Does Your Religion Pass the Briefcase Test?

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I am proud to be a citizen of the United States, a country that is a beacon of liberty and religious tolerance for the rest of the world. I am all for freedom of religion too, yet there are some religions that I have a very big problem with. Specifically, religions that hold truck with locked briefcases.

I became aware of this fact while reading a recent article about Scientology. At one point the article describes some secret documents at the core of Scientology—maybe the ones about hydrogen bombs being dropped by aliens into Earth’s volcanoes 75,000,000 years ago, I’m not sure. When you reach an exalted level of Scientology, you bring your own locked briefcase to a desk, someone puts a few sheets of paper into it, you go to a secure room, unlock the briefcase, and then you can read these documents—once—before returning them the same way.

I read this and was repulsed. What deluded Sci Fi fan club would actually believe that reading a short story could cause physical harm to non-believers? And what group of people would be so daft as to accept anything transported by locked briefcase as God’s revealed truth—or even God’s working draft?

My repulsion lasted all of 30 seconds, however, before I realized that the incident was ringing a bell. Yes, I too was once involved with a briefcase-carrying sect, and lived to tell the tale. And not to be outdone by any two-bit space aliens, my story has handcuffs as well. Let me explain.

This particular group is still active, so let’s fictionalize it a little bit: it is hereby the Dairy tradition. In the Dairy tradition, you always leave little saucers of milk outside for the nature spirits and feral cats in your neighborhood. Dairy people are big on leaving offerings, which came naturally to me with so many teenagers in my house at the time. Communing with the spirits was just like doing a huge Costco shop one day, only to find that everything had mysteriously disappeared by the next morning. Practical spirituality like this suited my lifestyle, and I felt I had found my place among kindred souls.

One of the first things I noticed about Dairy lore it was its six-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon-esque ability to be secretly connected to everyone else’s mythology. Celtic legends, it turns out, were suffused with ancient Dairy secrets, as were Hawaiian, South African, and Tibetan shamanic practices. Those early Dairy masters really got around!

Dairy people also felt very connected to the stars, and had elaborate means of contacting entities in the Milky Way and beyond, though as Sci Fi-inspired spirituality goes we were much more influenced by Lovecraft than Hubbard or even Heinlein. The smaller the sect, the more important these distinctions are.

Anyway, at one point my friends and I reached an exalted level of Dairydom, and were given copies of some short fiction, poetry, and arcane instruction written by early Dairy adherents. We dutifully studied the documents looking for something profound and earth-shattering, but came away scratching our heads wondering what if anything it all meant.

I privately dismissed most of it as the mumblings of drug-enhanced hippies who would never win a writing contest, but my friends were generally more tolerant. Then we got embroiled in an inter-Dairy feud about who should be allowed to read what, and soon we were visited by a Very Important Person who could either vouch for us, or banish us to the outer Dairy darkness.

He entered through the kitchen door and greeted us haltingly, with barely a smile. He couldn’t even shake our hands, because his right hand was still holding a briefcase that was not only locked but shackled to his wrist with handcuffs. All we could do was stare at the briefcase, stare at his graven face, and wonder what either held.

After sweeping his gaze around the room to be sure we were alone, he solemnly produced a key to the handcuffs, released his wrist, laid the case on the kitchen table, turned the combination locks, and opened it. Before us lay a stack of copies from Kinkos, the same papers we had been poring over for weeks. But they were revealed to us now in their proper context: as documents so dangerous and sacred they could harm the uninitiated viewer. Documents that at least one person would die to protect.

I knew right then that I could not be that person. I was prepared to be convinced by Mr. Serious of the value of these pages, but realized instead that this religion relied on a giant game of chicken to keep proving its own importance. Not impressed with the handcuffs? Maybe next time the briefcase would be attached to someone with a giant piercing, just like they did in ancient Sumer.

Our group soon split up, and I quietly backed away from any deeper involvement with Dairy. By all accounts their game of chicken is still going strong, but I have no desire to hear any details. I can be tolerant of other religions, just like our Constitution says we’re supposed to be, but sometimes that is best accomplished through blissful ignorance. Meanwhile, if anyone comes around here proselytizing with a locked briefcase in hand, I do have a home piercing kit right by the front door.

14 thoughts on “Does Your Religion Pass the Briefcase Test?

  1. Cari Ferraro

    This is so right on, Anne. It reminds me of a qigong class I was trying out. I asked the instructor a question about why we did such-and-so, and he replied, “You can’t know that yet?” Really? Um . . . goodbye.

