who they say they are, and in the end the Dude is left to simply abide.

2. The Characters

Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski

The Dude is the Christ-figure of the film, but not in a conventional manner. Visually, he resembles the popular image of Jesus, long-haired, bearded, in long, flowing robes, wearing sandals and generally hippie-like, but the Dude is a Christ-figure in a world where he failed in his attempt to save humanity, had not been crucified, and went on to drift through life without direction or purpose. He is a jumbled, confused version of the biblical Jesus, shuffling through a mostly aimless life without purpose. To borrow the term from Big, he is the Jesus of the Bums. His revolution failed, the bums lost, and now he’s just floating through without purpose. The only motivation we see from him is the restoration of his valued rug, because it really tied the room together. He has given up on the project of saving the world, now all he wants is to restore the integrity of his own home space.

John’s Gospel begins with the statement, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” (NIV) and in line with this identity of Jesus as the Word, and the Dude as a skewed Christ figure, we get the result that nearly every scene in the movie contains an exchange where one character completely misunderstands what’s been said by another. When the Dude quotes Lenin, Donny responds by saying “I am the Walrus”, referring to John Lennon; when Brandt shows off all of Big’s various awards and photos with the famous and powerful, as he gets to the picture of the Little Achievers, the Dude gets confused over the phrase “These are Mr. Lebowski’s children, so to speak,” assuming that Brandt means that the children are his own illegitimate children by various mothers of various ethnic backgrounds.

The phrase “What the fuck” occurs at total of 23 times throughout the movie, usually in the form of “What the fuck are you talking about?” or some variation on this theme. People in this film do not understand each other, they talk past one another; misunderstandings and confusion abound throughout. This is a world where ambiguities are never understood in the way they’re intended, it is almost as if Los Angeles is suffering a new confusing of language in the manner of Babel in Genesis 11:5-8.

In addition to the confused dialogue between characters, the Dude echoes back lines throughout the movie, but rarely correctly. The opening scene of Bush Sr. talking aboutIraq’s invasion ofKuwaitfeatures the famous line, “This aggression will not stand . . . This will not stand!” comes back in his first meeting with Big as, “No, look. I do mind. The Dude minds. This will not stand, ya know, this will not stand, man. I mean, your wife owes – “. Maude’s phrase “she has been ‘banging’ Jackie Treehorn, to use the parlance of our times,” turns into the misapplied “Young trophy wife, I mean, in the parlance of our times,” when he tries to use a term he doesn’t quite understand fully.

In addition to the merely ambiguous use of words, the Nihilists speak German without translation, Maude speaks Italian, the Stranger speaks through a moustache-obscured mouth with a drawl that turns “bear” into “bar” (causing the Dude to completely misunderstand what’s been said), and heavy accents are common among supporting characters. Words are confused, meanings are misunderstood, people trail off and jump from one topic to another without any connection. It’s a world where language has come detached from meaning, where the film’s incarnation of the Word is out of connection with his purpose.

Isaiah 9:6 reads: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (NIV) and the term “Prince of Peace” is a popular term of reference for Jesus, but while the Dude self-identifies as a pacifist, he is not a very peaceful person much of the time. There are spots through the film where the Dude is at peace (usually when he’s in contact with his valued rug or soaking in his tub while finishing off a joint) but in nearly every conversation with Walter, the Dude gets to a point where he’s yelling and swearing, and in the final confrontation with the Nihilists, he makes an attempt at physical violence before Walter steps in and finishes the fight. He is the least peaceful pacifist anyone is likely to encounter, a further misalignment in the Dude’s role as Christ-figure.

While lying in bed with Maude, the Dude claims to be one of the authors of the original Port Huron Statement (not the compromised second draft) and a member of the Seattle Seven (there were six other guys), pointing to his role as a failed saviour figure. He was once an idealist, a radical hippie who tried to change the world and save it from itself, but now he does, “Oh, you know, the usual. Bowl. Drive around. The occasional acid flashback.” Rather than the Saviour of Mankind, the Dude is a drug-addled burn-out who can’t keep the thread of what’s going on around him in spite of being witness to everything that occurs in the film except Bunny passing behind him and Jesus Quintana walking around his neighbourhood to inform people of his status as a sex offender.

