Name: Raëlians, Raelians
Founder: Claude Vorilhon (1946 - )
Raëlians follow a belief system established in 1974 by the French racing-car journalist Claude Vorilhon. Vorilhon claims that in 1973 he was visited by a 4-foot humanoid alien who took him aboard its spaceship and told him that a race known as the Elohim, "our fathers in space," wanted Vorilhon to be their messenger to the human race.
These Elohim were responsible for the creation of a multitude of human religions, but now they wanted to "set the record straight" and inform humanity about their true origins. Past religious leaders - including Moses, Jesus, Muhammad and Buddha - had been informed about the truth, but the message had been perverted and distorted over and over. According to Vorilhon, who adopted the new name of Raël, these aliens created the human species through genetic engineering some 50,000 years ago.Vorilhon was also to establish an embassy for them here on Earth - he proceeded to do just that, determined to help humanity learn about the Elohim's message of peace, tolerance, love of science, and sexual freedom.
Followed by around 50,000 people in 84 countries (mostly in France, Quebec and Japan), this is essentially an atheistic religion - there are no actual gods and, apparently, no supernatural beings of any kind. Instead, it is centered around the veneration of alien beings. Nevertheless, traditional religious language is employed quite frequently. In addition to the alien Elohim, there is also a cadre known as the Order of Angels. These are women who have agreed to become sexual mates for the Elohim when they arrive. Not just the Elohim, however - these women will also mate with the prophets, which includes Rael. Vorilhon argues that the women are under no pressure to sleep with him because, after all, his group teaches sexual freedom anyway.
Religion or Cult?
One important debate about the Raelians is whether they are a religion or are simply a "cult." Certain aspects of their beliefs, like the emphasis on free sexuality, make them look very cult-like to outsiders. This, combined with the apparently outrageous ideas about aliens and genetic engineering have led quite a few to conclude that Raelians are not a "real" religion. However, truly impartial perspective has to ask how the Raelian beliefs are any more outrageous than many of the beliefs of mainstream religions. Is the idea that aliens created humans via genetic engineering really more implausible than the idea of God?
Such questions will certainly be sacriligious to devout followers of religions like Christianity or Islam, but the fact of the matter is they do not have exclusive control over what does and does not qualify as "religion." Not every religion will necessarily look like theirs and, as a result, they must accept the existence of religions they find strange or outrageous, especially in a religiously pluralistic society like the United States.
Frank K. Flinn, a professor of religion at Washington University in St. Louis, identifies three important things which he says characterize religions: they define a system of beliefs that explain the ultimate meaning of life, they teach religious practices (rituals, rites, ceremonies) and norms for behavior (moral standards), and they unite a body of believers into a community. According to Flinn, the Raelians readily fit this definition and qualify as a religion.
The term "cult" is a harsh and negative designation, perhaps the most negative label which can be applied to a religious group. Because of this, scholars rarely use it, instead prefering the term "new religious movement." Nevertheless, the term does have its uses and can be an accurate description of more dangerous groups which can shown to have severely negative consequences for both its members and for the rest of society. That, however, does not appear to be the case with the Raelians - but the popular perception of Raelians won't necessarily turn on such fine points.
Yesterday's cult is often tomorrow's religion, but will the Raelians ever become a mainstream religious movement? Although most never do, it is possible in this case - but one of the keys may be the eventual removal of the belief in UFOs and the genetic tinkering of aliens. Dropping such a key doctrine would be difficult, but the Mormons were able to drop the doctrine of polygamy, so such changes are not impossible.
Raelians and Cloning
Important among Raëlian teachings is a strong belief in the value of science. Partly as a result of this, Raëlians are actively involved in the attempt to clone human beings through a spin-off company, Clonaid. They have their headquarters in Valcourt, a farming community northeast of Montreal, but they tried to set up a cloning facility in Nitro, West Virginia. The facility was shut down, but the media attention gave the group quite a lot of publicity, something they are always seeking and which they never turn down. Indeed, some believe that the entire effort was part of a plan to get that publicity.
On December 27, 2002, Brigitte Boisselier, a chemist and CEO of Clonaid, held a press conference to announce that the previous day the first cloned human being had been born. A baby girl, named Eve, was carried to term and delivered by the woman who had donated the cloned DNA. Boisselier did not reveal the name of the family or even the country in which the birth occurred in order to protect the family's privacy. Boisselier also said that she expects four more babies (from North America, Europe, and two from Asia) to be born in the following weeks.
