Before he was Rael, Claude Vorilhon was just a race car and music enthusiast. However, after a visit from extraterrestrials, his worldview shifted and he founded Raelism — the religion that says humanity is an alien experiment.
What’s the difference between a cult and a religion? Is it a matter of how strange a group’s beliefs are? If so, how strange do they need to be to draw a clear line between faith and delusion? It’s not always clear, of course. But no matter how you judge it, Raelism is certainly straddling that line.
Let’s start with the founder of the religion, Claude Vorilhon, or as he’s known to his followers, Rael. Vorilhon started his journey as a musician, and actually had a promising hit single. He also had a promising career as a sports-car and auto-racing journalist, even publishing his own magazine Autopop in 1971.
But in France in 1973, his life took a strange turn. That year, he claims he received a visit from an extraterrestrial being that called itself “Yahweh.” As it turns out, Yahweh had an extremely important message for Vorilhon to relay to the people of Earth.
According to Yahweh, humanity was the result of a genetic experience by an advanced race of aliens called the Elohim. The Elohim mated with human women to create prophets on Earth to reveal this truth like Jesus, Buddha, and Mohammed. Yes, all three were half-alien. In fact, Vorilhon eventually claimed he got the chance to meet them on another planet.
Because humans were so primitive, they weren’t capable of understanding these prophets’ messages and made religions around them instead. So, it was up to Vorilhon to correct these mistakes of the past. Claude Vorhilon took a new “alien” name, Raël, and set out to spread the aliens’ message across Earth.
Basically, Raelism is based around the idea of improving humanity to the point that the Elohim will be able to visit. And on that day, they’ll help set up a new society without hunger, war, or suffering. To that end, Raelism has a few basic tenants that believers should follow.
First, they reject any of the rules of established religions about sexuality. Raelism teaches that love should be free and in no way seen as shameful. Second, they advocate for universal peace and understanding across humanity. Sounds fairly reasonable so far, right? Well, hold on to that thought, because here is where things get weird– or at least weirder.
One of the most important beliefs in Raelism is that humans need to perfect cloning technology. Apparently, aliens have already done this, and use it to transfer their minds to new bodies when they die. According to Raël, Jesus’ resurrection is a good example. And by perfecting cloning, Raël believes that humans can also achieve immortality.
You see, advanced alien supercomputers are recording your DNA right now. And one day, when the aliens return, they will judge your life to decide if you get a new cloned body. If you lived a good life, you get to live forever by swapping out bodies. If you were evil, or just didn’t do anything particularly positive for others, then you don’t.
The ultimate goal of Raelism is to create both a perfect society and an embassy for the aliens to visit Earth. Ideally, Raël wants this embassy to be in Israel, since the Hebrew people were the first to be contacted by the aliens. But he isn’t especially picky about that part. As far as a perfect society goes, Raël has suggested establishing a “Geniocracy,” essentially a world-wide democracy, but only smart people get to vote.
To join Raelism, you simply have to embrace these beliefs and reject all other religions. Then there’s an official baptism ceremony, which helps to transfer your DNA to the aliens so that you can be recognized as a Raëlian when the time comes for the final judgment.
Raelism doesn’t argue that there’s an eternal soul or God. When the aliens return to Earth, the closet thing to a religion that Raëlians believe they’ll encourage is something called Sensual Meditation. Basically, this involves using all of your senses to get in touch with the universe. And as you might have guessed from the name, it should be done while naked.
It’s hard to say exactly how many Raëlians there are.
The official estimate by the religion is about 85,000. It also seems to be more popular in Japan and South Korea than anywhere else. Although, no country has expressed much interest in building the alien embassy. So, the odds of the aliens returning anytime soon seem a little remote — for now.