Close Encounter of the Raelian Kind

Raelianism was founded 30 years ago in France by auto-racing reporter Claude Vorilhon. Now known as "Rael," he claims that in 1973 he was approached by a four-foot-tall alien who identified himself as one of the "Elohim"—humanoid, all-powerful extraterrestrials who had created life on Earth through cloning. Vorilhon was the chosen son. His single mother had been artificially inseminated by one of their number, and he was to prepare earthlings for the Elohim's return.

The alien told Vorilhon that DNA is our essence, and that it can be preserved for eternity. He also was told that all earthly religions are misinterpretations of the true extraterrestrial gospel, and that human beings should liberate themselves from the scientifically limited and sexually and artistically repressive tendencies of mainstream religion.

The alien explained that an account of the Elohim's work can be found in the Bible, which, he said, is the oldest atheist book in the world. The alien entrusted Vorilhon with the mission of propagating this revelation and building an embassy in Jerusalem, where the Elohim will officially return very soon, along with Jesus, Moses, Buddha, and Muhammad, who are being kept alive on a distant planet thanks to cloning.

And then the white, green-tinged creature renamed Vorilhon: Henceforth he would be known as Rael.

Since that time, Rael has attracted 55,000 followers in 84 countries. Lapsed Catholics respond readily to his New Age message, couched in familiar New Testament themes. Raelianism also has thousands of followers in Japan and South Korea and a handful of Jews in Israel.

The Raelians' quirky Web site (www.rael.org)—which greets visitors with a flash film depicting a sombrero-shaped flying saucer speeding around the Earth—is accessible in 17 languages, including Mandarin, Farsi, Swedish, and Slovenian.

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