Cloning occupies central role in Raelian followers' beliefs

The Washington Post/December 28, 2002
By Alan Cooperman

When he was taken aboard a flying saucer in 1973, the founder of the Raelian religion says, a green-skinned extraterrestrial greeted him with the question: "Aren't you sorry that you didn't bring your camera?"

Since the former racing-car enthusiast who calls himself Rael has no pictures to back up his story, he and his estimated 55,000 followers in 84 countries have sought other ways to gain attention and credibility, including Friday's claim that a Raelian company has cloned a human baby.

Cloning occupies a central role in the Raelians' beliefs. In a 1975 book, Rael says the extraterrestrials whom he met outside the crater of a dormant French volcano gave him a new interpretation of the Bible and explained that humanity was created from the DNA of superior alien scientists, named the "Elohim." By creating new life from human DNA, he has since said, earthling scientists can unlock the secret to immortality.

The Raelians (pronounced rye-EL-ee-ans) also contend Jesus was resurrected using an advanced cloning technique performed by the Elohim.

The next step, according to Rael, "will be to directly clone an adult person without having to go through the growth process and to transfer memory and personality in this person."

"Then, we wake up after death in a brand new body just like after a good night's sleep!"

In addition to promising eternal life, the Raelian creed has attracted adherents with an emphasis on feminism, world peace, tolerance toward gays, sexuality without guilt and physical attractiveness.

Rael, born in Canada in 1946 as Claude Vorilhon, wears white suits and his hair gathered in a bun.

In his books and on his Web site, Rael advocates a political system of "geniocracy" -- rule by geniuses -- and "humanitarianism," a form of social justice that would bar inheritance of any property except a family home.

He also warns that humanity has entered an Apocalyptic age that began with the U.S. dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan in 1945 and may end with the return of the Elohim about 2035.

One of the Raelians' goals is to build an embassy in Jerusalem to welcome these extraterrestrial creators, whose name in Hebrew means God, but which Rael says should be translated as "those who came from the sky."

In an effort to win permission for the embassy project from the Israeli government, the Raelians in 1990 changed the original symbol of their religion, a swastika surrounded by a Star of David. Inside the Star of David there is now a swirling galaxy.

The group operates its own theme park, UFOland, near Montreal. There is also a meeting house in north Miami-Dade County, where 30 or more South Floridians meet regularly.

During the 1990s, Quebec granted religious status to the movement. Its representatives have conducted condom-distribution programs aimed at Canadian teenagers, while also promoting open sexual expression reminiscent of the free-love days in the 1960s.

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