The Dude was once a passionate crusader, fighting to right the wrongs he saw in the world, attempting to enlighten people about the dangers attached to our modern lifestyle, but his peers sold out, fell out and generally tuned out of the movement, leaving the Dude aimless and alone. This is the Jesus of an alternate universe, a world where millionaires are broke, kidnapping victims are driving sporty red convertibles aroundPalm Springsand a visit to the doctor about a sore jaw is really screening for a potential father.

Matthew 13:55 identifies Jesus as the son of a carpenter, in relation to his hometown’s response to what he was teaching in the synagogue, and at 1:13:40 of the film we see the Dude as a rather inept carpenter. He pounds several bent double head nails into a piece of 2×4 as a brace for a chair intended to block his front door. However, the door opens to the outside, so his work is for nothing and Jackie Treehorn’s thugs walk in through the unlocked entrance to fetch him for their boss. Two scenes later, he trips over the board he nailed to the floor as he returns home and falls at Maude’s feet. This is in keeping with the theme of viewing him as a cockeyed Christ figure, a carpenter who can’t manage to nail a board to the floor, or notice that the door he’s blocking from the inside opens the other way.

In contrast to Christ, when the Dude is faced with temptation, he gives in almost immediately. When Walter hatches his plan to steal the ransom money, the Dude offers only token resistance as his friend runs away with the job of delivering the million dollars to the kidnappers. Earlier, when he meets Bunny, it is only his lack of money that keeps him from acting on her offer of a sexual exchange, even though he had just moments before met the girl’s husband. When Maude presents herself to him and asks him to love her, he is distracted by the fact she had been wearing his robe, but as the scene fades back in, we find them in bed together. Drugs, alcohol, women and bowling represent irresistible temptations for him, in rather sharp contrast to the way Jesus is described in Hebrews 4:15, “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” (NASB) While the Dude resembles Jesus in that he is frequently tempted, he consistently fails the test and goes along with whatever plan is presented to him. He genuinely does want to do the right thing, but he completely lacks the strength of character to resist anyone’s influence.

The scene where the Dude comes to Jackie Treehorn’s home is a nice parallel with Jesus’ temptation by the devil in the synoptic Gospels, but true to form it runs backwards in the Dude’s case. Rather than ending on a high place, Jackie takes the Dude into his house, high above the hedonistic beach party he emerged from. At the first offer of money, the Dude gives up everything he knows without hesitation. There is no need to press him further, no need for two more temptations; he caves in immediately and completely.

The end of the movie has the Dude talking with the film’s narrator, and his closing words, “Yeah man. Well, you know, the Dude abides,” come out as a profound statement, that despite all that has happened, the Dude remains himself, unchanged and “takin’ it easy for all us sinners.” It has the feel of a passage like Psalm 25:13, “His soul will abide in prosperity, And his descendants will inherit the land,” (NASB) describing someone living in the will of God. The Dude is nothing if not humble, and this is in the end what ties his character to the traditional notion of a Christ-figure. He never had any personal ambition past the restoration of his rug; it’s the only thing that the Dude holds on to from beginning to end. His home is his sanctuary, his Garden of Eden, and when it is violated nothing else matters to him but restoring it to its original state.

In this, the Dude again exhibits a genuine resemblance to Christ; his desire to restore his home leads him through difficult, dangerous times, through persecution and violence. In his negotiations with Big, with Maude and with Jackie Treehorn, this is the one constant of his character; he is driven by his desire to tie his home back together. It is a parallel to God’s desire to restore humanity after the Fall and the lengths He went to in order to make that happen. When humanity fell in the Garden, it was not entirely unlike Woo urinating on the Dude’s rug; the world was thrown out of order, in much the same way that the harmony of the Dude’s living room was broken by that act of unchecked aggression. In the end, the Dude is at peace, abiding; he has brought his life and his home back into alignment, and a new life has been brought about in the process of restoration, a new creation.

