By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
"In a sense, all Raelians are Jews," says Rael. "The Raelians have a particular interest in Israel because our goal is to rebuild the third temple," in the form of a government-sanctioned embassy for extraterrestrials. "It says in the Bible that whoever devotes themselves to the building of the third temple is a real Jew. So we are therefore more Jewish than most born Jews." The Raelians have the means to begin building, but are waiting for Israel to legitimize their request. If Israel doesn't cooperate by 2035, Rael teaches that the Elohim will stop protecting Israel from its surrounding neighbors. And if a more alien-friendly country agrees to build the embassy at any time before then, Israel's extraterrestrial-spiritual protection will be lifted.
Rael had Jewish ties before his encounter with the Elohim. "My mother had thought that her Jewish boyfriend had impregnated her, and that he was my father," he says. His family welcomed the new explanation. "When I told my mother and grandmother the true story, my grandmother was relieved because she said that she had seen UFOs lingering around the house over the years and had never told anyone." (See second sidebar.)
Despite the fact that he is a race-car enthusiast who claims an intimate, even familial relationship with extraterrestrials, and that he is a devout atheist with a messiah complex and a Jewish identity, Rael comes across as clear-headed and gentle. As Palmer puts it, "I have always seen Rael as a well-meaning, exciting, intelligent leader. But I have a friend who is a psychiatrist who went to go hear him speak and said he seemed totally paranoid and schizophrenic with his whole God-complex."
Still, most Raelians take their leader very seriously, says Palmer, rarely deviating from his advice. Most are tithed at 3 percent of their net worth. Those in leadership positions give 10 percent. This is not considered a high price to pay in the mission for immortality. According to Nadine Gary, who does Raelian PR, at least 100 young female members have eagerly volunteered their eggs and wombs to the higher cause.
Gary says the group has a list of more than 100 people waiting to clone themselves. She says there are quite a few homosexuals on the list (the Raelians advertise that they are more open to gays than any other pro-cloning group). The Raelians feel that cloning offers gays a wonderful opportunity to have children with their own genes. "They should have the right," says Gary.
Although neither Raelians nor gay and lesbian fertility advocates were able to produce a single person interested in cloning as of yet, Claudia Stallman, director of the Lesbian and Gay Family Building Project in Binghamton, New York, says that "advocates are interested in the prospects of any technological advances that can help gays and lesbians have children."
Of course, at this point the consensus in the scientific community is that human cloning poses serious questions. About one in 10 attempts to clone mammals result in a live offspring, says Cornell University cloning pioneer Robert H. Foote. Foote, who has been cloning animals for 15 years, explains that the overwhelming majority of cloned animals have birth defects and high mortality rates. "Cloning research is vital in that it can yield breakthroughs that will benefit humanity in profound ways," he says. "But I am completely opposed to cloning humans for reproduction. It is way too dangerous, inefficient, and expensive."
Non-Raelian advocates of human cloning include mostly infertile couples who want a biologically related child and have exhausted other means, or parents yearning to replace a child they've lost. In fact, after four years of attempting to raise funds to support her research efforts, Dr. Boissellier finally received money from a couple who wished to clone their deceased 10-month-old son. The child had died after a minor operation had gone awry. Last June, the couple donated $500,000 to Clonaid, the research lab Dr. Boissellier currently directs. Recently, however, the couple decided not to go through with the procedure.
In 1997, President Clinton, following the recommendations of his Bioethics Advisory Commission, which concluded that human cloning would be unsafe and therefore unethical, signed a five-year ban on the use of federal funds for human-cloning research. But so far, only four states California, Rhode Island, Louisiana, and Michiganhave outlawed cloning for reproductive purposes.
"I would never break the law of any state," says Dr. Boissellier. "If they legally ban cloning research in order to prohibit progress on the research, I will fight to change the laws."
Raelians are intent on cloning human cells because they believe that this is just the first, "primitive" stage of cloning. "The second stage will include cloning a person's DNA within seconds into a full-grown 18-year-old, and stage three includes mapping his brain, and downloading it into the clone," explains Dr. Boissellier. "This is how we will obtain immortality." How will we grow a DNA cell within seconds into a full-grown man or woman? "How can I say? The research hasn't been done yet. But within 50 years, we will be debating the ethics of accepting this new scientific development, I am sure."
The Raelians also have a creative, over-the-top approach to their social vision.