An independent team of researchers was slated to determine if the infant really was a genuine clone of her mother. Many scientists and those working in cloning research are highly skeptical of the claims and are waiting to see what the results will be. Many scientists also condemn the efforts because of the possible medical risks which a cloned human faces, including the early onset of age-related diseases and genetic defects.
Michael Guillen, a former ABC science correspondent, will oversee and coordinate the testing. Guillen has a Ph.D. in physics, math and astronomy from Cornell University, but many scientists do not have a great deal of trust in him. According to James Randi, Guillen has accepted just about every sort of pseudoscience which has come along. Randi's organization even awarded Guillen its annual "Pigasus" back in 1997 for his "indiscriminate promotion of pseudoscience and quackery."
It has also been revealed that he has tried to sell the cloning story to various news organizations. Reportedly he has written to them that he would be willing to sell an exclusive documentary for more than $100,000, claiming to know more about cloning efforts than any individual player because he has been all over the world talking to the various scientists and that they all "confide" in him, giving him a unique over-all viewpoint. Thus, it remains unclear whether Guillen's oversight will be conducted in a fair and rigorous manner. He is surely open-minded, but he may be too open and not critical or skeptical enough. After a short period of time, Guillen stepped back and removed himself from the organized effort to verify the cloning claims - Guillen expressed disappointment with the fact that neither he nor anyone else was permitted contact with the alleged parents.
Government officials said that they would investigate whether or not any US laws were broken in this research. In 2001 the House of Representatives passed a bill which would make it illegal to "perform or attempt to perform human cloning ...participate in an attempt to perform human cloning ...or ship or receive for any purpose an embryo produced by human cloning or any product derived from such embryo," but the Senate has yet to act on this measure.
Many religious groups have reacted negatively to the news, expressing anything from outrage to simple concern. Unfortunately, their own legislative efforts may hinder any attempt to halt the actions of Clonaid. Religious groups all over the nation have actively supported the passage of "Religious Freedom" laws which inhibit the government in enforcing otherwise neutral laws on religious groups when those laws interfere with the groups' religious beliefs and practices. When the government does attempt to enforce those laws, it must be done in the "least restrictive manner" possible, thus permitting religious organizations to do things unavailable to any other group.
Such laws would appear to apply to Clonaid - the company was founded by a religious group to pursue research into an area which is central to the group's most basic religious beliefs. To restrict the Raelian research on human cloning would be like restricting the work of Catholic theologians or kosher butchers. If mainstream religious groups demand that the government stop the Raelians without abiding by the "least restrictive means" test, it will be revealed that those groups are simply being hypocritical in their demands for "Religious Freedom" laws. What they really want is not greater religious freedom for everyone, but merely special religious privileges for their own religions which are not accorded either to minority religions or to secular organizations.
Clonaid has also made claims about more cloned babies being born besides the first, for a total of three in all. A second was reported to have been born to a Dutch lesbian couple on Friday, January 3rd and a thrid cloned babye was reported to have been born to a Japanese couple on Wednesday, January 22nd. This latter was also allegedly cloned from the cells of a two-year-odl child who had died 18 months earlier.
Cloning Past, Cloning Present
Interestingly, this is not the first time that the Raelians have claimed to have cloned a human being. The first time was back in 1978, when Raelian representatives alleged that they cloned a person on an undisclosed island. Due to the limitations of the technology at the time, it took three months before scientists were able to sift through the scientific claims and another three years before a court finally ruled that the cloning claims were fraudulent. Only time will tell whether the current claims hold more scientific weight than those made a quarter of a century ago.
Also Known As: none
Alternate Spellings: Raëlians
Common Misspellings: none
What is the Philosophy of Religion?
Sometimes confused with theology, the Philosophy of Religion is the philosophical study of religious beliefs, religious doctrines, religious arguments and religious history. The line between theology and the philosophy of religion isn't always sharp, but the primary difference is that theology tends to be apologetical in nature, committed to the defense of particular religious positions, whereas Philosophy of Religion is committed to the investigation of religion itself, rather than the truth of any particular religion.