Walter Sobchack

Serving as a foil to the Dude is his best friend Walter. He is a Vietnamvet, and ties nearly everything in his life back to that experience. The other defining aspect of his character is his relationship to his ex-wife, Cynthia. Before marrying her, Walter converted to Judaism; in particular, he became shomer shabbas, a particularly orthodox group within Judaism. He does not work, drive, ride in a car handle money, turn on the oven or bowl on the Sabbath, the Jewish day of rest. This is rooted in a strict interpretation of Exodus 31:13-17, which establishes Saturday as a day of rest in honour and remembrance of God’s creative work, from which He rested on the 7th day.

Throughout the movie, Walter presents himself as a strict adherent to the Law and to the letter. When Smokey’s toe goes over the line, Walter is so insistent that it be marked as a zero that he pulls out a loaded gun and threatens to shoot his opponent if he marks it an eight. When he is confronted by the waitress in the café about how loudly he is talking, he cites legal precedent from the Supreme Court and even more loudly insists upon his right to be obnoxious in public, throwing in the fact he served inVietnamfor good measure. He represents the Law and the gospel’s teachers of the law, the strict legal tradition that strains at gnats but swallows camels. He is willing to threaten deadly force in order to regulate a league game, but in doing so violates the higher law against pulling a gun in public and sticking it in someone’s face over a bowling match.

His personal identity is tied to “Three thousand years of beautiful tradition, from Moses to Sandy Koufax,” in spite of the fact that he is divorced from the woman who was his original reason for converting. He identifies with it the same way that the Pharisees and Sadducees did, claiming Abraham for his father in Matthew 3:7-9; not in the sense that they and Walter share Abraham’s relationship to God, but in that they are merely his blood descendents, or in Walter’s case his descendent by marriage. His faith is about following rules and seeing to it that others do as well. There is no grace or forgiveness in him, just a blind devotion to his idea of the Law, with a capital L.

In keeping with a Christian view of legalism, Walter is wrong nearly every time he makes a truth claim, and the surer he claims to be of something, the more certainly he is wrong about it. This hits its peak when Walter and the Dude confront Big, and Walter insists that Big is faking his disability, then lifts him out of his chair, only to find upon releasing Big that he is indeed crippled. In the gospels, the teachers of the Law are consistently portrayed as wrong about everything; they fail to understand what God is like, the very God who wrote the Law they claim to revere. Walter is the personification of Romans 4:14-16; he is all law and wrath, without a trace of real understanding or faith to temper his bluster with mercy or grace. He is a violent man, incapacitating all three of the Nihilists in spite of two of them being armed, and his amputation of Uli’s ear is reminiscent of a poorly and brutally applied “eye for an eye” (Exodus 21:23-25) ethical framework. The other amputation in the film is the toe taken from Franz’s girlfriend, so the system of retribution is out of line with what’s really going on.

In the end, Walter is chastised by the Dude for the mess he makes of Donny’s eulogy by rambling on aboutVietnamwhen he’s supposed to be focusing on remembering their friend. This is the only point in the film where we see Walter genuinely remorseful, and it is the point where Walter asks the Dude for forgiveness. He realizes that he’s missed the point of what’s going on, and appeals to the Dude’s forgiving nature in response. There is a complete change in demeanour on display, his shoulders slump and he takes on the posture of a child being scolded. Unable to stay mad at his friend, the Dude relents and embraces Walter, and their benediction is pronounced, “Aw, fuck it, Dude. Let’s go bowling.” As Big pointed out at the end of his fist meeting with the Dude, that really is his answer for everything, to just let it go and return to the alley.  Walter has adopted the Dude’s way of being, he’s a changed person in the end while the Dude simply abides.

Theodore Donald ‘Donny’ Kerabatsos

Donny is, simply put, an innocent. He is to the Dude what Christians are to Christ, though to a small extent he is himself a type of Christ-figure in the background. He is seen bowling a perfect game through the movie until a single pin fails to fall, foreshadowing his own imminent death. He is a loyal friend to the Dude, and serves as the canary in the mine in relation to the Dude’s dedication to peacefulness. As the last of the Dude’s principles falls and he actively (if ineffectively) enters into a fight with the Nihilists, Donny falls victim to a fatal heart attack.

