Rise of the Raelians

Flying saucers, science, sex, and religion

The Skeptical Inquirer/July 1, 2002
By Vern Bullough

In 1973 Claude Vorilhon, then twentyseven and editor of a minor auto racing magazine, was (he says) taken onto a flying saucer while hiking in the dish of a French volcano in a wooded area in France. There he met a four-foot humanoid extraterrestial with olivecolored skin, almond-shaped eyes, and long dark hair. The first words he heard from the humanoid was a question whether he regretted not having brought his camera. For the next six days, Vorilhon had conversations with the extraterrestrial, who explained that humanity had been created by means of DNA manipulation by beings known as the Elohim-a Biblical term, usually translated as God, but which actually meant "those who came from the sky." Past prophets including Moses, Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammed had been given their revelations and training by the Elohims who had selected them. The reason for the present mission was to remove previous distortions in the interpretation of their message and to get to know their creations on equal terms and to demystify "the old concept of God." Vorilhon, who then took the name of Rael, had been selected to pave the way for a second coming of the creators from outer space. This required teaching all humans the Raelian beliefs, which emphasized peace, tolerance, a love of science, and sexual freedom. The question is what kind of science?

Vorilhon began teaching the "true" account of the creation of humans and as of this writing claims to have about 50,000 followers in eighty-four countries. Most of the believers are in Frenchspeaking areas of Europe and Canada. Vorilhon, however, modestly says that only about 10 percent of his followers are active members. In the small farming community of Valcourt (northeast of Montreal) the group has established UFOland as their headquarters and embassy to the world. The building itself is part office complex and part museum. For two weeks every summer Raelians gather there for meetings and meditation.

In 1998 Vorilhon announced to his followers that the alien creators of Earth would soon return to Earth and it was necessary to expedite preparations for this second coming. One of the essential first steps was the recruitment of a number of young women members into the Order of the Angels to serve as hostesses and sexual mates for the arriving progenitors of humans. Within this order was a select group who agreed only to sleep with the aliens and their prophets, including of course Vorilhon. Vorilhon, however, emphasizes that the angels are under no pressure to sleep with him, since the Raelians teach sexual freedom and not coercion.

The movement thrives on media attention and Vorilhon deliberately seeks it out, especially on sex issues. For example, to protest a 1992 decision in Quebec barring condom machines at certain Quebec high schools, the Raelians passed out condoms to students from a van adorned with large spaceships. The group also bought billboard space in Toronto to welcome extraterrestrial visitors. Vorilhon also makes pronouncements about some world-shaking events which will take place but which only true Raelians will know of Like others who make such statements, those which have become known are sufficiently vague to meet almost any chance occurrence.

But it is the science part of the Raelian agenda where the group seeks and gets publicity. After the cloning of the sheep Dolly in 1996, Vorilhon created a company, Clonaid, to do human cloning and help any gay or infertile couple have children for a $200,000 fee. He then opened a post office box in the Bahamas and several of the women in the Order of Angels volunteered to serve as the proxy mothers. Most daringly and most troubling, he also moved into cloning when one of his followers, Brigette Boisseler, who held two doctorates in chemistry, became the scientific director of Clonaid. Another follower, Mark Hunt, who had lost his ten-month-old son earlier, agreed to stock a lab to do DNA research and possible human cloning under the direction of Boisseler in Nitro, West Virginia, in the office building where his law firm was located. A more-or-less secret lab was being set up with equipment for research into DNA and with an ultimate goal of cloning a human. When this secret effort found its way into the press through a television appearance by Boisseler, the lab was closed by Hunt who complained that Boisseler was more a "press hog" than a researcher. She still maintains she has an interest in human cloning, and so apparently does Vorilhon.

Just how serious the effort might be is uncertain, and it is complicated by the fact that Vorilhon bragged he got millions in media publicity from his stunt. More importantly he attracted congressional attention. Rep. James C. Greenwood (R-Pennsylvania), as chairman of a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee, invited Raelians to testify before his committee last year as he prepared legislation to ban any cloning that would produce children. Vorilhon, who appeared as an expert witness in a white jumpsuit with his hair tied atop his head in a knot, testified that people one day would clone themselves and then download their personalities into the clones, achieving a kind of eternal life. Greenwood later said that Vorilhon's testimony convinced lawmakers that "even kooks may have the capacity to make human beings" and that it was necessary to act against cloning.

Clearly, Vorilhon was used by the anti-cloning forces to emphasize the potential dangers of cloning without really giving it a fair hearing. Vorilhon agreed he was used, but held that the publicity was worth it and that his organization was growing. What bothers his critics the most is that in spite of his publicity stunts, his belief in flying saucers, his free love, is that he claims to be a scientist and that his religion is based upon it. Worst of all, the anticloning forces use him as an example of science at work.

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