VILNIUS, Lithuania .- Recent reports of the birth of a cloned baby have focused world attention on the group that claims to have pulled off the feat.
The cloning report came from Las Vegas-based Clonaid, whose founder started the Raelian Movement.
To better understand what is behind the announcement, ZENIT interviewed Massimo Introvigne, director of the Italy-based Center for Studies on New Religions (www.cesnur.org). He is currently in Lithuania preparing his institution's 2003 World Conference, scheduled for April 10-12.
Q: How did this sect come into being? Who is Rael?
Introvigne: First of all, I want to make it clear that I do not use the word "sect," which at present has acquired more controversial rather than scientific meaning.
Claude Vorilhon, who is at the origin of the Raelians, was born in Vichy in 1946. With a passion for motoring, he founded and directed a sports magazine dedicated to cars. On Dec. 13, 1973, in the crater of Puy de Lassolas, one of the highest volcanoes in Clermont-Ferrand, he experienced -- this is what he says -- "contact" with an extraterrestrial being, the size of a child, who invited him to get into a UFO, where he revealed to him the truth about the Old and New Testament, which would be completed by subsequent revelations.
According to these revelations, many years ago, extraterrestrial beings similar to men learned how to create life in a laboratory. Part of the inhabitants of the planet were scandalized by the discovery, and obliged the scientists to continue their experiments in a distant planet, the Earth.
Here the Elohim -- that is, the extraterrestrial beings, "those who came from Heaven," in keeping with the word used in the Bible, improperly translated as "God" -- created men by cloning, in their image and likeness. Then, surprised by the aggressiveness of their creatures, they exiled them from the "laboratory," the "terrestrial Paradise."
However, later, some Elohim united themselves with terrestrial women, thus giving origin to the Jewish people. Meanwhile, in the Elohim's planet, an opposition party -- led by Satan -- thought that dangerous beings had been created on earth and asked for their destruction. Satan's theses prevailed, and the deluge took place -- in reality, an atomic bombardment.
However, a group of Elohim succeeded in saving some creatures in Noah's Ark -- a spaceship. After the deluge, the Elohim realized that they had been created, in turn, by beings from another planet -- and so, ad infinitum -- and promised never to destroy humanity again. What is more, they sent messengers to Earth -- Moses, Jesus -- born from the union between the head of the Elohim and a terrestrial woman -- Buddha, Mohammed and others -- to reveal the truth, although initially in an allegorical and veiled way.
However in 1945, the year of the atomic explosion in Hiroshima and of Vorilhon's conception, the era of the Apocalypse began: the "revelation," the era in which the truth can be presented in scientific and no longer allegorical terms.
The extraterrestrial being conferred the name "Rael" on Vorilhon -- "the messenger," in French it is written with dieresis, Raël -- and gave him a series of counsels for humanity of our time.
In 1974, Rael published "The Book That Tells the Truth," and founded MADECH -- Movement for the Welcome of the Elohim, Creators of Humanity. There was no agreement within MADECH among those with a passion for UFOs, the curious and Rael's followers in the creation of a new atheistic religion. So, in 1975, Rael left MADECH. On Oct. 7, 1975, in Roc Plat, Brantome, he met extraterrestrials again and this time they even allowed him to visit the Elohim's planet.
New revelations arose, in which it was said, among other things, that Rael is the fruit of a relation between Yahweh, the head of the Elohim, and his mother, kidnapped from a flying saucer and inseminated as [according to him] in fact happened with Jesus' mother, which he gathered in several volumes. Rael founded the Raelian Movement in 1976.
After the success of a conference tour held that same year, Rael went to the Canadian Quebec, particularly tolerant of religious minorities, where he established the International Raelian Movement center, which he named Raelian Religion in 1998.
Q: How are the Raelians organized?
Introvigne: The movement has a hierarchical organization that makes a distinction between the "Structure" -- composed of close to 1,500 of those more involved in the movement; the Guides at the top -- and the simple members -- about 50,000.
Within the Structure, five levels are found, from the bottom up: Leadership Assistance, Leaders, Assistant Guide, Priest Guide, Bishop Guide and finally Planetary Guide or "Guide of Guides" -- Rael himself.
In the 1990s a religious order reserved for women was also created, the Order of Rael's Angels. They are divided in "rose" angels, for the time being only six, and "white" angels, an additional 160, for the purpose of caring for Rael, including emotionally and sexually -- as well as of the other 39 prophets and of the Elohim [...] only when they return to the Earth, and of spreading the Raelian message among women who are not part of the movement.
