Non-Fiction

Controversy in context

Aliens Adored: Rael’s UFO Religion
Susan J. Palmer

Rutgers University Press
$26.95
paper
226pp
0-8135-3476-3

In her highly informative book about the Raelian movement, sociologist Susan Palmer remains true to her profession, avoiding the biased approach of journalists who have demonized and ridiculed this free-love, pro-cloning, UFO-inspired religion founded in the 1970s. Palmer adeptly contextualizes the controversial group, providing background information on other supposed UFO contactees and drawing comparisons with other new religions.

Palmer’s thorough investigation takes us back to Raël’s childhood in France, giving biographical information on the boy, born Claude Vorilhon, who would eventually lead a movement that now boasts 65,000 followers worldwide. Love him or hate him, Raël has led a fascinating life, punctuated by several careers and identities that have put him in the spotlight for varying lengths of time. He’s been a pop star, and a race car driver/founder of a racing magazine, and, finally, a revered prophet whose mission is to spread the messages allegedly sent to him by technologically super-advanced extra-terrestrials, or Elohim. This latest career has been by far the most enduring, and has awarded him the greatest degree of power – though opinions will differ as to whether this power is to the world’s detriment or not.

While Palmer is to be admired for playing fair, at times it’s hard not to wonder if she doesn’t speak a little too favourably of Raël, whom she refers to as a “creative artist.” In response to the media’s witch hunt against the Raelians, she is quick to defend his group, claiming that “compared to other millenarian new religions, their worldview is refreshingly upbeat, optimistic.” Furthermore, Palmer argues that Raël’s zero-tolerance regarding violence and suicide are evidence that the Raelians are not dangerous.

With world peace and respect for racial and sexual differences at the top of their agenda, the Raelian code of ethics indeed appears commendable. However, as with many religions, hypocrisy surrounds the values promoted. While Palmer astutely underlines most of Raël’s inconsistencies, she is vague about others. It is curious, for instance, that she documents both Raël’s marriage to Sophie (whom he began courting when she was 15 and he in his later 40s) and his launching of NOPEDO (a campaign against sex with minors), but doesn’t clearly link the two events.

Reading about the highly materialistic, appearance-obsessed nature of the movement may make one consider the many faces of violence, the subtler ways of killing a person’s spirit. Raël takes the Elohim’s messages regarding the importance of physical beauty very seriously, especially when choosing female members for his Order of Angels, a sort of caste system that rates women according to their degree of femininity and beauty. Particularly troubling is the fate of the Pink Angels who, despite Raël’s free-love ideals, are only allowed to have sex among themselves and with Raël as they wait to greet and mate with the Elohim.

Palmer’s examination of the Raelians’ involvement in cloning is stirring. Her account of the 2002 media frenzy surrounding the dubious claims of Raël’s right-hand woman, Dr. Boisselier, to have successfully produced the first human clone (Baby Eve) is even frightening. It may lead many readers to consider the impact such allegations can have, regardless of their veracity.

Think about it: Even if it was a total media stunt, she sparked competition in the cloning race, ultimately influencing public policy.

Not a dangerous group? That depends on one’s views regarding what it is to be human, and what Palmer calls, “…our unquestioning acceptance of global development, our anthropocentric urge to control and obliterate nature.” It is, however, hard to disagree with the author’s insightful conclusion as to why such an unconventional group has attracted so much attention: “It could only be because Raël’s proddings – however ‘spaced out’ – have aroused both our deepest defensive awareness of our abuse of science and our latent, inarticulate beliefs.” mRb

Kimberly Bourgeois is a Montreal writer and singer-songwriter whose latest EP, Heart Wave, was launched under her music project: kimberlyandthedreamtime.com.

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