RELIGION IN THE NEWS
Spring 2003, Vol. 6, No. 1

Table of Contents
Spring 2003

Quick Links:
Articles in this issue

In the South:
The GOP Gets Religion

What Christian Right?

The Undetected Tide

Church Notes

The New Governing Party

The Bible in Memphis

The Decalogue in Montgomery

***

A World of Hurt

James in the Box

O Brother, Who Art Thou?

UnRael!

What Would Jesus Drive?

 

UnRael!
By Susan Palmer

Writing in these pages three years ago, I described the appearance of Rael, founder-prophet of the world’s largest UFO religion, before the U.S Senate’s human cloning subcommittee in March 2000 as the “apotheosis” of the Raelians’ 30-year arm-wrestling match with the news media. I was wrong. The annunciation of Baby Eve as the world’s first human clone was the true apotheosis.

The story broke during the news dead zone between Christmas and New Year’s. By the time it wound down four weeks later, a host of journalists were left with the feeling they had been hoodwinked by Brigitte Boisselier, Ph.D., Raelian Bishop and CEO of Clonaid, the private company alleged to have perpetrated the deed.

“Cloning a Bit Fishy” ran the Montreal Gazette headline January 8. “But oh, baby,” wrote reporter Lisa Fitterman, “what a public-relations coup it was—if only for a few shining moments.”

The kick-off was a December 27 press conference at the Holiday Inn in Hollywood, Florida. “She is born,” Boisselier declared. “She is fine. We call her Eve.” When one of the reporters started to interrupt, she said, “Let me speak. This is my day.”

“Perhaps mistaking the venue for the other Hollywood,” wrote the Toronto Globe and Mail’s Jacques Goddard, “she launched into an Oscar-style acceptance speech.”

Miraculous babes are, of course, nothing new in new religious movements. Prophets have regularly expected infant Adams and Eves to usher in a Golden Age. Joanna Southcott, the English prophetess of the 1770s, announced at age 64 she would bear a son named Shiloh who would rule over the new age—until her false pregnancy subsided. The Theosophists had their boy avatar, Krishnamurti; the Solar Temple, their “cosmic child” Emmanuelle.

In the Raelians’ apocalyptic drama, Baby Eve is supposed to be proof of humanity’s extraterrestrial origins and a signal that we earthlings ourselves are undergoing “elohimization”—maturation into alien Creators. But what makes the Raelians unique is their use of the news media to make known their prophesied miracle child. Like the Beast of the Apocalypse, the media play ball.

“The tabloids have landed,” wrote the Gazette’s Gavin Taylor December 29, describing the instant infestation of Quebec by less-than-respectable global media eager to sample the “heady mix of weird science, loony religion, and kinky sex.” The Cloned Baby tale appeared on the front page of newspapers around the world and dominated magazines and news shows.           

Clonaid’s fireworks display was designed to last. Boisselier claimed on BBC TV’s “Breakfast with Frost” that three more cloned babies would be born by late January or early February.

Worldwide notoriety, at least, the Raelians achieved. News reports referred to them as “cloneheads” and “nutbars.” Their deeply felt religious beliefs were described as “bizarre,” “kinky,” and “wacky.” At the same time, journalists kowtowed to Rael, to the extent of calling him “Your Holiness,” as he insisted. Boisselier was flattered, photographed, and feted with expensive lunches and makeup crews—and insulted the next day in print. And everyone went home happy.

“There are plenty of reasons for being sceptical about [her] claims,” Alasdair Palmer wrote in the Gazette December 30. “One is she is a member of a stupefyingly stupid sect, whose founder claims to have been abducted by aliens. It is a truly awful possibility that a giant leap forward in mankind’s technological history.…should be achieved by a sect of evident nutters who believe in alien abduction.”

“Let me see if I’ve got this straight,” said Keith Oberman in a posting on Poynteronline’s Romanesko media news service. “A woman whose hair is streaked orange, white, silver and gray and who admits she belongs to a cult founded by a guy who says aliens…created human life…comes out and says she has succeeded in cloning people—and some of us believe her?”

These doubts were reinforced when the sometime journalist who had agreed to oversee tests to verify the claim allowed as how the whole project might be “an elaborate hoax.” Writing in the New York Times January 7, Kenneth Chang described Dr. Michael Guillen, former science editor of ABC News, as being frustrated by his postponed access to the alleged clone. The whole purpose, Guillen suggested, was “to bring publicity to the Raelian Movement.”

Once it became clear that no proof would be forthcoming, journalists unleashed a flood of horror and condemnation in quotes from bio-ethicists and religious leaders. Portraits of Raelians as mad scientists and fanatical fascists experimenting on humans in secret labs and messing around with defective embryos and body parts ŕ la Frankenstein proliferated in the tabloids.

