The International Raelian Movement might be the world's most science-fictional religion — at the very least, they're up there with Scientology. Their founder claims he met the aliens who created the human race, and their main ritual involves sending your DNA to an alien planet. The group announced they cloned a human baby in 2002. They want to rebuild African women's clitorises in a special Pleasure Hospital.
But if anything, the Raelians are the opposite of the Scientologists. They're goofy, laid-back, a little bit cheesy, and anything but paranoid. They strip naked in public government buildings, rent zany billboards, and pose with inflatable UFOs. There always seems to be a huge element of performance art and Burning Man-style campiness with these guys.
I've been curious about the Raelians for a decade, so when I had the chance to come to one of their meetings, with most of the top Raelian leadership in attendance, I was overjoyed. And a little bit terrified. Were they going to brainwash me? Or force me to do Sensual Meditation with them? Here's what happened on my day with the Raelians.
Top image: Cristiano Maia on Flickr.
Just Who Are The Raelians, Anyway?
Until recently, the Scientologists kept all of their wacky stuff about Xenu and the Thetans under wraps, with only the upper echelons knowing any of it. But the Raelians have always put their zany cosmology front and center, announcing it to anyone who would listen. (And some people who wouldn't.)
According to the Raelian Movement, the human race was created by a race of beings called the Elohim. (At one point during my dinner with the group, a Raelian from Mexico named Eddie earnestly cautions me not to call the Elohim "aliens," because they don't like that word. It reminds them too much of "alienation," and nobody should ever have to be called an alien. Instead, the preferred term is "extraterrestrials.")
The Elohim are a perfect race of androgynous beings, with male and female Elohim being impossible to distinguish. They've eliminated racism, and they only have one race instead of the nine they had originally. They've also done away with greed, war, poverty and other problems we still have. Over the centuries, they've sent various prophets to our world, including Jesus and Buddha, to try and raise our consciousness. And now, the founder of Raelianism is the "Last Prophet."
That's Rael, formerly known as Claude Vorilhon. He was a minor pop star in France in the 1960s, and then he became a race-car test driver and owned a car magazine. One day in 1973, he was driving in the middle of nowhere when he met the Elohim and they told him to make the human race ready for their arrival. Picture by Associated Press.
Rael wrote about his experiences in his book, now called Intelligent Design. But my best explanation of Raelian theology comes from talking to Nicole, who has been a Guide, or member of the Raelian priesthood, since 1980.
Nobody except for Rael himself has met the Elohim as of yet, says Nicole. But the overall goal of the Raelian movement is to get the human race to the point in our evolution where we can welcome the Elohim to Earth and greet them face to face. The Elohim want us to build an Embassy that they can land in (pictured at left).
In the meantime, it's up to the followers of Maitreya (as the Raelians all call Rael now) to make the world ready. But what if they don't succeed, I ask. What if humans just aren't going to evolve fast enough to build the embassy on the Elohim's timetable?
Nicole says they've considered that possibility — and there's a "Plan B." If the human race fails to evolve fast enough, we will probably wind up destroying ourselves with our high technology. And if that happens, then certain people will be spared — anybody who's followed Rael, plus certain people who have been working to make the world a better place.
If that Plan B happens, these chosen few will stay on the Elohim's planet until Earth is habitable again. Then they'll return to Earth and repopulate it with "only loving people," says Nicole. She's very kindly and could be a college professor, except that she gets a slightly weird look in her eyes when she talks about the aliens coming and taking her away to her planet. (You can see it on the video at left.)
Nicole was brought up in a strict religious family, where asking too many questions was frowned upon, and part of what she loves about Raelianism is the fact that "there are no mysteries." She lives for the day when the Elohim can "finally meet with the humanity that they created."
Hugs, Meditation and Bad Jokes
I've been sort of fascinated with the Raelians since I met them in 2005. I was on my way to a science fiction convention in San Francisco, when I ran into a group of naked people on Castro street handing out leaflets about UFOs. They were standing around in front of the Gap, five or six beautiful, stark naked men and women, smiling and greeting everybody in front of a white van. Seeing naked people hanging around in San Francisco isn't exactly unusual, but they were a large co-ed group, and abnormally cheerful. Photo by Associated Press.
