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:

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • other scott

    I’m much happier believing that the Earth ‘could’ have been seeded with life from another planet than I am beliving in a supernatural god. But I dont ‘need’ to believe we came from somewhere else. I’m perfectly happy to believe we evolved on this planet completely without any outside ‘help’, the idea that we are genetically engineered and that we are ‘masterpieces’ is an absolute joke.
    I’ve never understood why it is so important to some people to feel that the human being is the apex, that we are put here for a specific reason or that we are the ultimate design, we have so many obvious flaws.

  • Alex, FCD

    Raelians believe that a “repulsion beam” parted the sea so that the Israelites could cross it

    One wonders why it didn’t repel the Israelites.

  • http://www.skepticaloccultism.com/ pendens proditor

    No gods. No evolution. Who designed the designers?

  • valhar2000

    One wonders why it didn’t repel the Israelites.

    Because the Israelities had leptinium and praesodinite in their bodies, which created a pseudo-static warp shell over sub-etheric waves-particles that de-activated the repulsion filed locally.

  • valhar2000

    No gods. No evolution. Who designed the designers?

    Evidently, the Elohim are the Aliens greater than which no Alien can be conceived… therefore you must give Rael money.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    Well I for one am convinced. Sign me up! after all it seems perfectly rational that a technologically superior race would overlook a global communications and media network in favour of trying to get their message over via un délire Français they found wandering around a vinyard…hang on – wait a minute.

  • exrelayman

    How many of us are working 9 to 5? I bet Rael isn’t.

  • Mathew Wilder

    Valhar with the technobabble – shoots, scores, wins!!111!1

    Srsly, what’s sad is that this religion is no less believable than any of the more ancient variety ones, and maybe even more so.

  • Scotlyn

    This alien idea certainly puts an interesting spin on lots of Old Testament stories, though – they actually make so much more dramatic sense if the “God” zapping people left right and centre, and sending out “fiery serpents,” etc is using his “sub-etheric” alien ray gun! And Ezekiel is definitely a UFO abduction story, right?

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    Converts converts all! Maybe Ebon is really a Raelian prophet too.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    Valhar my friend, you have a bright future ahead of you as a script writer for Star Trek.

    I do recommend Rael’s book, which can be downloaded for free from their website. It’s a laugh a minute. One of my favorite parts is when Rael addresses himself to the question of why the aliens don’t just land and show themselves to everyone. His answer is that they don’t want to give the impression of special favor to any people or nation by having them be the first ones to witness an alien landing on their soil. Of course, the fact that he talks at length about how the aliens first landed in France, and chose him as their messenger to humanity, would seem to imply that the cat’s already out of the bag on that point.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Steve B –

    I’ve always wondered why aliens were smart enough to transit the galaxies in FTL craft, yet insisted on landing in some dust-clump of a town in Nevada or New Mexico, rather than DC, London, Paris, Moscow . . .

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    I do recommend Rael’s book, which can be downloaded for free from their website.

    See! I warned you.

    It’s a laugh a minute.

    Subtle and clever but you’re fooling nobody.

    One of my favorite parts…aliens first landed in France and chose him as their messenger

    Read between the lines people the truth is there to be found

    the cat’s already out of the bag

    er…I think this bit is allegorical.

  • Richard P

    I dunno’ I read some of it.. I believe Claude thinks this really happened.
    I think it was a neighbor was playing a joke on him. Good old Claude, who had drank a little too much wine, took it a little to far.
    Wonder if his neighbors snickered behind his back a lot?

  • Richard P

    Wouldn’t that be a son of a gun eh?
    Finding out your life is based on being the but end of a bad joke….
    Maybe that’s how Jesus feels.

  • nfpendleton

    Has anyone noticed how similar the word “Raelism” is to “realism?”

    Coincidence? Not likely. We’d better get to work on that embassy, stat.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    Oh, and to those skeptics who ask why the aliens don’t stage several simultaneous landings, or just temporarily commandeer the planet’s radio and TV broadcasts to present themselves: Stop thinking so hard!

  • Leum

    Ebon, why do you insist on critiquing outmoded Raëlian ideas that no serious Raëlian theologian has believed for months? Modern Raëlian thought focuses on the transcendental truth of what it means to be human in a world created by the Elohim, not on the literal nature of Their Ineffable Saucers. How can you expect us to respond to things that we don’t even believe anymore? You araëlians need to stop taking our scriptures literally, and critique them as we do.

  • http://spaninquis.wordpress.com/ Spanish Inquisitor

    And Ezekiel is definitely a UFO abduction story, right?

    Don’t forget Jonah and Submarine.

  • MS Quixote

    Oh, and to those skeptics who ask why the aliens don’t stage several simultaneous landings, or just temporarily commandeer the planet’s radio and TV broadcasts to present themselves: Stop thinking so hard!

    Come on, Ebon…haven’t you ever heard of the prime directive from Star Trek? :)

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    I’ve always wondered why aliens were smart enough to transit the galaxies in FTL craft, yet insisted on landing in some dust-clump of a town in Nevada or New Mexico, rather than DC, London, Paris, Moscow . . .

    Or why they would need lines drawn in the shapes of animals on the Nazca Plain atop the Andes Mountains so that they could land the technologically advanced craft that transported them across millions of light years.

  • Leum

    Come on, Ebon…haven’t you ever heard of the prime directive from Star Trek? :)

    Exactly, Quixote. It simply and elegantly explains the so-called Problem of non-Contact. Indeed, many theologians now question whether Raël received a literal visit from Yahweh on just such grounds. Not that I myself ascribe to such, but Ebon should at least address these legitimate avenues of thought before dismissing Raëlism.

  • other scott

    Yahweh is also thousands of yearsw olf I guess, and since human beings were the result of alien genetic experimentation i wonder why we are so shit compared to them. We die so quickly, we are obviously less intellgient, etc, etc. If we are the end product of an amazing experiemtn by some superior aliens worthy of our worship, why are we so crappy? We can’t even agree on if our creators are real

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    why do you insist on critiquing outmoded Raëlian ideas that no serious Raëlian theologian has believed for months?

    I sense a schism looming. Slay the heretic!

  • http://superhappyjen.blogspot.com Superhappyjen

    Why does every religion have to denounce evolution? You’d think a science fiction religion would want to incorporate some real science.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Leum,
    FTW!

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    You’d think a science fiction religion would want to incorporate some real science.

    Rather than Rael fiction?

  • Entomologista

    This really reminds me of the Uplift series by David Brin. The Elohim could be the Rothens, watch out!

  • Leum

    Precisely, Enotomolgista! There’s so many ways Raëlism can be true, yet only one way for it to be false. Really, this is basic probability.

  • valhar2000

    Or why they would need lines drawn in the shapes of animals on the Nazca Plain atop the Andes Mountains so that they could land the technologically advanced craft that transported them across millions of light years.

    Perhaps they have the alien equivalent of a military-industrial complex manned by some of their best minds, but lead by the alien equivalent of Dubya. I expect that Rael will soon regale us with alien PowerPoint presentations that explain how applying pressure to the Earth will result in a peaceful regime change in a few months. Just a few more months…

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  • Caiphen Martini

    Is this serious? It’s not further work of Steven Speilberg or George Lucas? I have to admit, I can understand the reasons behind your atheism. Perhaps it’s a close relative of Beatrix Potter?