A journalist once shouted "The Raëlians are great material: They're sexy, good-looking nudists, and they worship space aliens!" If that doesn't get your attention, you're probably dead.
So who are the Raëlians? Most people have heard of them but few know much about them beyond some vague reference to space aliens or cloning. The Raëlians were founded in 1973, by a young French street musician, race car driver, and automative journalist named Claude Vorilhon (please pardon my non-effort to pronounce that properly). In December of that year, he was hiking around in the crater of an extinct volcano in France and claims to have been greeted by the sight of a flying saucer coming down and landing. A little alien came out and approached him. The alien looked like a short Japanese guy and fortuitously spoke French (French being the universal language, as we know). For an hour each day over six consective days, the alien, whose name was Yahweh, met with Vorilhon and explained the true history of the Earth.
Evidently, Yahweh's alien race were called the Elohim, which also happens to be a Hebrew word with a variety of vague meanings pertaining to holiness or divine beings. Raëlians interpret the word as referring to the alien creators of humanity who came from the sky. Over the course of the six days, Yahweh explained all of the events of the Old Testament as being actual events with purely natural explanations, usually assisted by the Elohim. Adam and Eve, for example, were a literal man and woman who came from DNA custom designed by the Elohim. Humanity is literally the implanted descendants of the Elohim.
And, like the Christian second coming, Yahweh promised Vorilhon that the Elohim would return to Earth when enough of its people have learned the true history of their race and have become peaceful and prosperous. For this purpose, Vorilhon was instructed to build an embassy at which the Elohim can be received when they show up.
Well, as you can imagine, Vorilhon must have been pretty well floored by this startling experience, so much so that he adopted the name Raël, with a dieresis over the e to make it look more exotic, and set forth to found the organization specified by Yahweh. In time this became the International Raëlian Movement.
Two years later, Yahweh kicked it up a notch. He came back, and this time picked up Raël and took him for a ride in his flying saucer. They first stopped at an orbiting spa in the outer reaches of our solar system, where Raël received a relaxing massage and aromatherapy treatment — and I swear to you I'm not making this up. This is the doctrine they believe. They then proceeded to the Elohim's home world, a warm jungle planet called the Planet of the Eternals. Raël was introduced to Jesus, Buddha, Mohammad, and Moses, and the group went out for a nice dinner. Raël was then shown their facilities for creating immortal biological robots. They created one of his mother, and a whole group of attractive young females, and they all went back to Raël's apartment and had a party. Raël has written extensively about his climax at the party. Please read these accounts yourself if you think I'm in any way exaggerating or coloring this. All of Raël's books are freely available on the Internet.
The next morning Raël was taken to another facility where they used a helmet machine like something out of a Star Trek episode to "maximize his faculties", presumably making him as intelligent as possible. Yahweh then explained the importance of this procedure: It was to best prepare Raël for geniocracy, a form of government where intelligence determines who should lead. Yahweh then flew Raël back to Earth. The total time between Raël's first encounter and his return from the trip into space: 666 days.
By this time, there were a few hundred members of the Raëlian movement. Over the last 30 years or so, this number has grown to somewhere in the tens of thousands, though estimates vary. Japan and Korea in particular have taken quite kindly to the Raëlian movement, and you'll find some of their largest chapters over there.
So now let's look at all of these tens of thousands of people a little more closely, to find out who they are and what they believe. Significantly, they embrace technological advances to improve the human condition. They support genetically modified crops to best feed the growing population. They love advanced materials science and nanotechnology. They support nuclear power and fusion research for cheap, clean energy. They support genetic research and manipulation to produce people who are as healthy and long-lived as genetically possible. They support terraforming of other planets as the technology becomes available. Much has been made of the company Clonaid, which is owned and operated by Raëliens, and claims to have already created at least one human clone, amid great scientific and ethical controversy. The child is said to be a girl named Eve living in Israel. Clonaid's mission is to create human clones that grow rapidly as spare parts and new bodies for aging humans. Transfer your intelligence into your new cloned body, according to procedures detailed by Yahweh that involve advanced computer backups, and suddenly you're 25 again.
Philosophically, Raëlians oppose war and violence in all its forms. Raëlians frequently appear at anti-war rallies dressed as aliens (which seems incongruous since they say that aliens look like humans). Raëlians also embrace free love and nudity. They consider love to be the answer to virtually all of the world's problems. It's been reported that at some Raëlian conferences, attendees wear colored wristbands indicating what gender or genders they'd like to have sex with tonight. Nudity is the de facto uniform at many Raëlian retreats. I have heard from more than one source that sexual tourists to Asia are catching onto the Raëlian movement. Show up in Japan or Korea, find a local Raëlian chapter and pretend to be a fellow Raëlian, and you get all the sex you want; plus it's free and much cleaner and safer than what you get from the back alley brothels. There are affiliated Raëlian organizations dedicated to free love: Raël's Girls, for example, is comprised exclusively of atheist female adult film stars dedicated to Raël. Their web site says "Raël's Girls want to share the understanding that you can be spiritual, you can be happy, without the guilt of God and religion."
Take the perverted poseurs out of the equation and just focus on the true Raëlian philosophy, and many atheists and skeptics will find a lot that they can get on board with. Science as a solution to the problems of the world is a great strategy. Advanced technology to improve health and longevity is a great thing too. Love instead of war, who can argue with that? Moreover, the Raëlian Movement is probably less harmful than many other religions, since they don't teach that your child can be cured of his cancer by telepathically appealing to a paranormal superbeing, and so far nobody's ever fought a war or perpetrated a terrorist attack over Raëlian religious differences.
So if it's that great, why don't we all rush right out and become Raëlians today? The answer to this is similar to what I gave when we discussed neopagan religions in Skeptoid episode 23. There might be a lot to recommend about many aspects of Raëlian philosophy, but the problem comes when you examine the underlying dogma. The statement from Raël's Girls actually sums it up quite well: that you can be happy and support science and technology and love, without the guilt of God and religion; though I'd take it a step further and say that you can have all that without the fiction of Raël's ridiculous alternative creation myth and stupid alien stories. You can have all that without adopting an untrue belief system: The Elohim, Raël's spaceship rides, and the $20 million alien embassy outside Jerusalem. The Raëlian story of creation cannot be reconciled with what we know of evolutionary biology and our planet's geological development. Fundamentally, true Raëlians do what they do and believe what they believe because they see Raël as a prophet who brought back an alternative creation myth from outer space. And by doing so, they are setting aside reason and rationality. And when they go forward with their cloning research and their genetically modified crops and their free love retreats, they are doing it without reason or rationality. And that's just plain dangerous and dumb.
My guess is that a lot of Raëlians are young people who are attracted to the free love. And that's fine, but when they grow up and found companies like Clonaid doing real experiments on real humans, it's time to grow up for real and formally reject the irrationality of Raëlian dogma. The Clonaid people haven't done that. Even if you support genetic research, and a lot of skeptics do, companies like Clonaid who do it for the wrong reasons should be regarded as dangerous, dangerous animals.
Are you a Raëlian, or do you know a Raëlian? Were you cloned by space aliens? If so, please come to the Skeptoid.com web site and tell us about it on the comment form for this episode, or post it to the forum or the lively Skeptalk email discussion list.
Correction: An earlier version of this incorrectly called the dieresis over the e in Raël "two little umlauts".