In the years that followed, I heard stories about zany sex rituals — including Sensual Meditation — and a constellation of random New Age beliefs and political views that seemed like a grab bag of weirdness.
So when I got the chance to go to Vegas and attend one of their meetings, with a lot of the senior Raelians (but not Rael himself) in attendance, I jumped at the opportunity. And then I started to feel kind of nervous. Nobody was going to know where I was, and anything could happen. I decide I'm not going to eat or drink anything the Raelians give me — I don't want to get roofied for Rael. And I promise a friend that I will text her at predetermined time, so she knows I'm still okay.
On the appointed day, I fly to Vegas and make my way to a big white stucco house in a quiet neighborhood. There's a rock garden and a big stone Buddha out front. I venture inside and put down my coat and all my stuff in the corner. And then I'm swept up in a flurry of hugs. Every one of the Raelians has to hug me once, or twice in some cases. There are men who have a decent amount of product in their hair, and women wearing lots of makeup and cute party frocks. But this is Vegas, after all.
It's a fairly small group — about 20 to 25 people — and at one point Nicole says that "there are so few Raelians on this plane," that it's important to have a lot of fun when a group of them get together.
The meeting starts with introductions and stuff, and then Ricky, who's the Raelian "Continental Guide" for all of North America, leads us in (fully clothed) meditation. It's pretty much standard "watching your breathing" stuff, and then it turns into visualizing the cells in different parts of our bodies. "The cells in your arm are a little more aware of themselves, thanks to your thinking of them," Ricky says. "And now they can operate in more harmony."
Ricky has totally awesome hair and golden skin, and his red and white flannel shirt is unbuttoned about six buttons down, revealing his smooth buff chest and his Raelian medallion. That symbol, featuring a swastika inside a Star of David, has caused some controversy in Israel, among other places, but most of the Raelians wear it. And there's a giant illuminated lucite version of it sitting on a coffee table near me. Photo by Todd Huffman/Flickr.
Weirdly, for the first hour of the meeting, this political cartoon is showing on a giant-screen TV attached to a laptop.
After the meditation is done, we watch some videos about the world situation, some of which are supposed to be inspirational (full of swelling music, and images of suffering people looking upwards) and some of which are supposed to be funny. The Raelians have a lot of trouble getting Quicktime Video to work. While we're waiting for them to sort out the problems, one of their longtime members, a college professor, tells the group incredibly hokey sex jokes, like this one. Photo by Deadrobot/Flickr.
At one point, the college professor suggests that you really have to be highly evolved to get the full impact of his sense of humor.
The Cloning Thing
Chances are, you've heard of the Raelians — but it's probably been a while since you thought about them. They had their big splash in 2002, when they announced that they had cloned a girl, through their company Clonaid. The picture at left is Clonaid Brigitte Boisselier, at a 2003 press conference at which she is unveiling their proprietary Embryonic Cell Fusion System. Picture by Getty Images/David Silverman.
Rael himself testified before Congress, in a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Oversight Panel on human cloning.
Over the past eight or nine years, though, the Raelians have sort of faded into the woodwork. They still have their week-long Happiness Academy seminars in various places, including Vegas. They still get in the headlines occasionally — earlier this year, Ricky rented a billboard near a Vegas highway, with the message "There Is No God."
And Clonaid still exists. At one point during my visit to the Raelians, I'm riding in a car with Claude, their main Vegas organizer, and his second-in-command Leah. And Claude tells me that "we are still cloning many people," in his thick French accent.
"We don't talk about it much," he says, but cloning is still "going on, big-time." Claude has a big soul patch and wavy black hair, and "big time" is his favorite phrase.
According to Claude, many rich and powerful people who used to attack the Raelians now secretly support them, paying vast sums of money to be cloned so that they can live forever. But how do you use cloning to live forever? I ask. You would have to be able to transfer your consciousness into the cloned body, like in Richard K. Morgan's Altered Carbon.
