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.
Part 1 of this interview appeared Thursday.
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 Alistair 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 Alistair 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.