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Prophet sounds as if he came from another planet

Saturday, November 17, 2001

Every religion begins as a blasphemy against its predecessors, and Claude Vorilhon is off to a great start.

Now known to the world simply as "Rael," he believes humanity is a creation of space aliens, wants to build an embassy to welcome the coming UFOs, and recently tangled with public opinion by promoting the cloning of humans, although his belief system also leaves plenty of room for sex with multiple partners.

Just now, though, the leader of the world's Raelians wants to know one, very important thing:

"What is your dream automobile?"

I tell him it would be a 1957 Ford Thunderbird.

"Ahh, yes. Of course, you want the convertible!"

Yes. The convertible.

Vorilhon was a mere French race car driver and magazine journalist when, on his way home from an auto rally in Corsica in 1973, he wandered into some sort of crater and met men with olive skin, long hair and almond eyes who had come from outer space to deliver a message.

The visitors, known as Elohim, explained that they were the God to which humans refer as the biblical Creator. They confected humans scientifically and left them on Earth to prosper. Some years later, they kidnapped his mother, got her pregnant and erased her memory of the encounter. Sorry for any confusion.

"She had a boyfriend. She thought her boyfriend was my father," he explains.

Coming as they did before DNA testing, he had to take the space aliens at their word. They informed him that he was to carry their message of disappointment at the behavior of their human creations, that he was to become a religious leader to guide them and informed him that his correct name is simply Rael.

"They love us. They are frightened by what we are doing," Rael explains. This sounds like most parents. And, like most parents, they disrupted his life.

He stopped racing.

"I was close to having a contract with Formula Three, which is a step away from Formula One, which was my dream -- to race Formula One."

Instead, he set out to publish the message given by extraterrestrials, issued in a book titled, appropriately, "The Message Given by Extraterrestrials."

His decisions to establish an embassy to welcome back the creators from space and to found his own religion -- which includes everything but God -- put strains on his marriage.

"My wife said, 'Choose between me or this movement,' " he says.

Today, his son and mother are believers. His ex-wife is in France. His followers, by his account, number 55,000 in 84 countries.

One recently opened a laboratory in Nitro, W.Va., and began work to clone a human being.

Mark Hunt, a Charleston, W.Va., lawyer, asked Rael about the chances of cloning his dead son back to life.

"He said, 'I want to give its genetic code a second chance to express itself,' " Rael says. "I loved that expression."

Hunt shelled out $500,000 for Brigitte Boisselier, a biochemist and Raelian bishop, to recreate his child, using DNA taken from the youngster's body. The Food and Drug Administration shut her down before she could finish the task and she has since opened another lab out of the United States.

"The next announcement will be, yes, we have a baby," Boisselier assured me.

Rael is just as confident. A downright jolly prophet, he bops around a home in Montreal in a long white robe, his hair pulled back into a sort of bun, his belief system as firmly in place as most others.

"We believe science should replace religion. Especially with what has happened Sept. 11," he says. When the aliens return, he explains, they will work to straighten things out.

"They will be teaching us nonviolence. They say believing in God is an invitation to violence. We had the illustration recently. Sadly."

But, as Rael sees it, cloning will prevent future tragedies, so long as we store our DNA and the contents of our brains against future disasters. Then we can clone victims back to life and download their complete personalities into the new bodies.

This would allow the cloning of terrorists, "thus allowing us to try them for their crimes. This way, no suicidal attack would see its perpetrator escape from justice through death."

Me? I'd settle for a '57 T-Bird and just one life.

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