What sort of religion looks forward to serving as the basis for a reality-TV show? It's the same one that has raised $10 million to build an embassy for aliens, its leader claims. He adds that simply joining up will make you better-looking. And it's okay with Raël, the 59-year old French prophet formerly known as Claude Vorilhon, if you call his organization a cult, so long as you acknowledge that it's not a secret organization that has to be infiltrated to be understood. And please, he asks, don’t lump the Raëlian movement in with other religions that demand homicidal and suicidal devotion to their gods.
Raël, the prophet of the Elohim
For the last 30 years, Raël has devoted himself to achieving the goals of pleasure, knowledge, and an Elohim embassy by spreading the word about his new religion. His organization now claims to have about 65,000 members spanning the globe, though a more conservative count puts it at 40,000 (Adherents.com). As you might expect, his unorthodox style and penchant for grand proclamations about aliens have often made him the target of mockery. The claimswhich he now distances himself fromthat Raëlians had created the first human clones in 2002 and would use the technology to bring about immortality, brought about an onslaught of criticism and publicity. "A media analyst said the Raëliian movement got about $500 million worth of media coverage across the world and I think it is true, and it is not finished," he told the AP. "This event saved me 20 years of work."
Gelf caught up with Raël over the phone to ask him how the quest to publicize his religion is going, and to find out what happened to the baby that was supposedly cloned three-and-a-half years ago. From his office in Quebec, Raël spoke with a heavy French accent about other minor religions (like Scientology), the importance of having a good celebrity spokesman, and what he thinks of the media coverage of Raëlianism. Also, we discussed the merits of NASCAR vs. Formula One.
The following interview has been edited for clarity.
Gelf Magazine: How do you go about finding new members?
Raël: Most of our new members come through the internet. That's the best thing we have.
GM: How do you reach them through the internet?
Raël: I don’t know if you checked our website
GM: I did.
Raël: It's well-done and it's beautiful, and anytime people around the world in the media talk about me, then people check our website and we can clearly see that the website is visited with a big peak when we have something in the media.
GM: How many people on average come to your website every day?
Raël: It's difficult to say. Worldwideyou have seen we are in 28 different languagesbut worldwide, we talk about something between seven thousand and ten thousand people a day. With a big peak when there is a TV or something or big media [about the group], then we have a peak of sometimes up to one million people. But on average, it's 7,500 or something like that.
GM: Why is it important for you to try to convert people to become Raëlian?
Raël: I must say we don’t try to convert people. We are not like the Christians or those type of people who try to convert people to their religion. We try to inform them about what I callespecially in the US right now, it's a very, very hot subjecta third way to explain our origin. You know, before, there was the explanation of a supernatural God creating life, then there was evolution and Darwinism, and then now some people are trying to bring back the Bible in schools, you know, with the intelligent-design thing. What we bring is an atheist intelligent design, a godless intelligent design, and that's the third way. My new book, Intelligent Design (available as a free download), is selling very well because people want to find the third way. There are not only two solutions. We bring a third way.
GM: Are you happy with how many people are currently Raëlians?
Raël: Very happy. It's very good. And very important, as I said before, that people who join us are not believers, they are understanders. I mean, it's not an act of belief, of faith. We have many universitarian people who study science, mostly. People who are not educated, they are most easily joining what I call primitive religions where you have to believe, and you must not try to understand. It's a sin for them.
The planned Elohim embassy
Raël: No, because everything is going as planned. As you know, everything is going on time. As you know, the deadline to build the embassy for the Elohim is 2035, so we still have plenty of time. That's almost 30 more years. I'm very optimistic.
GM: Do you ever feel like you're competing against other smaller religions or cults or things like that for members?
Raël: No, we have no competition. We are the only one in this style in the world. If we were God-believers and spreading a new way of thinking about God, then the competition is huge, but as you know, we don't believe in God, we don’t believe in soulsso we are quite unique.
GM: Other religions, like Scientology, believe that there is a soul that keeps on going and going
Raël: Yeah, but they believe in God alsoyou saw Tom Cruise recently with the temple, and there was Jesus's image and that sort of thing. So they believe in God and so they are very different.
GM: What do you think about Scientology as a religion?
Raël: I respect it. We promote atheism, so we are against any belief in God, but still we have huge respect for every belief. I think if people believe in anything they want, I am on their side to protect them. We have many friends who are Scientologists, and I think it's good to fight to make everybody respect them. You know, they suffer a lot of discrimination in France, and that's terrible. So we don’t agree with their philosophywe don’t agree with the Jehovah's Witnesses either, of coursewe are for the respect of the Jehovah's Witnesses, too. Freedom of belief, freedom of religion is very important, and I hope these people fight for our freedom to believe in what we believe.
