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Off the Raels: Should Mardi Gras have banned Raelians?

Sat 27 Mar 2004 In: Comment

For a new religious movement, Raelianism has some unorthodox and idiosyncratic beliefs. However, it appears to have an open leadership structure, and does not segregate itself away from the surrounding world. Moreover, it supports women's reproductive freedom, lesbian and gay spousal and parenting rights, polyamory, and human cloning. It has spoken out against clergy paedophilia within the Roman Catholic Church. Last year, the Raelians excited public controversy when leaders of the movement alleged that Clonaid, a subsidiary, had produced the world's first cloned human foetuses and prospective infants. Unfortunately for the credibility of the movement, nothing happened. It is significant that a lesbian couple were amongst the claimed beneficiaries of this move, which indicates the sect's liberal stance toward lesbian and gay sexuality and identity. The Raelians were founded thirty years ago, when Jean-Claude Vorilhon, a French journalist, was allegedly visited by several aliens on two occasions. These aliens communicated to Vorilhon that all prior significant human religious leaders were 'ascended masters.' According to fundamentalist religious analyst Sharon Mooney, Vorilhon obtained this concept from the Theosophical Society, a nineteenth-century esoteric religious movement of similar eccentricity. Vorilhon renamed himself Rael and built his new religious movement. He managed to avoid several of the pitfalls that have befallen other new religious movements, such as excessive concentration on a charismatic leader, through delegating responsibility to professionals. In fact, Raelianism is a technophile and social liberal movement, and its open leadership distinguishes it from more harmful cults like the Solar Temple and Heaven's Gate, who led to the deaths of their followers through seclusion from the surrounding world. Is there any evidence that the Raelians have misled the lesbian and gay communities about manipulation of community members and covert homophobia? As noted, fundamentalist Christians dislike them for their open sexual ethics, although their human cloning claims did damage the sect's credibility. However, they have regularly participated in Quebecois lesbian and gay festivals for many years. It is true that they are robust and vigorous critics of conservative Catholic attitudes toward bioethics and paedophilia, but they are hardly alone in that. However, one wonders if they are being fair to liberal Catholics, who share many of their criticisms of reactionary elements within Catholicism. They do not deserve to be tarred with the same brush. Finally, it is apparent that the Raelians are an unorthodox and eccentric 'UFO religion.' However, eccentricity is no crime, and religious freedom is a guaranteed right under New Zealand's Bill of Rights Act 1990, and the Raelians are infringing no-one else's beliefs, or causing harm to others. They are certainly more benign than the Unification Church or Moonies, who are heavily involved in collaborative social conservative work with the US Christian Right, and control the right-wing "Washington Times." As a rationalist, I do not share the Raelian belief system. As a pluralist, I regard it as a relatively benign and eccentric new religious movement, and one that seems open to lesbians and gay men. Even if one does not share its beliefs, should we be banning it from our community parades? [Editor's note: The official Mardi Gras explanation for denying the Raelians a space in the parade was that they "did not demonstrate the support of the Raelian organisation for the GLBTQ community." The Raelians subsequently held a protest in Oxford Street, Sydney.] Recommended Reading: James Lewis: Gods Have Landed: New Religions From Other Worlds: State University of New York Press: Albany: 1995. See especially: "Women in the Raelian Movement: New Religious Experiments in Gender and Authority" (p105-136). James Lewis (ed) Encyclopedic Sourcebook of UFO Religions: Prometheus Books: Madison: 2002. See especially: "Raelian Apocalypse: Playing With Prophecy, Appeasing Aliens, or Pleasing in Public?" (p261-280): and "Institutionalised Anticipation? Architecture and Religious Symbolism in the Raelian Religion" (p281-306). Sharon Mooney: "Descending Masters: A History of the Raelian Movement" Christian Research Journal 24: 3: November 2002: [Although a fundamentalist 'anti-cult' journal, CRJ provided an objective and detailed account of the Raelians in this paper. Recommended.] Christopher Partridge (ed) UFO Religions: Routledge: London: 2003: See especially: "Scientific Creationism: A Study of the Raelian Church" (p45-61). Craig Young - 27th March 2004    

Credit: Craig Young

First published: Saturday, 27th March 2004 - 12:00pm

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