At his core, Donny represents the 1 Corinthians 13:4-6 sense of love, he is patient, kind, he doesn’t envy anyone, he never gets angry at Walter’s constant refrains of “Shut the fuck up, Donny” and similar abuse. In keeping with the skewed tone of the other characters, he does indulge in boasting about how well he’s bowling on two occasions, but in a world where the main Christ-figure is rarely without either a joint or a drink in his hand, Donny is as close to a pure soul as can be found among the main characters.

Jeffery “The Big” Lebowski

Big is a scheming, bombastic, judgmental man whose insecurities drive him to steal a million dollars from the family charity he co-directs with his daughter. He presents himself as an “Achiever”, but in reality he has achieved nothing for himself except a fortunate marriage to his deceased wife. He is a total hypocrite when we first meet him and he berates the Dude for being a layabout and a bum. The irony of his position is that while he is in the position of the rich man who is less likely to get into heaven than a camel is to pass through the eye of a needle (Matthew 19:24), he is in fact personally broke. He has no money of his own beyond the allowance his daughter provides him with. In the end, his judgemental nature comes back home, as he is confronted with the truth by Walter and the Dude. They know he is broke, that he stole a million dollars from underprivileged children and his late wife’s family fortune, and that his wife is in fact a runaway high school cheerleader and sometime underage porn star fromMoorhead,Minnesota, but he still clings to his illusion of position and power in the face of it all.

Like the powerful men of the Gospels, Big attempts to place the Dude in legal trouble, but in keeping with the overall theme of broken parallels, he fails utterly in his scheming. He is as broken as any of the other characters, but with the further flaw that he fails to find any catharsis in his character arc. It’s assumed that he has the cash in the end, but he also has his daughter to deal with, and the money will not be his for long.

Maude Lebowski

Maude is the least tragically flawed of all the film’s characters; she is a source of enlightenment and wisdom for the Dude, revealing information he would never otherwise have discovered himself. In biblical terms, she embodies Wisdom, guiding the Dude in his way through his journey. Walter also makes passing reference in his comment, “Aitz chaim he,” or “It’s the tree of life,” possibly a reference to Proverbs 3:18, “She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her; those who hold her fast will be blessed.” (NIV) In as much as the Dude takes hold of her and follows her advice, he is blessed; by the same token, by rejecting his daughter, Big falls from his lofty position.

In keeping with the tree of life metaphor, she becomes a literal vessel of life as she conceives a child with the Dude. She is an artist, a creator, source of life and wisdom for those who avail themselves of what she offers. She rejects the Dude’s half-baked ideas about what is going on in the case, she prudently has him screened by her very thorough doctor before selecting him to father her child, and she is the source of restoration for his valued rug. Without Maude’s contributions, there is no way the Dude would have made his way through the case without winding up in jail or worse.

Bunny Lebowski/Fawn Knutson/Bunny LaJoya

In contrast to Maude, Bunny is the woman of Folly from Proverbs 9:13-18. She tempts men to their ruin in succession; Jackie Treehorn loses money to her, Uli loses his ear and a million dollars, and Big loses everything. Just as in verse 13, “she is simple and knows nothing,” (NIV) Bunny is completely oblivious of the chaos her spur of the moment trip toPalm Springssets in motion. She is not who she presents herself to be, and is known by three different names by various people in the course of the movie.

Jackie Treehorn

Jackie is, simply put, the devil. He emerges from the shadows as a throbbing, hedonistic party carries on behind him. He deceives the Dude, drugs him, tempts him with money, and gets everything he wants from the protagonist. His is also the name that evokes the most biblical and traditional imagery, a combination of the Tree that the snake talked Adam and Eve into eating from and the popular idea of Satan being a red, goat-legged being with horns. He is a pornographer, a hedonist and has corrupted the local police sheriff to his side; it is difficult to tack on much more that would make it any clearer who the bad guy is when he enters the scene. His thug Woo is the one who urinates on the Dude’s rug, despoiling his personal paradise and putting him on his path of action.

