Does Your Religion Pass the Briefcase Test?Posted: March 5, 2011
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 SciFi 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 SciFi-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.