For sect, alleged human copy is start of big things

Miami Herald/December 29, 2002
By Anabelle de Gale, Karl Ross and David Kidwell

They are doctors and architects, therapists and engineers. They are also members of a worldwide society, 55,000 strong, that believes humans were created by greenish beings from outer space.

''Some people believe that God is sitting on a cloud and yet they are laughing at us?'' said Andre Pinsonneault, a 58-year-old engineer from Montreal who now lives in Miami Beach and is a ''priest guide'' among 25 local Raelians. ``Some people believe in evolution and some in Santa Claus. The more science progresses, people will see that is primitive thinking.''

On Friday, the Raelians announced in Hollywood that scientists linked to the sect had successfully cloned the first human baby, a girl named Eve born somewhere on earth.

The South Florida Raelian community was celebrating the news of the supposed birth, Pinsonneault said.

''Of course we are thrilled. This is what we have been expecting for 20 years; we just didn't know where or when,'' Pinsonneault said. They still don't know the where: Members say the name of the mother and the child's whereabouts are a closely-guarded secret, not revealed even to the most ardent.

The cloning is just the beginning, Pinsonneault added.

''Being cloned as a baby is not very interesting. We will eventually create an accelerated growth process,'' he said.

The plan is to copy the contents of your mind -- thoughts, memories, etc. -- onto a machine and to have that information fed into a clone after your death. Pinsonneault compared the futuristic plan to upgrading an out-dated computer.

''It's like transfering old e-mails, files and your favorites to a new hard drive,'' he said. "Cloning is the key to eternal life. If you want to live forever, you will be able to do so.''

Cloning is a pillar of Raelians' philosophy. They believe humans are clones of aliens known as Elohim. They know this, they say, because aliens abducted their Raelian leader, ''Rael'' or Claude Vorilhon, on two occasions and explained it to him.

Pinsonneault, who was raised a Catholic in Canada, read a book written by Rael about the movement 25 years ago and was convinced. He and his fellow Raelians meet once a month at the homes of various members to meditate, teach and encourage "positive energy.'

'We Are Grounded'

''People think we are a bunch of crazy people,'' Pinsonneault said. "I went to my first meeting expecting to see people in white robes doing stupid things. What I found was intelligent professional people.

"We are not wackos. We are grounded.''

Not so, say skeptics, including Bishop Thomas Wenski of the Archdiocese of Miami.

"More people would call Monday night football a religion before Raelianism,'' Wenski said.

"Until proven otherwise [the cloned baby] has all the markings of a skillful hoax. Certainly cloning is a dangerous possibility, but these people seem too off the wall to be taken too seriously.''

As adherents of other religions do, Pinsonneault said, Raelians make donations to help spread their word. A minimum annual contribution of $150 is required, though 10 percent of one's salary is recommended.

The members make an annual pilgrimage to Montreal, the home of their leader, to meet for an international Raelian conference.

Four Holidays

The Raelians celebrate four holidays a year:

"The first Sunday in April: The anniversary of the creation of the first human being on earth 13,000 years ago.

"Dec. 13: The first visit to Rael by extraterrestrials.

"Aug. 6: The Raelian New Year is celebrated on the day the United States bombed Hiroshima. The reason? ''This is the first time humans used energy to destroy themselves,'' Pinsonneault explained.

"Oct. 2: The second visit to Rael by extraterrestrials.

''It is a beautiful message,'' said Raelian Lisa Lumiere of Hollywood.

The alternative-medicine therapist leads the group in meditation at its monthly gatherings, which are open to the public. Each meeting has a different theme; the subjects have included happiness, femininity, serenity and infinity.

''I have a regular job and work like everybody else,'' Lumiere said. "In my spare time I spread the beautiful message.''

In addition, Lumiere heads free workshops to teach the curious about the Raelian understanding.

Lumiere was a yoga instructor in Japan 16 years ago when one of her students introduced her to Raelianism. She read the book and attended a Rael seminar held in Tokyo in 1986.

''It was just easier for me to believe that we were created by another human being from another planet as opposed to a supernatural,'' she said. "The science supports us.''

She too called the potential to clone "a great thing for humanity.''

The group originated in France in 1973 when aliens landed in a noiseless craft and abducted Rael, said Ricky Lee Roehr, the president or ''national guide'' of the U.S. Raelian movement. They spent six days telling him about how they founded the human race, then left.

''They looked just like human beings, but with slightly greenish skin, like someone with liver trouble, and almond-shaped eyes,'' Roehr said. "They love us and respect us, but like any good parents they don't want to be overly involved. They want us to learn things for ourselves.''

Other's Canons

Roehr, like Pinsonneault, dismissed more traditional religions and their texts.

''All of these books were written by primitive people who didn't even understand what a matchbook is or a flashlight, much less flying saucers,'' Roehr said.

Michael Lamas, a New Age merchant who is familiar with Raelian beliefs, flirted with joining the group about 10 years ago.

''I went to one meeting and it wasn't for me,'' said Lamas, who likened their beliefs to a creation theory with a sci-fi twist.

Does he believe the cloning claim?

''They could. They have the money and everything, and the technology is there,'' Lamas said. "That's a pretty bold thing they're doing. If it was for publicity, it worked.''

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