The Germans/Nihilists

The Nihilists are an example of Psalm53:1, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, and their ways are vile; there is no one who does good.” (NIV) They have rejected the idea of God and any notion of meaning in the world. They believe in “nossing”, and they are indeed vile, cutting off a girlfriend’s toe in order to extort money from someone and threatening castration against the Dude. In keeping with biblical story lines regarding what happens to the wicked (particularly in the Old Testament), their only payment for the evil they’ve done is pain and disfigurement, they only lose from their efforts.

The Stranger

The narrator of the film is an unnamed cowboy, who has no internal frame of reference to the events he’s talking about to provide him with his story; he has no particular role in the proceedings, except for an encounter with the Dude at the mid-point of the film and in the final scene. He has intimate knowledge of the Dude, his personal habits, his character and the existence of his unborn child, and no obvious source for this information. It seems clear that if the Dude is a flawed Christ-figure, the Stranger serves as the film’s stand-in for God.

In line with the other off-center archetypes, the Stranger is a rambling, absent-minded God-figure who steps into the world for a sarsaparilla at a bowling alley bar and to chat with his wayward Son, chiding him for the number of cuss words he uses. The two speak warmly, but there is no recognition, no relationship, and a fair deal of miscommunication.

3. Summary

At its bottom, The Big Lebowski is the story of the Dude bringing his world back into harmony, if only in the limited scope of his living room. He is a Messiah who has mess up, compromised and all but completely surrendered his redemptive role. However, in keeping with the political rhetoric of the day, he has drawn a line in the sand; his compromise with the world goes just this far, no further. This aggression will not stand, and it is the Dude’s desire to restore his home’s integrity. It is a kaleidoscope view of salvation history, but if you tilt your head at just the right angle and squint a little, you can piece together the whole picture.

Dear North Carolina:

So, I hear you’ve gone ahead and passed Amendment 1, putting a ban on gay marriage right into your state constitution. Well done, your decision will be remembered by future historians centuries from now. Of course, it will be remembered in much the same way as today’s historians remember your 1875 constitutional amendment to ban interracial marriages, but hey, you’re getting in the history books, and that’s what matters, right? I mean really, what would history be without the bad guys doing their thing to stir the pot? You wouldn’t have – oh hell, let’s just get it out of the way and move past the low hanging fruit – you wouldn’t have WWII without Hitler, and without WWII, you wouldn’t have most of the 20th century’s history, or at least the history you remember from the movies you’ve seen. You wouldn’t have had the Cold War without the Commies, you wouldn’t have had the Fall of Rome without the Huns, and you wouldn’t have had Gandalf without Sauron. All the best stuff from history comes as a direct result of people banding together and struggling against the bad guys of their age, marching to the drumbeat of history toward the future, against the forces that would bring oppression and hatred to the world. I mean, it’s no invasion of Poland or sacking of Rome, but Amendment 1 is a pretty good crack at the whole oppression and hatred thing, I have to hand it to you.

Oh, and the way you wrapped it up in your holiest robes of protecting religious freedom? That was your master stroke; I have to hand it to you. Nothing stirs up fear of the unknown and foreign like a solid appeal to “tradition” under attack, and the pompous self-righteousness you managed to get behind this amendment was one for the books, I have no doubts. Decades from now, people will be talking about just how much scripture had to be twisted or ignored in order to come up with a “biblical” definition of marriage. Never mind that St. Paul advised against getting married at all unless you simply couldn’t resist the temptations of your flesh, and may have himself been a “friend of Dorcas”, if you get my meaning. Never mind that Jesus himself never married, that all of the Patriarchs of the Old Testament were polygamous, that a fair few of the brides in that Old Testament were slaves or taken as prizes from conquered territories, or that pretty much all of them were viewed merely as chattel, not as equal partners in a state-sanctioned union which invested property rights and tax benefits. No, all of that is beside the point, and we should be looking at the First Couple, Adam and Eve (not, as they say, “Adam and Steve”); they of Genesis, he of the earth and she of his rib, given to him as his helpmate in life. And after he had lain with her, and she had born him two sons, one of whom killed the other, the younger son took for himself a wife who was totally not his sister, or maybe she was, but that’s ok, because who else was he going to marry, right? (OK, now the marrying your cousin but not your gay cousin thing starts to make a little more sense.) But forget about Cain; Adam and Eve, that right there is our model for marriage, one man, one woman, and that’s it. Of course, had there been more than one woman or man on the planet when that marriage took place, who’s to say what might have happened, but that’s beside the point, and quit bringing up bothersome questions.