GM: One of the things that Scientology seems to have done very well is that they have a lot of famous membersyou were mentioning Tom Cruise before. Does that ever make you guys jealous that they have all of these celebrities?
Raël: (laughing) I hope one day Tom Cruise will join the Raëlian movement. Right now, we have some celebrities, but not as big as Tom Cruise or John Travoltathe Scientology stars. But we have, for instance, Glenn Carter was a star in Jesus Christ, Superstar moviehe's the head of the Raëlian movement in UK, so we have some good people. We have Nayah in France, who was representing France in the Eurovision song contest, so we have some good people. But of course we don’t have a star of the Tom Cruise-caliber. I hope one day we will.
GM: Why do you hope you will?
Raël: Because we are not enough known by the American public yet. But I can give you a scoopwe will have in January, you will be the first to know, in January we will have a reality show on a main American TV channel called The Raëlian, and it's a reality-TV show about us, and that will make us, I think, mainstream.
GM: Is that
Raël: I cannot tell you more about that. I'm sorry. It's made in Hollywood.
GM: And have you been down there to work on it yet?
Raël: Yes. I was in California recently to sign the contracts and everything is signed so it's signed. It's done.
GM: Are you worried that it will make you guys look, uh, silly?
Raël: No, because we did it with wonderful people. I have a friend in Hollywood who is a top-level attorney and we make a contract and I am co-producer so I have control over what will be in the show. And that's great. I know the danger of reality shows.
GM: Can you tell me what sort of competition is going to be going on?
Raël: I would like it to be an antidote towhat's his name, the guy who says, "You are fired"?
GM: Donald Trump?
Raël: Yes, because it's terrible we are living in a time of money, money, money becoming God, and so I would like to do some contests, and say at the end, "You are enlightened." Instead of being fired. To bring the level of consciousness of people higher and not to talk about money, money, money.
GM: Before we were talking about celebrities. I noticed [on your website] you were also courting some celebrities like Robbie Williams and maybe even Dan Aykroyd. You were saying that one of the reasons to have celebrities as Raëlians is that more people would find out about it.
Raël: Usually, when a celebrity joins a religion or group, that's not new, it has always been like that. You remember the Beatles? [Editor's note: The Beatles practiced transcendental meditation with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.] It was the same thing. You create a good interest to what they believe from the public, and that's good.
The new Dianetics NASCAR (and yes, that is a volcano on the hood)
Raël: Yes, I just saw that.
GM: What's your reaction to that?
Raël: That's great! It's good to see spirituality, even if we don’t believe in God, humanity needs this spirituality. You know the suicide rate in Japan, for example is skyrocketing, it's becoming a national problem and I'm sure it will follow in every other country, and that's because we lack spirituality. And it's not because you don’t have god or soul that you don’t have spirituality, but to see sportyou know I was a racecar driver myself a few years agoand so I like to bring spirituality in the middle of sport, and that's very good.
GM: I saw that you guys sponsor an online racing team at Live For Speed.
Raël: You've played Live For Speed?
GM: No, I have not played yet. I just saw it mentioned on your website.
Raël: Yes, we have our own team. It's not sponsored, it's our own team. Some members who love racing cars and me. You know, I was a pro racer before and I quit racecar driving five years ago. But I still race on Live For Speed with our friends and I enjoy it.
Rael out on the track
Raël: Almost every day. As soon as I have free time, I jump on my computer and Live For Speed is a very realistic simulation. It's really like the real thing. If you try, you will see that the secret is to have good settings, and that it's a little advantage for a real driver like me to be able to make a good setup for your car. If you drive one day, I will give you my setup.
GM: Thanks. Has that been a good recruitment tool?
Raël: No, it's not made for that. It's for fun. We have pleasure, but some people see our team and check the website. One more time, it's always the website.
GM: I saw in your newsletter called Contact, where it was sort of advising fellow Raëlians how to convince people to come to your site to check out your car...
Raël: Exactly. Yes. We use every possible tool to create interest in the public. Of course. Just to visit the website so they can download for free my books and then they make their opinion by themselves. That there's a great time we are living now.
GM: And have you guys ever considered also sponsoring a racecar like the scientologists are doing?
Raël: It's maybe possible. Yes, because I still love racing. I watch Formula One on TV and I never miss one race so I'm still a car enthusiast and I am thinking about it for one day. It's possible.
[Editor's note: See the bottom of the interview for more of Raël's thoughts on NASCAR and Formula One racing.]