Anticultists stepped onto the stage. “The first quality of a Raelian is utter submission to Rael!” an ex-Raelian Montrealer who had changed his name to “Exrael” told La Presse of Montreal. Florida Today compared the Raelians to the mass-suicide UFO cult, Heavens’ Gate. Calls for greater government control over “dangerous cults” (which in Canada would result in more funding for anti-cult organizations) were issued by the likes of Calgary Herald columnist Diane Francis (“Immigration officers should have a few questions for Quebec cult”).

Then an unexpected twist bent the story line. On January 12, the Miami Herald reported that a Florida lawyer had filed a petition seeking a guardian for “Eve” and asking that her unknown parents be summoned before a Florida court for a hearing ten days hence. Whereupon Clonaid’s vice-president, Thomas Kaenzig, disclosed in a telephone interview that Clonaid company was not incorporated anywhere, had no board of directors, and kept him “largely ignorant about its operations.” He personally did not know the location of “Eve.”

That went for Rael too. As he told the Washington Post’s Daneen Brown January 17, “I don’t know where and I don’t know with what person…. I don’t know the family, I don’t know where is the laboratory. I don’t know the scientists. I know absolutely nothing. I just learned, like everybody else, when she announced the birth of the child.”

On January 23, Boisselier held a press conference in Toronto to announce that the American parents of the still untested baby “Eve” planned to vanish forever. Admitting she had never seen Eve up close, only on videotape, she announced, “I will not have contact with them anymore.” As Graem Smith of the Globe and Mail put it, “The president of a firm that doesn’t formally exist said…she still can’t prove her ‘human cloning company’ has cloned any humans.”

By then, so far as the media were concerned, there was no doubt that Rael and Boisselier had joined the ranks of faith-healing and snake-oil-peddling charlatans. And their subsequent behavior did nothing to change minds. On January 28, Simon Boivin of Le Soleil had Rael whispering to Boisselier in an off-camera moment during the Pierre Maisonneuve talk show, “It is going well…too bad they didn’t put in that last phrase. We have to make the families cry, the women, the mothers, they will take out their handkerchiefs.” For a prophet who rejects marriage and devalues parenthood, it didn’t look too good.

And what has the reaction of rank-and-file Raelians been to all the furor?

On Sunday, January 19, I bumped into a group of them at Le Commensal, Montreal’s top vegetarian restaurant. They pecked my cheeks enthusiastically, chiding me for not attending the third-Sunday-of-the-month gathering at Theatre Gesu where Rael had just dropped in to make two momentous announcements.

First, he claimed his mission was “fifty-percent complete.” He was referring to his mandate from the Elohim to “spread the message” of humanity’s true origins. “It’s done. I’ve informed the entire planet of my message.”

The Baby Eve affair was thus an unqualified success. The media had played right into his hands, assisting the “Last and Fastest Prophet” to bring about a successful denouement to the Age of Apocalypse.

Moreover, Rael’s Pope-baiting efforts had for the first time elicited a direct response from the Vatican. The Pope, “his sworn enemy,” had reacted to “Eve” by denouncing cloning as “an expression of a brutal mentality lacking all ethical and human consideration.” Since Rael’s millenarian agenda requires that he depose the Pope and close down the Vatican, this was an auspicious moment pleasing to the extraterrestrials. “This event saved me 20 years of work!” Rael exclaimed, triumphantly.

His second announcement was to appoint Boisselier as his successor. Expressing delight at her efficient means of spreading the message, he said, “If Brigitte has done it, she has achieved a wonderful thing and should receive the Nobel prize. If it isn’t true, it’s the most beautiful scientific joke…but in any case, whether true or false, it has allowed us to communicate our message to the whole planet. I want to thank Brigitte eternally for it, and when I say eternally, I mean it.”

The Calgary Sun, which reported the story January 20 under the headline, “Raelian Founder Admits Report of Cloning Could be False,” overstated the case but not by much.

My Raelian friends boasted that membership had skyrocketed from 50,000 to 60,000 since “Eve.” Then I asked about Clonaid.

 “Clonaid is not a company,” said Michel Beluet, the former director of the Raelians’ theme park, UFOland. “It was never a company. It is a project! It has a web site—but the real name of the company behind the web site called ‘Clonaid’ may never be known.”

Baby Eve was not, Beluet claimed, the first human clone. “There are cloned children right now crawling all over the earth—sure there are!” he said. “In a few years they will come forth and be known.”

“We’re having so much fun right now,” said an Assistant Guide, or priest. “We are doing our diffusion on the street, and when pretty girls stop on the street to talk to us, I lean forward and say, ‘Can I have one of your hairs, please?’ and hold up a plastic bag. They freak out—they think we can clone them on the spot!”

The Raelians all burst out laughing.

   

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