Who Are the Raelians?

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Claude Vorilhon, a former French journalist, is the spiritual leader of the Raelians

Saturday morning, Clonaid, a company founded by a religious group called Raelians, announced the birth of a second "cloned" baby, this time in Europe. The news comes just days after the sect's first claim of a successful clone, and has sparked worldwide skepticism — and intense curiosity: who are the Raelians and what do they believe? TIME's Anne Berryman spoke to Raelian Damien Marsic, a Frenchman now living in the U.S.

Twenty years ago Damien Marsic, then 18 and living in Nancy, France, doubted Raelian views. "When I first heard about it, I thought how can people believe such strange things!" he says. Now the 38-year-old University of Alabama at Huntsville doctoral student is a true believer and is even preparing to become a Raelian "guide," or priest.

The turning point came for Marsic after a Raelian friend loaned him "The Final Message," the book written by the movements French founder, Rael. Formerly known as Claude Vorilhon, Rael reportedly claims to have been taken up in a spaceship by a 4-foot-tall, green-skinned, long-haired, oval-eyed alien who directed him to write a book revealing the identities of the aliens as the creators of human beings. The aliens reportedly called him Rael.

Even if Marsic had doubts, Raels work "was like a calling," he said. He spent "a few months analyzing it in detail" and questioning, a practice which is encouraged by the Raelian movement. "I had been told that evolution was a fact and that life on earth appeared by itself." But "if evolution is true, how can it be that life can be created by extraterrestrials?" he asked. With further exploration, Marsic says he discovered other scientists who do not believe in evolution and with even further investigation, he "only found confirmation that the message is true."

"I really think that this book was given to mankind by extraterrestrial people," Marsic says. Raelians call the extraterrestrial creators Elohim, a Biblical term, but the Rael movement is "an atheistic religion," with "no God, no supernatural," says Marsic. Even so, "we have a spiritual teaching. We believe in love and nonviolence and, as Raelians, we always try to improve ourselves, to raise our level of consciousness. We hope to contribute to make the earth a better place."

"At the same time, we believe in infinity — no beginning, no end," he says. The universe, to Raelians, was always in existence and "there is life in infinity in different places of this universe."

"What do you think is going to happen on earth in this decade?" asks Marsic. "We will be able to travel to new solar systems and discover new planets." As scientific advances increase, humans, like the Elohim, "will be able to design new organisms from scratch," he says. "Im sure some day some people from earth will go to another planet and create new life."

The Elohim "are not gods," but beings, "like we are," says Marsic. The difference is that the Elohim have a "higher wisdom level."

"And we are going to become like them," Marsic adds. Significantly, Raelians see the Elohim as benevolent beings, devoid of aggression. The question of aggression is addressed in Raelian philosophy, which holds that creatures who are so advanced that they can create life forms will have overcome war-like emotions that would eventually destroy civilizations.

Aggression is caused by a form of emotional oppression, according to Marsic. If human beings are better educated and allowed to "liberate themselves from their feelings of fear or being guilty," believe the Raelians who oppose war, they will not become aggressive or wish to dominate one another.

Marsic says he knows little of Clonaid, except that it was founded by Rael. He says he does not know the names of any investors or how the organization is funded. He believes that Raelian dues pay no salaries within the movement or in the company, but, instead, go toward advertising speakers on the Raelian movement or for operating educational booths, like the one open recently at a holistic expo in Atlanta. He says dues begin at $150 per Raelian annually, although members can pay more if they wish.

Marsic sees Clonaids announcement that a baby has been successfully cloned as "a great thing. Its important in the symbolic point of view. It shows," Marsic says, "that we should not be afraid of science, but we should welcome science" like the world welcomes a newborn baby. Cloning a human baby is "not playing God," he says. "Rael likes to do exactly the opposite of that which some religious leaders do. We are very progressive and we oppose all the traditions that make people feel guilty."

"We support the right for everybody to live the way they want to live," he says. "Human cloning is just another reproductive option. As Raelians, we believe that science should not be stopped or should not be slowed down because science is what is helping mankind to progress."

