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.
[To be continued Friday]