Blend of religion, science new twist on old doctrine

Such movements were big in 1800s
New York Times, via the San Francisco Chronicle, Dec. 29, 2002
http://www.sfgate.com/
Daniel J. Kevles

As much of the world has heard by now, the chief scientist of a company founded by a sect that believes space travelers created the human race by genetic engineering announced Friday that a 31-year-old American woman had given birth to a 7-pound baby cloned from her own cells.

Whether the baby, named Eve, is a genuine clone — or even exists — remains to be seen. The sect, called the Raelians, not only exists, but in some sense is old news.

The group’s founder was Claude Vorilhon, a French race car journalist who said he encountered space aliens in 1973 while out walking near a volcano in France. He said the aliens traveled by flying saucer and revealed that they were the Elohim mentioned in the Bible — not God, but beings from afar who had engineered the creation of the human race on Earth from inert DNA. They named Vorilhon “Rael” and asked him to tell mankind the true story of its creation.

The Raelian Movement, which claims 40,000 members in France, Canada, Japan and elsewhere, believes humanity is scientifically advanced enough to comprehend its origins, to create life from inert matter, and thus to achieve, through human cloning, eternal life.

This futuristic blend of religion and science, of millenarian purpose with reproductive practice, has numerous antecedents, dating from the 19th century and continuing up to modern groups like the Branch Davidians.

The historian Lawrence Foster has written of “the turbulent decades of the 1830s and 1840s before the Civil War, when thousands of Americans joined new religious movements that rejected existing marriage and sex-role patterns in favor of alternative lifestyles.”

These movements included John Humphrey Noyes’ Oneida Community in upstate New York, created in 1848. The utopian venture was organized around communal ownership of property and the practice of “complex marriage,” which declared all members of the community wedded to each other.

“To be ashamed of the sexual organs is to be ashamed of the most perfect instruments of love and unity,” Noyes said.

He ran Oneida autocratically, including its sexual relationships, usually initiating young women himself.

He intended at Oneida to establish “right relations with God”; “right relations between the sexes,” the kind that would foster harmonious living; “right economic relations,” in contrast to the growth of vicious capitalism; and, by achieving these goals, the creation of the true millennium on Earth, with the elimination of “disease and death.”

In 1865, in further pursuit of perfection, Noyes’ Oneida newspaper, the Circular, took note of the ideas of eugenics then becoming current and proclaimed in an editorial that “human breeding should be one of the foremost questions of the age, transcending in its sublime interest all present political and scientific questions.”

Unlike Noyes, Rael is no communitarian visionary, but sensuality and sexuality have long been a feature of Raelian doctrines. In 1987, the Raelians published a small book, “Sensual Meditation,” with a cover showing two nude women in erotic postures and a text that urges the reader to “uninhibit oneself.”

Rael has also published a message from the Elohim asking “our last Prophet, Rael, to found a religious order that will bring together young women who wish conscientiously to put at the service of their creators and of their Prophets their interior and exterior beauty when we arrive at the embassy.”

“While awaiting our arrival,” the message continued, “they shall prepare themselves for this day of such hope in placing themselves at the service of the Last Prophet, Rael, and in seeing to his well being when necessary.”

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