That is definitely a stumbling block, agrees Claude. And there's also an ethical issue — once the clone has grown to adulthood independently, he or she will have a whole separate set of memories, and a whole identity as a person. So it wouldn't be right to erase the clone's consciousness and replace it with the mind of the original person.
Luckily, says Claude, the Raelians are working on a solution to both problems. Their scientists are close to perfected clones with accelerated growth. That way, they can produce a fully adult human clone, with no mind of his or her own.
The Raelian scientists are also close to being able to transfer someone's mind into a new body, making true immortality possible.
I'm left with the impression the Raelians were a lot more uptight during the height of the cloning hysteria. At dinner, the college professor tells us that Rael's bodyguards freaked out when the professor first met Rael and tried to hug him, back in 2003. At the time, Rael told the professor that he was worried the CIA and the FBI were trying to plant infiltrators in the group, to spy on him.
Communism With Robots
The main subject of today's Raelian meeting is the political philosophy known as Paradism, which is described as being like Communism — except that the Proletariat are replaced with robots and nanobots, who do all the work for humanity. There's no money, and everybody shares equally. This is how it's done on the planet of the Elohim.
Thomas, one of the top Raelian leaders and a vice president of Clonaid, tells us that Occupy Wall Street is part of a global revolution that's coming — but Occupy Wall Street is short on real solutions to our problems. And that's where Paradism comes in. We watch a video where Rael himself says we should welcome the coming total economic collapse, because it's like childbirth — the pain leads to the creation of something wonderful.
After we learn all about Paradism, we're divided into small groups of four or five people, and given an exercise to do. We're supposed to pretend that we're about to present Paradism to President Obama, on behalf of the Raelian Movement, and advise him on how to create a world with robot surgeons and no private property.
Right away, my small working group runs into problems. One member of the group, an older man with a giant white handlebar mustache, keeps insisting that the people who create this "robot proletariat" will need to be compensated for their labor. With money. A system of total equality and sharing will never work, because some people work harder than others, and have more specialized skills - like robot designers. Or surgeons, who can never be replaced entirely. "People are not equal, unless you give everybody a lobotomy," Handlebar Mustache says. Photo by Rachabelle/Deviant Art.
Meanwhile, another member of the group, a man with a long gray ponytail, keeps coming up with ideas like free energy via hydrogen. And maybe we can just teach the world about love and sharing, and everything else will just fall into place. The two Baby Boomers reach an impasse — they can't even communicate — and the rest of us in the group aren't much help either. We're all sitting on one sofa together, and I feel trapped in the middle. At one point Claude comes over and explains to us, with a noticeable bit of exasperation, that we need to be coming up with specific policy ideas, or there's no point to any of this.
Finally, it comes time for each of the groups to present their ideas. We're pretty embarrassed that our group has no concrete advice to give President Obama about how to get rid of money.
Luckily, some of the other groups announce that they've made some progress — one group proposes creating a TV show that's on every channel and mandatory to watch, "educating" Americans about Paradism. Another group suggests that if you inject bodily fluids from an informed rat into an uninformed rat, the uninformed rat becomes informed — it's "knowledge via chemical injection." The best group of all is led by a man in a groovy blue velvet jacket, who says Obama should stop all wars and replace the American political process with Geniocracy, the Raelian philosophy in which geniuses rule over everyone else. Obama should also abolish the Federal Reserve and order the U.S. military to do urban renewal in the United States. Photo by Veeyawn/Flickr.
Meanwhile, the college professor complains that Obama lost all credibility as a leader when the Administration recently said there was no evidence of alien visitations on Earth. That proved President Obama "is not an informed source."
Later, I chat with Pablo, a Raelian who came to the United States from Cuba in 1986, on a raft made out of inner tubes. He was nearly eaten by sharks twice during the six-day journey. Nobody hates Communism more than Pablo.