The return of the Elohim is expected in 2035. The Raelians plan the construction of an embassy to receive them -- though not in Israel, the place originally foreseen, where, however, the difficulties seem insurmountable. And this plan was prepared also by the activity of UFOland, a sort of museum and ufological propaganda center established in Valcourt, Quebec, but closed in 2001.
In France, the Raelians were among the principal targets of the anti-seven movement, but they reacted with firmness, obtaining even some considerable success in the courts.
Q: What does Rael teach?
Introvigne: The Elohim, the creators of man, supposedly revealed to Rael all the ingredients to found his "atheistic religion": neither God, nor the soul, nor Paradise, nor hell exist. After death, those who are worthy will be "re-created" on the Elohim's planet.
To facilitate the work it will be opportune for a Guide, a Raelian leader, to transmit the cellular plan of the faithful one to the Elohim, in an apposite ceremony, and that at the moment of death the frontal bone -- from which the "re-creation" will stem -- will be transmitted to the head of the movement --the Guide of Guides: Rael. The sample of the frontal bone has been the object of specific agreements between the Raelian Religion and funeral agencies.
Among the Elohim's practical counsels, which are also, so to speak, of a political character, is the "geniocracy" according to which the active and passive electorate should be reserved to persons with an above-average intelligence quotient. Given the controversies, however, Rael has presented the geniocracy as a classic utopia, planned as a provocative ideal and not destined to be literally realized.
Q: What is cloning for the Raelians?
Introvigne: Cloning, as we have seen, is the way in which, according to Rael's revelations, human beings have been "created" -- in reality, rather, "fabricated" in a laboratory -- by the extraterrestrials. The latter, in turn, were cloned one day from other extraterrestrials, and so ad infinitum. Rael does not tell us from where the first extraterrestrials came, who should be the origin of the whole chain.
Therefore, in cloning people, they do no more than repeat the experiment of the extraterrestrials of which they are a product. It must be clarified that an authentic cloning would be one that consists in reproducing the adult man in the same state in which he finds himself, in fact, in a better state, free of illnesses and old age. According to Rael, it is not about the cloning that takes a baby out of man. This is only a first step.
VILNIUS, Lithuania - To put the recent claims of a cloned baby in perspective, it helps to know something about the Raelian Movement.
The Raelians established the Clonaid enterprise that claimed to have cloned a baby. Many scientists greeted the report with skepticism.
Massimo Introvigne, director of the Italy-based Center of Studies for New Religions (http://www.cesnur.org/), discussed the Raelian phenomenon. He is in Lithuania preparing for an April conference.
Q: What is the origin of the fascination with scientific progress free from ethics, so typical of the Raelians?
Introvigne: According to Rael -- Claude Vorilhon, founder of the Raelians -- extraterrestrials teach that, insofar as their creations, men have never been called to limit the possibilities of science. In fact, they must try to discover every possibility inscribed in their bodies and minds. For this reason, beginning in the year 2000, they launched experiments in human cloning.
This idea, according to which there are no ethical limits to science and everything that is technically possible is automatically licit, has made some researches, who cannot abide the limits of ethics and the law, feel attracted to the ranks of the Raelians.
On the other hand, if men are the creations of a laboratory, they have no obligation to repress their desires or their sexuality. The Raelian Religion distrusts marriage, regarding it as a useless contract; teaches the greatest sexual freedom, according to which, sexuality can freely manifest itself, provided that it does not abuse others.
The Raelians' explicit propaganda for masturbation, birth control, premarital relations -- often of an anti-Catholic hue, manifested in the "condom-autos," namely, special cars with instructions to distribute condoms outside Canadian schools, or operations to distribute condoms during the Great Jubilee -- has appeared in news reports in Quebec and other countries.
"Sensual meditation," taught by Rael, which in reality is not reduced to sexual aspects but seeks the restoration of the harmony between man and the cosmos, promises -- among other things -- greater fulfillment in amorous relations.
Q: Are they influential? Do they have money? Are they dangerous for their members?
Introvigne: Raelians have influence only on their members and on Clonaid clients. The world press and scientific community speak rather badly of them. And in the environments themselves that believe in flying saucers and in extraterrestrials, Rael is regarded as a figure who, because of his comments, runs the risk of disqualifying the whole movement of those who believe in UFOs.