    Thanks for the insight. Why does this keep happening in groups? The “in” group and the “out” group. It’s like junior high again. Spare me.


    Anne Reply:

    What an un-artful way of answering your question. Some things don’t fully make sense until you progress farther in an art; I have experienced that with aikido numerous times. But a good teacher should be able to explain things in a way that also makes sense to beginners, without being needlessly mysterious or condescending.

  2. Niklas Gander

    I’m responding to your post with not a little dissappointment. After all, lactose intolerance is a personal issue, and isn’t something that usually elicits this kind of protracted emotional response. My recommendation is that you move on, and leave the path to those who are most suited to it. That you feel the need to accuse just seems like you have a remaining emotional investment that causes you to hang on to something that you’ve already abandoned. Leave the Dairy Farmers in peace, and forge your own path. I’m sorry that you were not adequately prepared for the presentation of the Cream.

  3. Sarsen

    Scientology is the Godwin’s Law of religious discussions. Once you’ve brought them up just for comparison’s sake in a discussion that isn’t actually about them, the conversation has already gone so far awry there’s no rescuing it.

    It’s a great way of making fun of people, though.

  4. Susan

    Anne, I love this piece. It covers some of my reservations about the Dairy path and is exactly why I too backed away. I didn’t get the full on handcuffed briefcase experience, but what I saw of the Cream did not impress me and I was at a loss as to what all the secrecy is about. Perhaps I just wasn’t adequately prepared.

    Anne Reply:

    Notice to those making up religions: the most powerful secrets aren’t secrets. They are things we may have known for a while but then suddenly feel the full force of when the time is right. I just think these people had a mistaken notion of what was most valuable in their tradition. And apparently still do.

  5. Thalia

    Wow, I actually laughed out loud, and I think I would have done the exact same thing if some grim serious dude walked in with a briefcase full of religious secrets handcuffed (handcuffed!) to him. Oh man. I mean not that I would have gotten that far in the first place since I am notoriously not a team player (and proud of it). But then I’m so anti-secret I mistrust the very concept of initiation and will have none of it. Because if I don’t know what you’re going to do in that process, I can’t consent to it, now can I?

    And honestly, I can probably figure those secrets out on my own. I mean *really.*

  6. Jim


    Having been birthed in a religion with its own secrets, special handshakes, and was by the way, also satirized by South Park I am shocked, shocked I tell you that there are these sorts of practices going on among the Pagan.

    Great piece Ann.

    oh and when I come to visit I might enter through a side door. I actually have sufficient holes in my body as it is.

    Anne Reply:

    I would never attempt to pierce anyone over 6′ tall, so you are very safe, Jim. Are you jetting to NYC to see “Book of Mormon”?

  7. Apuleius Platonicus

    Never trust anyone, or any religion, that can’t keep a secret. Everything is not on the surface. This is a fact of life. There are always layers. The correct word for people who obstinately resist this is “Philistine”.

    Miss Nicks Reply:

    I think you’re missing something. I don’t think Anne’s blog post is about the keeping of secrets. Nor do I think she needs to be educated about the ‘facts of life’.

    I think her blog post has more to do with ‘the goods’ not being delivered, and value and meaning being placed where it shouldn’t have been. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and it sounds as if the cream went bad.

    Marjie Douty Reply:

    @ Apuleius Platonicus:
    True, everything is not on the surface but that does not mean they are secrets. We all come to our *layers* at our own pace and my own development will be the guide to what I can understand or not…not someone else’s idea of what I am ready to hear, read, or see. And, darling, that is a life lesson which I can prove!
    In Love,

  8. Pitch313

    My hometown’s little dairy was called “Red Top.” You can still find the name on one of the I-80 exit signs on the way to Fairfield. I liked Red Top Dairy products a lot.

    My Red Top Dairy secret was that, on a school tour, I stuck my head though the gated head-holder feeder just before a dairyman threw the switch and–clunk-ka-chuck!– my head got stuck like a cow’s in the feeder. It was an unnerving and embarrassing experience for which my pals and schoolmates teased me for a time. Cow-boy Me!!! Head-in-the feeder!!!

    Later, Super Store Industries bought Red Top Dairy, and the brand more or less disappeared.

    I’d say that my religion offered the head-holder test.

  9. Marjie Douty

    I was once told by someone *Dairy* related that breath of fire was too advanced a practice for me ???
    what the hell was my kundalini yoga instructor thinking teaching it to me then? Really! How silly!
    Breath of fire too advanced!
    I, personally think that *secrets* are about self-esteem and lack of understanding. (of the concepts being taught, conveyed, gifted, whatever).

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