Strange and Curious Sects: Raelism

As humanity’s understanding of the universe evolves, our religious beliefs change along with it, and the result is that every new religion bears the stamp of the time and place in which it first arose. Mormonism is an example – Joseph Smith used “seer stones” to translate the Book of Mormon, and claimed that the Native Americans were descendants of ancient Hebrew tribes, at a time in American history when both those ideas were in vogue. Today’s post concerns a more recent, yet equally strange sect that even more obviously exemplifies this characteristic.

Claude Vorilhon was a French race-car driver and former pop star. But in December 1973, according to his publication The Book That Tells the Truth, he witnessed a flying saucer landing in the Auvergne region of France. An extraterrestrial being emerged from the craft and spoke to Vorilhon. This being gave its name as Yahweh, and identified itself as a member of a race called the Elohim. If you’re interested, here’s what it looked like:

The extra-terrestrial human being was a little over four feet tall, had long dark hair, almond shaped eyes, olive skin, and exuded harmony and humor.

“Yahweh” claimed that the Elohim had created all life on Earth through genetic engineering, and that this event was misremembered by cultures throughout the world whose sacred texts speak of creator-gods that came from the sky. The Elohim, it explained, had been watching humanity and guiding our progress through specially-chosen prophets whom they educated, including Buddha, Moses, Mohammed, and Jesus (who was a human-Elohim hybrid, and whose miracles were accomplished through alien technology). Now that humanity has reached a high enough level of scientific development to understand this, the Elohim intend to reveal their existence, and they’ve chosen Vorilhon (who later renamed himself Rael) as their messenger.

Raelism was an early hit, most likely due to people who were already UFO devotees. Rael’s first public conference, by his own account, attracted about 2,000 people. Today the religion claims 70,000 members in 97 countries, including notable followings in South Korea and Japan.

The Raelian religion is most noted for its enthusiasm for genetic engineering and human cloning, the better to follow in the footsteps of our alien creators. A Raelian front group, Clonaid, made a sensation with their claim in 2002 to have successfully cloned a human being. No evidence for this was ever presented, and the claim is widely considered to be a publicity hoax. According to Rael’s book Intelligent Design: Message from the Designers, the Elohim have also proven scientifically that our universe is just one atom of an infinitely larger cosmos, and that each atom in our universe contains a smaller universe in turn, and so on ad infinitum.

Interestingly, Raelism officially describes itself as an atheist religion, in the sense that it does not demand belief in supernatural beings. That said, in every other respect, it exactly resembles traditional religion, right down to miracles (done with advanced alien technology – for instance, Raelians believe that a “repulsion beam” parted the sea so that the Israelites could cross it), prayer (which is explained to put one in telepathic communication with the Elohim), and life after death (Rael claims the Elohim can recreate an entire person, including personality and memory, from a single cell of their body, and that they have already done so for several thousand people who were taken to their home planet – they also plan to recreate the wicked, so that they can be punished as they deserve). And just like all other religions, Raelism’s gods are systematically immune to disproof: they refuse to reveal themselves to humanity until we obey Rael’s wishes to build an “embassy” for them.

The Raelians are also enthusiastic about intelligent design, for obvious reasons, and denounce evolution as “a myth”. Rael himself repeats many standard creationist cants, like this one:

The evolutionists are also false prophets, false informers, people who lead the majority of the population away from the truth about our creators, the Elohim. This population, which easily swallows and dumbly believes in everything said by these narrow-minded high priests in white coats… is purposely kept ignorant and so inevitably believes that which officialdom says is true. Can you begin to imagine what the Elohim feel when they see that humans attribute their masterpiece to random chance?

As I’ve noted before, alien-abduction enthusiasts often sound just like medieval believers in succubi and incubi, the only difference being that they’ve dressed up their claims in pseudoscientific terminology. But Raelism, like its ideological cousin Scientology, goes one step further by turning belief in aliens into a bona fide religion. When more religions are founded in the future, as they inevitably will be, I expect more than one will follow Rael’s lead and package their delusions in language reminiscient of the fashionable science of the day.

Other posts in this series:

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