GM: As a former journalist, how do you think the journalism community has covered your religion?
Raël: We cannot generalize. As you know, you have bad journalists and good journalists, so bad journalists, usually they work for tabloids. But the professional journalists, we have a good experience. But as you know, real professional journalists are very few. So most of the people, they don’t do their jobs, they just read other newspapers and they replicate what they saw in others, they replicate the prejudices and the easy way to describe us because they don’t want to look at the real thing. But sometimes we have good journalists.
GM: You once commented that you think it's very bad that whenever there's a cult-related suicide or something bad that happens as part of one of these smaller religions, journalists call you for comment.
Raël: Yeah, that's incredible. I mean, I always ask them, "Why don’t you call the Dalai Lama or the Pope?" They always target the minorities. By the way, you have a very majority religious group like the Muslims who put a lot of bombs and kill a lot of people. And you have a lot of nonviolent minorities, so to associate automatically when there is something bad with minorities, it's terrible. But it's easy to target the minorities, of course, that's the easy way. I don’t know if you’ve read my book, but when you know about our philosophyhow can you teach happiness and pleasure and the beauty of life and enjoying cars and sport and at the same time promote suicide? It's completely stupid. Most of the people who love suicide or suicide bombings or these kind of things, they believe that they are in Heaven after and that they will do something for God. But we don't believe in God, so we have nobody to please by doing anything like that.
GM: Did you read the articles by the reporters from Canada's Sun Media who infiltrated one of your camps?
Raël: Yeah. That's so stupid
GM: Why is that stupid?
Raël: These people, they are invited. It's open-door. You can come enjoy the seminar. And many times we have the journalists who come, they enjoy the seminar, and then they write an articleit's happened in many countriessaying "we infiltrated." You can infiltrate the CIA or the FBI if you can, but not the Raëlian movement. It's completely open. You are free to come any time and see what happens. So, infiltrating is so funny.
GM: And what about the things they said? Like how everyone has to give 10 percent of their earnings to you.
Raël: That's in every religion and it's not to me. That's a misrepresentation. It's the membership fee that members are willing to pay to the religion, the Raëlian movement. But it's not to me.
GM: And how much money has the Raëlian movement made off of these tithings?
Raël: What do you mean?
GM: For instance, I assume you're saving money, right?
Raël: Oh, for the embassy, of course. Almost $10 million.
GM: And are you investing that into anything in particular?
Raël: Of course, we have specialists taking care of this money and making sure that it's properly invested.
GM: But you don’t have any specific businesses that you're investing in?
Raël: No. no. no. no. no.
GM: What about Clonaid?
Raël: Clonaid is a company which belongs to Dr. Brigitte Boisselier, who is one of our members, as you know. But it's a private company and we have absolutely no say or no interest in this company, but we support human cloning.
GM: What would you say to people who say that your claimor at least their claimto have cloned a baby was a cynical attempt to get publicity?
Raël: Thank you for noticing that it's their claim, because we are not involved. The press conference which Dr. Boisselier gave in Miami when the baby Eve announcement was made, we were not even present. Nobody was representing the Raëlian movement
GM: Isn't she a bishop in the Raëlian movement?
Raël: Yes, but you know every member of our organization has a job and a family and a normal life. We don’t have a community, we don’t separate people from the society like some religions do. People lead their normal lives, so they all have companies and it happens that Dr. Boisselier is a specialist in this field and she wanted to do something in human cloning. So I said, "Yes, that's great. Do it." And she created her own companywhich name is not Clonaid, by the way, she just took the name of the project, like in NASA you have Apollo, but she has a company which has another nameand I have no reason to doubt that she did it. I trust her.
GM: Has she shown you any evidence?
Raël: No. I am like everybody. I can't wait to see the proof, but I have no reason to doubt what she did. When you look at the history of Dr. Boisselier, I don’t think the Food and Drug Administration would take it lightly so they raided a laboratory she had in America then she published a report. I saw this fusion machine and it was tested by scientists in the UK and they say the machine is great. And I know some scientists working with her, so there is a team, and I have no reason to doubt it.
But, I am like you. I can't wait to see the proof. But she asked me, when the baby Eve was cloned, "I have to choose now between my respectability, because people will say I did not do it, or the private life of the baby." And I said, "Choose the private life of the baby." That's my advice. Because that's more important than your respectability. With time, the proof will come, but first of all, protect these children from becoming monsters and media things and I think she listened to me. That's why she's missing the way to have proof. But I'm sure it's coming. She says it's coming.
Rael beside a reproduction of the UFO he says took him away
Raël: Yes, she's a friend of mine.