So, here we are in 2012, and marriage is under attack. Statistics say that roughly half of all marriages will end in divorce, children being raised by single mothers, deadbeat dads running out on their responsibilities, and we need to figure out how to stop it. But what to do? Obviously, ignore the fact that your state already has a law on the books prohibiting gay marriage, and you write a mega-ban right into your state constitution! That will show those uppity gays that you take your marriage vows seriously. I mean, maybe it takes you until your third or fourth set of vows to get to that point, but dammit, you’re not going to lose another marriage to the queers, not on your watch.

Want an example of how horrible things could get if the gay agenda were to seep into your culture and strike a blow for the Devil? Look no further than this God-forsaken country to your north, Canada. We have had legalized gay marriage up here for years now, and things couldn’t be worse. You can’t throw a burning cross without hitting three gay marriage ceremonies, and most of them involve some poor straight man who’s being forced into the unholy union against his will. That’s right; up here we force straight men to marry the gays, because our system is that perverted. Law says, if a gay man asks you to marry him, you can’t say no, you have to marry him, and if you don’t, you could be sent to jail for 10 years, where you’ll find yourself the “bride” of many more. I can’t tell you how glad I am to be somewhat portly and under-washed, my poor appearance has saved me from the advances of the demon gays during these trying times. In fact, many of us among the oppressed straight community have taken to avoiding bathing and any number of personal grooming habits in the hopes that it will make us unappealing to those who would prey on our delicate flesh through forced gay marriages. Oh, you noticed I said “marriages”, in the plural? That’s right, there’s no limit to how many gay men can force you to marry them, many of my more well-groomed friends have found themselves eternally bound to several deviants of the disco.

This is what those “activists” in your state are fighting to bring to your homes, make no mistake. Don’t be swayed by their claims that they are trying to protect people’s civil rights, or those people who tell you that they just want access to the same benefits you and your families enjoy. These are just sneaky lies designed to make you feel some faint shred of empathy for people facing unreasonable discrimination for the crime of loving someone from their own gender; don’t be fooled by their “reason” or “appeal to fairness”.  Of course, history is going to agree with them once things finally do go the way of interracial marriage, but it’s important that you remain adamant against these “brave” and “courageous” people battling against your right to unreasonably discriminate against people because you think they’re icky.

So again I say to you, well done North Carolina! God bless your work towards protecting marriage by limiting the number of people who can participate in it, rather than making it more difficult to get a divorce. Clearly, this was the way to go, and not something silly like discouraging people from getting married and breaking up within the same drunken weekend. Bravo.

Rick Santorum is a Jerk

Here I am, happily sitting at my desk, writing a new blog post about why Rick Santorum should drop out of the presidential nomination race, and he has the unmitigated gall to go right ahead and do it before I can finish up. Now, everything I wrote just looks like I’m beating a dead horse, so I ended up deleting everything for a fresh start. All the stuff about how hypocritical it is for Republican Christians to demand that their moral standards be codified in secular law and applied to non-Christians while working their hardest to ensure that none of the Bible’s standards for charity and taking care of the poor and sick get applied to . . . well, to anyone, ever, just seems to have lost much of its force as the leading “Christian” brand candidate has pulled out for the first time in his life.

Up here in Canada, the religion in politics thing is much more subsumed, but it’s still there underneath a lot of the things Conservative politicians have to say. Nobody has repeated Stockwell “Doris” Day’s mistake of wearing his faith on his sleeve, but all the right phrasing is there in their statements and proposed policies. Not that subtlety in advancing a hypocritical agenda is a good thing per se, but it is nice not to have to actively defend my associations with both a Pentecostal church and the NDP.

So, wrapping things up, I guess what I’d say is the short version of everything I wrote about Santorum is that I personally would not have nearly such a problem with politicians branding themselves as Christians if they would use the same zeal they have for banning gay marriage on the problem of taxation of the rich and taking care of the sick and needy, instead of looking for loopholes to get them out of selling all they have and giving it to the poor.