This week’s entry: Raëlian Movement
What it’s about: Founders of religions tend to have impressive stories. Moses ascending to a mountaintop to talk to God. The Buddha meditating until achieving enlightenment. A French race car driver from the ’70s being abducted by aliens. Jesus’ virgin birth in a manger. All pretty good stories. But if one of those things seems to be not like the others, that’s because you haven’t been introduced to what’s surely the one true faith, Raëlism. Claude Vorilhon was the publisher of a racing magazine called Autopop and sometime driver when, in 1973, he claimed that aliens landed in a volcanic crater, telling him, in French, they came specifically to give him a message to pass on to humanity. Vorilhon began calling himself Raël, and the following year spread that message in a book called The Book Which Tells The Truth. He followed that with 1975’s credibility-inspiring Extraterrestrials Took Me To Their Planet, and in the decades since, Raëlism has taken on thousands of followers worldwide.
Biggest controversy: Raëlism didn’t just set itself as its own religion, it tried to hijack every other religion as well. According to Raël, all life on Earth was created by the Elohim, the same aliens who visited Vorilhon. The Elohim have been appearing to humans for millennia, usually in the guise of angels or gods, passing on their message to humanity through human figures like Buddha and Jesus (both of whom Vorilhon claims to have met, during a 1975 visit to the Elohim’s spaceship).
Strangest fact: Basically the whole damn thing. Like Scientology, there are levels to Raëlism, the top of which is guide of guides, or planetary guide. After that is bishop and priest, and then assistant priest. Then organizer, assistant organizer, and then level zero, trainee. We can neither confirm nor deny that trainees have to wear paper hats with the title printed on them.
Raëlist baptisms can only be performed four times a year, on the anniversaries of four historic events: The day the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, the day Raël first encountered the Elohim, the day he had dinner with Jesus on board a spaceship, and the first Sunday in April, the day aliens created Adam and Eve.
Also, if you’ve ever had someone pedantically tell you, “Well, actually, the swastika is an ancient symbol of peace!” as if it hadn’t gone through a significant rebranding, they might have been a Raëlist. The movement frequently uses the swastika as a symbol, insisting it’s not that kind of swastika. You’ll be shocked to learn this may have sabotaged the movement’s relationship with Israel, where the group was trying to set up an embassy for aliens. Raëlism has switched logos a few times, in an effort to be less offensive, but at some point has used a swastika enmeshed in a Star of David, which just feels like twisting the knife.
Thing we were happiest to learn: Take away the alien stuff, and Raëlism’s core philosophy isn’t hard to get behind. The movement stands for peace, democracy, and nonviolence. They’re pro-gay rights, and a Latter-Day Saints bishop even converted to Raëlism rather than remain in the closet in his previous faith. Raëlism has had a few clashes with the Catholic Church, giving out thousands of condoms as a protest and calling attention to the child abuse scandal as early as 2001.
Thing we were unhappiest to learn: Raëlism’s still skeevy as all hell. While one-third of the current members are women, in the ’90s, some of the female members were organized into the “Order Of Angels,” who call for “femininity and refinement for all of humanity.” It wasn’t until 2002 that the Daily Telegraph reported that the order “not only provided sexual pleasure for Raël, but also helped donate eggs for efforts towards human cloning” (more on that in the next section). If you think this makes Raëlism sound like a cult, you’re not alone—one cult specialist called the Order, “one of the most transparent movements” he had ever seen, “transparent” in the sense of obviously being a cult.
Also noteworthy: In 2001, the movement published another book, Yes To Human Cloning, which was dismissed by many as a ploy to get media attention (which was largely successful). Four years earlier, Raël had founded Clonaid, a company that intended to clone humans, and in 2002, Clonaid claimed that a woman under their care had given birth to a cloned baby, Eve (though there doesn’t seem to be a credible source to back up that claim). Raëlism’s interest in cloning is not strictly academic—one of the group’s beliefs is that they will one day be able to transfer someone’s mind into a clone of their body, giving them a younger, disease-free body and making them effectively immortal. (There are also some crazy ideas thrown in there about cloning Hitler or terrorist suicide bombers, just to bring them back to life and punish them for their crimes.)
Best link to elsewhere on Wikipedia: Raëlism’s extraterrestrial origin story can be considered an “ancient astronauts” theory. The theory holds that, at some point in prehistory, aliens visited Earth, bringing advanced technology and helping to build impressive structures like the pyramids of Giza, Machu Picchu, Easter Island’s giant Moai heads, or the Nazca Lines of southern Peru. These theories are roundly dismissed, not only for being completely unscientific, but also for the underlying assumption that non-Europeans couldn’t have possibly built anything on their own.
Further down the Wormhole: To the extent that Raëlism has caught on anywhere, the movement seems to have found the most adherents in East Asia. While a 2003 estimate had only 1,000 Raëlists in the U.S., contemporaneous accounts put four times that number in South Korea, and six times as many in Japan. There are a nearly unlimited number of topics relating to Japan we could explore, but given all the awful things going on in the world at the moment, we decided the best course is to focus on some cuteness for a change, so we’ll look at the Japanese raccoon dog next week, an adorable canine that’s everything from trickster of folklore to Super Mario power-up.