GM: She said that you sometimes "love bombed" visiting journalists with beautiful women. That you surround them with beautiful women.
Raël: Yes, that's true. And I love beautiful women. Who doesn’t? I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. And if I was gay, I would be surrounded by beautiful boys, too. I have no problem with that. I love beauty and I love art and I love inner and outer beauty and that's great.
GM: But why send all of these beautiful women to meet the journalists?
Raël: Not only to meet journalists. I am with beautiful women all the time. When the journalists come, I don’t have to change my lifestyle.
GM: So why does every Raëlian seem to be so good-looking?
Raël: It's inner beauty. Because, honestly, when they join us, they are not as beautiful as they become after. It's because when you practice regular meditation, the exercises I teach, you find the inner peace and harmony and then you become more beautiful outside. The real beauty comes from inside.
GM: You would say that becoming a Raëlian would make one better-looking?
Raël: Of course, because our teaching is very similar to the Buddhism. I have great respect for the Buddhists. What they say is very, very similar to us, to the great surprise of Larry King, I don’t know if you remember that, but the Dalai Lama told him they don’t believe in God either. I think the religion that is closest to us is Buddhism.
GM: But why is this religion so sensual?
Raël: Because sensuality is the pleasure of life and pleasure creates intelligence. If you look at the life of all the geniuses and Raëlian people in the history of humanity, they always had a beautiful sexual life, a rich sexual life, a diversity. It's connected with creativity. When you don’t enjoy life, then you become like George Bush.
GM: Susan Palmer also said that any time the Raëlians are in the press, that the article will get read out loud at meetings.
Raël: Not at meetings, but for every Raëlian, it's important to see how the media treat us.
GM: Even if it's bad press?
Raël: We prefer good publicity. We have attorneys. We are watching carefully. We prosecute and usually we win. Everywhere in the world they have to respect us. Spreading prejudices is hatred.
But every time we have bad press, the result is positive. People go to the website. People aren’t stupid. They go to the source. Every time we have bad press, we get new members. They know journalists aren’t great. The media are more and more in competition with the internet.
GM: Who do you think is better: [Michael] Schumacher or [Kimi] Räikkönen?
Raël: I prefer Räikkönen. I don’t like Schumacher because I never liked this man. He's a good driver, but I don’t like the personality of the man.
GM: So you think Räikkönen has a good personality?
Raël: For me, Räikkönen is wonderful and he's the best driver, but sadly, he doesn’t have the car this year to do it. Do you like racecars?
GM: Very much so.
Raël: Good to hear. Räikkönen's engine is giving him lots of problems.
GM: You used to run a car-racing magazine called Auto Pop, right?
Raël: A long time ago, yes. And then I raced many cars. I even raced in the United States. I raced in Las Vegas, at Daytona, at many, many tracks, so I did many races in America. Where are you, in New York?
GM: I'm actually in San Francisco.
Raël: I raced in Laguna Seca. It's not very far from you.
GM: What do you think about the difference between F1 and NASCAR?
Raël: It's two completely different worlds. Jeff Gordon is a very good NASCAR driver and he tried the F1 and he couldn’t believe it. I mean he was completely lost. As you may remember, the test he did, he said his eye balls were going outside of his head because these guys are breaking 5 gs. That means his body is five times his weight. 5 gs lateral when he turns and 4 gs in acceleration. So compared to that, a NASCAR car is a bicycle.
I love it, it's impressive, but you don’t have g-force. So the cars are great, it's beautiful, it's a great show, but physically, it's a bicycle compared to Formula One. You know it when you see the athletes because these guys, the Formula One drivers are real athletes and they train hours and hours and sometimes after five or six laps they stop because they have neck pain. So it's unbelievable. I tried a Formula One car one day and after one lap my neck hurt. One lap. And the vibration...
I went in a TransAm, which is a very similar car to NASCAR and it's very impressive, but you don’t have the vibration. In Formula One there are so many vibrations that sometimes you can not see the road because your head is vibrating. It's incredible.
I love to watch NASCAR sometimes. But it's less spectacular because it's long. It's two or three hours sometimes and I prefer short races where you have more show for the public.
GM: Do you like the new qualification system they're using in F1?
Raël: You really know your racing. You should really try Live For Speed. It's easy to see me because my race name is RAEL.ORG/RACING. If I see you, we can chat and I can give you my setting, because it seems like you really like cars.
GM: I'll have to check it out online.
Raël: You can download Live For Speed from the website in England and it's something like forty dollars. You just need a good wheel and pedal and here you are. It's really the real thing. You only miss the g-force. But it's much more comfortable.
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