The New Heretics of France: Minority Religions, la République, and the Government-Sponsored "War on Sects"

By Susan J. Palmer | Go to book overview

3
The Raelian Movement
A Challenge to Sexual Mores and Scientific Orthodoxy

The Raelian Movement1 is arguably the world’s largest “flying saucer cult.”2 Its spokespersons boast of 80,000 members worldwide.3 On December 26 (Boxing Day) of 2002, Brigitte Boisselier, a bishop in the Raelian church, held a major press conference in Miami. There she proudly announced the birth of “Eve,” the world’s first cloned baby. She claimed this had been achieved through the clandestine efforts of Clonaid, a company she had cofounded with other Raelians in 1997 to promote human cloning.

The Raelian Movement and its founder, Raël, enjoyed a few months of global fame and glamorous controversy. But when the cloned baby failed to materialize, however, the international media decided they had been duped, and had inadvertently cooperated with the Raelians in “spreading the message” of humankind’s extraterrestrial origins.4 Journalists then made it a policy to ignore the press releases of what came to be known as the “cloning cult.”

But what is less known about the Raelian Movement is that its early controversies began in France. Claude Vorilhon, later dubbed “Raël” by the extraterrestrialists, was born in 1946 in Vichy, and a study of his childhood shows that “lit le Claudy” (as his Aunt Thérèse affectionately called him) was a product of the historical and philosophical influences peculiar to France.

Claude Vorilhon claims in his biography that he was taught in secondary school to revere Science and despise Religion—and he went on to found “the first scientific religion.”5 Like all French children, Vorilhon studied Voltaire and Rousseau in school—and his speeches are redolent with eighteenth-centurystyle rationalism and rhetoric. His aunt and grandmother were firm atheists, and as a child he imbibed the militant brand of atheism and anticlericalism peculiar to the worldview of French laïcité.

Raël’s conception and illegitimate birth took place within a climate of religious persecution. His biological father was a Jewish refugee who was hiding from the Nazis during the German occupation of France in World War II. Later,

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