Origin stories of most religions border on the fantastical. Moses ascended to a mountaintop to talk to God. Jesus was born to a virgin mother. Buddha meditated under the Bodhi tree until he received enlightenment. And a French race car driver was abducted by aliens who told him that aliens were humanity’s one true God.
If you haven’t heard that last story, chances are you haven’t been introduced to Raelism yet. Part comic book, part sci-fi, and part new age religio-mysticism, Raelism was founded by Claude Vorilhon (now known as Raël), a French sports car driver and journalist in 1973, after a purported encounter with extraterrestrials.
Since its inception, it has spread rapidly across Europe, Africa, USA, and Asia, with millions of followers. Pop superstar Michael Jackson was an honorary Raelist guide and the late Hugh Hefner, founder of the Playboy enterprise, was an honorary priest.
In India, a small community of 78 registered Raelists exists, among whom a select group of 20 are actively trying to spread ‘the message’.
As far as world religions goes, Raelism is perhaps the most progressive and liberal one out there. Raelists aren’t bound by strict scriptures and, worldwide, they renounce marriage, alcohol, nicotine, toxic substances, rituals and actively protest against the Catholic church. They routinely advocate for sex-positive feminism, genetically-modified food, free sex, nudity and sensual pyjama parties.
They’re staunchly anti-war and are deeply interested in scientific research. Genetic cloning, in fact, plays a huge role in their belief system and the group even ran into a major controversy when one of the companies that have ties with it claimed to have created the first human clone baby.
In India, however, their practices are limited to cellular transmissions, scientific discussions, and telepathic communication with the Elohim.
According to Raelists, all life on earth was scientifically created by an advanced race of extraterrestrials called
Elohim. The origin story of the religion begins at a volcano in France where it is believed Vorilhon first communicated with a four foot alien from the Elohim named Yahweh, who got off a flying saucer and communicated to him the secrets of creating mankind and everything on earth. Vorilhon claimed to have had six meetings with space travellers, after which he promptly formed the religion.
“Unlike other religions, we don’t believe in a human God or prophet, like Jesus or Muhammad. We are more like a higher intelligence’s science project,” says Tapan Naubagh, who works in a gaming company in Mumbai, and who adopted Raelism in 2013.
As believers of life in outer space, Raelists hope that human scientists will follow the path of the Elohim by achieving space travel through the cosmos and creating life on other planets. They also want to build an ET embassy to welcome the Elohim to earth.
The UFO religion probably found its first proponents in India through Japanese teachers who travelled to India to
spread the message in the early 2000s.
“I was always fascinated by sci-fi, UFOs, anything that had an ET element to it. At that time, I was even writing about aliens. So when I saw this woman talking about Raelism, I was instantly drawn. I read the book that she had and was blown away. It had a host of stuff in it: God, Religion, UFOs, Sex, Love, Spirituality, Science, Poverty, Hunger. Post that, I attended a seminar, and soon converted,” says Naubagh.
If it was love for sci-fi that made Naubagh adopt Raelism, for Sai Subramanium, it was the strength Raelism provided to help him quit smoking. “I was very skinny then, constantly drinking and smoking. It was taking a toll on my health.” Subramanium, who works as a professional DJ says, “But deep meditative practices and telepathic connection helped me not only quit smoking but also find focus in my life.”
Although they call themselves a religion, Raelism has no ‘religious customs’ except a mere suggestion for members to meditate for a minute daily. Raelists are encouraged to ask questions about God and faith and are strongly against those forcing their beliefs on anyone.
The only ritual they follow is perhaps a ‘cellular transmission’ for anyone who wishes to convert to Raelism through which “the cellular plan or the member’s DNA frequencies are transferred to the motherboard”.
“This is done through a guide who dips his hand in the water and places it on the forehead of the convert to download his genetic information to aliens. The ceremony can only occur between 3 and 4 p.m since it’s believed that at the particular time, the connection with the motherboard is the fastest,” says Kumar, who co-heads the Raelist chapter in India.
In addition, Raelists support a sense of complete individualism—an aspect that makes it appealing for many.
“I always had questions, but I never found any answers in my supposed religion Hinduism. Here though, we are encouraged to ask questions, even though we may not have the answers. My wife, my parents don’t get it. They think I have gone crazy, joined a cult. But I don’t care,” says Kumar, who became a Raelist after communicating with Raelist guides for more than a year, to clear his apprehensions.
Even though the cult revolves around a fairly peaceful understanding of science, technology, and love, the movement has received plenty of bad press for not only for its sensational beliefs but also some of its practices.
To many, the whole idea of criticising established religion in favour of reason, and then unquestioningly believing in a so-called messiah who spouts another creation myth, seems wildly contradicting.
“Sure, you can be happy and support science, technology and love without the guilt of God and religion, but you can also do so without the fiction of Rael’s alternative creation myth, and without adopting an untrue belief system. The Raelian of the story of creation cannot be reconciled with what we know of evolutionary biology and our planet’s geological development,” writes Brian Dunning, in a scathing criticism of the group.
Ardent Raelists, however, say that it’s unfair to compare them to other religions. “Most religions are based on faith – ‘you believe us because we are telling you and don’t question us’. We’re not here to force anyone. We just want to pass on the information we have and then let people decide for themselves,” says Kumar.
Many also believe their theory of creation to be the most ‘realistic’. “It’s not a mere fantasy to believe in an extraterrestrial civilization anymore. Scientists now agree to a high probability of the existence of intelligent life outside our solar system. Humans are creating their own artificial intelligence. Knowing this, why can’t we accept that we could be the brainchild of a higher, more intelligent species? Is it really that far fetched?” Naubagh asks.
It’s a reasonable question. How you answer depends on what you choose to believe.