Certainly, Rael has succeeded in winning many followers, many of whom pay a contribution to the movement; and now there are several rich individuals who, technically, are not Raelians, but who contribute financially, hoping to be cloned. As they no longer believe in anything, they see in cloning the only possible immortality.
As regards their degree of danger, I think it is necessary to distinguish strictly between spiritual, moral and social danger. From a spiritual point of view, from a Catholic perspective, the Raelian doctrine reminds one of the "machine-man" of certain philosophers of the Enlightenment, and represents modernity in all that it has that is brutally anti-Catholic.
From the moral point of view, I am convinced that human cloning, if it were possible, is reprehensible and illicit, and that in general the Raelian principle, according to which everything that is technically possible is also licit, destroys morality. Unfortunately, this idea is not only held by the Raelians.
From the social point of view, in a pluralist society, each one is free before the law -- not before their own conscience, although the two levels are different -- to believe or not believe what he wishes; therefore, to believe that Rael travels in flying saucers with extraterrestrials, who preach sexual revolution and atheism.
The distinction between these three levels -- spiritual, moral and social danger -- is very important to preserve both Catholics' right to witness to their faith, as well as the duty to respect religious freedom and freedom of thought, in keeping with the teachings of the Church's social doctrine.
Spiritual and cultural dangers are combated from the pulpit and, spreading positive values, there is no need to call the police. Social dangers, however, are combated through the police and judges.
Human cloning must be prohibited because it is socially destructive, not because it is proposed by the Raelians; and it must be prohibited for all, not just for the Raelians. The same can be said about the distribution of condoms to minors, and to individuals who in any case do not want to receive them. This must also be prohibited, as it disturbs the common good, regardless who causes it, and not because it is the Raelians, who are strange beings who believe in flying saucers.
In some countries, the state distributes condoms to minors, on a much larger scale and, therefore, violates the common good more gravely than the Raelians. It is perfectly possible to defend at once the religious freedom, or freedom of thought, of the Raelians to believe in extraterrestrials -- and to propagate their beliefs on the subject -- and to ask them to put an end to their experiments on human cloning or their campaigns to distribute condoms, as it is to any other person, I repeat.
Q: Do you think that they have really cloned human beings?
Introvigne: It is possible that the experiments were really carried out. Among the Raelians, there are individuals with scientific capacities, although not of a very high level, and there are also scientists who do not tolerate any ethical or legal limit to experimentation, who help them. However, it is possible that it is a total fraud.
Although it might seem difficult to believe, from the personal point of view, for Rael this would not be at all important. Rael's real ability -- remember that he was a journalist -- is to convert everything that surrounds him into front-page news: news of the cloning, even if it was to be discovered to be false, would nevertheless have given incredible worldwide publicity to the Raelians, something that could never be paid for with money.
I have interviewed Rael on two occasions, and I am convinced that the man is perfectly aware that today it is impossible for the international media to speak well of him. Who would speak well of a figure who walks arm in arm with extraterrestrials and says that they have a machine to clone beautiful women for the sole purpose of satisfying their desires?
For many years, Rael has made Oscar Wilde's motto his own -- taken up also by George Bernard Shaw -- according to which there is only one thing worse than having a bad press, and that is to have no press take an interest in you.
The condoms they distributed during the Jubilee, and cloning, would be suicidal blows if Rael hoped to have a good press, but they are master blows if he wishes to attract the interest of the press, and on the front page, knowing very well that, nevertheless, they will speak badly of him.
Rael might be a bad prophet, but he is an optimum adman. If we rend our garments too much before Rael, in the end we play his game. Rael provokes precisely because he expects someone to respond.
A big field for research opens up here. Since the time of Aleister Crowley, and perhaps even earlier, the most extreme religious movements have reasoned like Rael and have knowingly furnished material to the press that attacked them.
We know today, from a thesis defended a few years ago at Princeton University, that Aleister Crowley, one of the most controversial figures of the history of occultism, furnished secret material against himself to popular English newspapers that attacked him, defining him as "the most evil man on earth" and "a man we would like to hang," and he even took a percentage of their sales.
One can suspect that many new religious movements -- or at least those that have by now given up the possibility of having a good press -- will behave like Crowley ... or like Rael, and knowingly fuel hostile campaigns, in order to remain on the front page. From this point of view, the media realm, above all that of television, promotes the very figures it affirms to combat.