"I had the opportunity to live in a Communist country," says Pablo. "I would never wish for somebody to live in a Communist society." But he says that Raelian teachings, like Paradism and Geniocracy, are different than authoritarian Communism, because they're "more compassionate." Pablo used to be a Buddhist, and he sees Raelianism as similar to Buddhism — only with more answers about what we're doing on this planet.
Later, we all go to dinner at a Tapas restaurant, where I notice that almost nobody shares their small plates with each other.
Go searching online for recent pictures of the Raelians, and you'll mostly find pictures from various LGBT Pride parades from around the world. The Raelians have really embraced the queer community, and Claude tells me very earnestly that they're into supporting all sexual and gender identities. "I vibrated when I first heard that," Claude adds.
The book Sensual Meditation contains a lot of stuff about how disgraceful it is that gay and lesbian people are attacked and discriminated against. And Claude tells me that not only is everyone on the Elohim planet androgynous and lovely, but one evening at Happiness Academy is always devoted to dressing as the opposite gender, so that people can be freed from their preconceptions. (At dinner, the college professor tells us a story about how he dressed up on the wrong night, and wound up splitting his dress open.) Image by Steve Newton on Flickr.
In Sensual Mediation, Rael writes about wanting to open Centres of Sensual Meditation, "which are truly schools of sensuality," in various cities including Montreal and Brussels. There, consenting adults (and in France, people over 15 who have a note from their parents) can learn about sensual touching and compare their naked bodies with each other. They can learn "how to use their organs to attain the maximum pleasure." As far as I know, no permanent Sensual Meditation Centres have yet been opened.
And meanwhile, the Raelians want to open a Pleasure Hospital in Africa, where they'll perform reconstructive surgery on African women who've undergone female genital mutilation. This "Adopt a Clitoris" program has been controversial — to say the least — among feminists, who see a lot of problems with white people saying they're going to "adopt" African people's genitalia.
I ask a bunch of the Raelians about their "Clitoraid" venture, and they insist that it was actually started by an African woman, who asked them to help out.
Nicole describes female genital mutilation as "a crime against humanity," and says that "we want to stop that from happening, and give every woman the right to have sexual pleasure." And she believes that by reconstructing damaged clitorises and allowing African women to feel pleasure again, the Raelians can prove that female genital mutilation is pointless as well as cruel — because it's reversible.
What would you say to the Elohim?
If there's one thing that's a bit disturbing about the Raelians in person, it's the way they throw around words like "genius" and "scientist," as if they're talking about a type of person. They want the world to be governed by geniuses, instead of by popularly elected representatives, and they keep talking about how scientists can advise leaders in Africa. These seem like smart people, but not necessarily the smartest people in the world. And their obsession with rule by scientists reminds me slightly of mid-1970s Doctor Who villains.
At dinner at the Tapas place, I ask Thomas and some of the other Raelians about the whole "geniocracy" thing — isn't rule by geniuses a bit, well, elitist?
Not really, they all say. The system we have now, in which the people with money get to control the government, is the true elitist system. And the geniuses would be serving humanity, not ruling over us. "Geniocracy" would only happen if the people chose to get rid of democracy via the democratic process. Photo by Scepdoll/Flickr.
Pablo, the Cuban refugee, tells me that America can never become Communist, because once people have tasted freedom, they'll never give it up. It would be like if he told me that I have to move back in with my parents and live with a curfew and stuff. Once you've been free, you can't take that away from people. But Pablo says geniocracy is "a great concept, because when a genius invents something, they do it for the welfare of the human race. When Albert Einstein invented atomic energy, he wasn't thinking about building a bomb." So geniuses, by definition, are people who have good intentions, who can help us solve our problems.
So what would Pablo say to the Elohim, if he could meet the aliens who created the human race and then abandoned us? Would he be pissed, or full of questions about why they left us all alone? No, he says. "I would say 'Thank you... Thank you for everything.' We're here because of them. Sometimes when you're going through trials and tribulations, you say, 'Oh, it would be nice if they were here helping us out,' but at the same time, we have to grow. We have to do our own growing."