Beyond cloning, Raelians are deeply interested in finding the technology to prolong life, which they believe will happen by transferring the contents of the brain into another brain with a new body, according to Marsic. "This is science fiction for now," he admits. But if it ever became a reality, human beings could live longer, perhaps eternally.

While Raelians do not believe in the eternal life of the soul, they do believe that the Elohims scientific advancements have allowed them to provide eternal life to a relatively few individuals, including Jesus and Mohammad, who live with other worthy human beings on another planet. When Rael wrote his message, he claimed that there only 8,400 individuals deemed worthy enough to live on this planet, Marsic says. While it is believed that Mother Theresa and Gandhi have passed muster, most others will not be so lucky.

"Thats why our philosophy of enjoying each moment is important," Marsic says. The Raelians are neither secretive nor evangelical. They would, however, like to get the word out for the good of mankind, according to Marsic. They frequently send out press releases concerning their activities, but they have received little coverage compared to the recent interest that the Clonaid announcement aroused.

The Raelians "final goal" is "to prepare" mankind "for an official encounter with the extraterrestrials," a meeting, which Marsic describes as likely to be the most important event in human history."

"As Raelians, we are very concerned with the future of mankind, and we would like to help to contribute to make it a better world than what it is right now," he says. "There is so much conservatism in society. We need to help people question themselves and think of other possibilities."

It would seem that being a Raelian in the Bible Belt of the Deep South could be a lonely experience, but Marsic says it is not. "Every Raelian is integrated into society," he claims. Even so, he knows of only four other Raelians in Alabama, only a handful in Georgia and none in Tennessee. He estimates that there are approximately 1,000 Raelians in the U.S., with concentrations in Florida, California, and the Northeast. Although the small Huntsville group does not schedule regular meetings, they do get together occasionally. "In each region or each city, people just organize themselves as they wish," he says.

Rigidity is not a Raelian characteristic. Individual expression is encouraged among Raelians. People wearing different types of clothing and hairstyles other than the top knot sported by Rael attend the annual U.S. "seminar" at Lake Mead in Las Vegas, Nev., each spring. The only common piece of attire is a medallion, bearing a symbol for infinity, which only some Raelians choose to wear.

Another large seminar is held in the summer in Canada, and "this is really great," Marsic says, because the "open-minded, very peaceful" gathering attracts Raelians and those interested in the movement from North America, Europe and Asia. "We talk about enjoying life and developing ourselves. We practice meditation."

"In our meditation, there is no supernatural. We dont believe in the soul, for example. The goal is to improve our ability to enjoy life. We are connected to the environment with our senses," he says. "This is a way to achieve a more peaceful society."

There are Raelian rituals, including baptisms and marriages. "We dont baptize children because its always a personal choice," he says. Raelian parents are not supposed to force a belief upon their children, but offer them choices.

In a Raelian baptism, a "guide" or a Raelian priest, puts his or her hand on the forehead of the person wishing to be baptized in order to transfer the baptized persons "genetic information" to extraterrestrials. The ceremony can only occur between 3 and 4 p.m. "We believe at that particular time," says Marsic, "that there is some spaceship that records what is happening."

Marsic has been training for three years to become a guide. There is no formal teaching. "Its just a life teaching," he says. To become guides, trainees must pass the approval of Raelian bishops. There are only 25 Raelian bishops in the world, but there are approximately 150 guides in the U.S.

The Raelian marriage celebrates partnerships of people who wish to live together, with a benevolent look to future separations. "The idea is people commit themselves to keep a high level of love and harmony between them and to have the wisdom to separate before this level of harmony decreases too much," Marsic says. "So, we actually encourage divorce when people dont feel like being together."

A Raelian divorce is "always done in a fun way," he says. Raelian spouses have agreed "to always be nice to each other even if we dont want to live together anymore."

At the annual seminar in Las Vegas, Marsic saw a ritual in which the ashes of a deceased Raelian, who had been cremated, were sprinkled in a forest to demonstrate that "we are a part of the infinite." The ceremony, he says, also helped "to remind us that life is something that we should care for and that we never know how long we will live. Thats why we should appreciate every moment we are alive."