"And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them." Gen. 1:27
In the science fiction film The 6th Day
, Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a character named Adam in a society in the not too distant future. As the story unfolds, Adam returns to his home one evening after work to find himself replaced by a clone (1)
created illegally by a corporation involved in underground cloning and murderous cover-ups. The clone is a near-perfect physical replica of Adam, complete with his memories transferred from Adam to the clone. The owner of the cloning company, and their many satisfied customers, see cloning as something of a scientific solution to humanity's quest for eternal life. As old age, disease and death threaten the present body, simply have yourself cloned, your memories transferred into the new body, and technology provides the means to live forever.
While the scenario of The 6th Day
remains science fiction at present, there are those actively involved in trying to make it a reality, including a fascinating new religious movement.
UFO Ambassador Addresses Congress
In March of this year the U.S. Congress heard testimony both pro and con from a variety of sources as it considered a ban on human cloning. One of the more interesting sources of testimony came from a man named Rael, founder and leader of a UFO group known as the Raelian Movement located in Quebec. Rael was formerly known as Claude Vorilhon, a race car driver and sports journalist, until as he tells it, a UFO came down out of the sky and landed near a volcano in France in 1973. (2)
He was met by an extraterrestrial who represented a race of beings known as the Elohim. Vorilhon claims the Hebrew word elohim has been mistranslated as "God," when in reality the best translation is "those who came from the sky." Vorilhon claims he was taken to the planet of the Elohim and was chosen to be their messenger to reveal the true identity of humanity. With this mission, Vorilhon was renamed Rael, which is translated as "messenger."
Birth of a UFO Prophet
Rael claims to have been conceived on December 25, 1945 and was chosen by the Elohim as "the last of the Prophets, the Messenger of Infinity, the Pope of the Raelian Movement." Rael is also considered to be the "Son of Yahwe and Jesus' brother" (3)
who was resurrected through cloning performed by the Elohim.
Rael claims that he was chosen by the Elohim to reveal to us that all of life on Earth, including human beings, was created in laboratories through a complex cloning process by the Elohim:
The messages dictated to Rael explain how life on Earth is not the result of random evolution, nor the work of a supernatural 'God.' It is a deliberate creation, using DNA, by a scientifically advanced people who made human beings literally in their image, what one might call 'scientific creationism.' (4)
According to the Raelian website, not only are the Elohim the true creators of life, but they were also the founders of the world's major religions, having chosen select ambassadors such as Jesus, Buddha and Muhammad. (5)
Rael is believed to be the final prophet who will prepare the world for the return of the Elohim in the year 2025 in Jerusalem following the completion of a multimillion dollar UFO landing field and ambassador's residence not yet approved by the Israeli government.
A Company to Create Life
The Raelian Movement claims to have 35,000 members throughout 84 countries, and given its small size and unusual belief system we might be tempted to easily dismiss the impact and activities of the group. After all, in 1997 Rael founded UFOLAND, "a tourist center that claims to inform 10,000 visitors each year regarding the UFO phenomenon, which includes "the biggest replica in the world of a DNA chain (26 ft. high) and a life-size replica of the UFO in which RAEL climbed into during his trip on the planet of the Elohim." (6)
But the founder of UFOLAND is also the founder of Clonaid, the self-described "first company in the world to offer a human cloning service."
After the international attention that followed by cloning of the sheep named Dolly in 1997, Rael decided to found this type of company and originally created the Valiant Venture Company in the Bahamas. After French media pressure caused the Bahamian authorities to clamp down on the fledgling company of would be creators, Rael founded Clonaid in an undisclosed location in the United States, under the direction of Dr. Brigitte Boisselier, a Bishop in the Raelian Movement. The company is said to have a team of geneticists, biologists and a specialist of in vitro fertilization. Clonaid's facilities are said to have "a fully equipped laboratory and has started projects.…The actual company was created thanks to an investor who also happens to be the father of a 10-month old baby who will be the first cloned human." (7)
Cloning is not the only reproductive technology offered by Clonaid and the Raelians. They also provide INSURACLONE services, where your genetic material can be stored for future use in cloning, CLONAPET, where pets can be cloned to ease the grieving of wealthy pet owners, and OVULAID. OVULAID is a service for infertile women whereby they can browse through a catalog with pictures of women who have donated eggs, and even meet with prospective donors in order to choose right personality, intelligence and physical attributes of their prospective child. The Clonaid website advertises this service with the words:
All this will take place in our U.S. laboratory where this is perfectly legal. COME AND RETURN TO YOUR COUNTRY PREGNANT WITH THE CHILD OF YOUR DREAMS! (8)
Science Fiction to Science Fact?
Recall that in the film The 6th Day, Schwarzenegger's character, Adam, has his life stolen by a clone complete with his memories, conceived by the cloning company's owners as a technological means to eternal life. What Hollywood envisions as science fiction entertainment, Rael hopes to bring into reality through reproductive technology:
[C]loning will enable mankind to reach eternal life. The next step, like the ELOHIM with their 25,000 years of scientific advance, will be to directly clone an adult person without having to go through the growth process and to transfer memory and personality in this person. Then, we wake up after death in a brand new body just like after a good night sleep! (9)
But what is the likelihood that the Raelians can be expected to successfully clone a human being in keeping with their unique system of belief? They certainly have many of the necessary elements to accomplish the task. We have already seen that they have the strong desire to clone human beings which they see as repeating the work of extraterrestrials on this planet. A strong desire to do what for many may seen unthinkable is more likely to become reality when the desire fits within a powerful belief system. Consider the biological warfare experiments that ended with the grim reality of poison gas attacks by Aum Shinrikyo in Tokyo.
The Raelians have the finances necessary to fund the scientific work. A wealthy American couple of a 10-month-old baby who died in a hospital after an error in a minor operation have made substantial donations to the Raelians in the hopes of cloning their son. The Raelians also have the genetic material necessary to clone human beings with over 50 female followers serving as volunteer egg donors and surrogate mothers. In commenting on the ability of the Raelians to successfully clone a human being, Gregory Stock, director of the Program on Medicine, Technology and Society at U.C.L.A.'s School of Medicine said, "When you look at what would be critically required to clone a human being, surrogates and a large number of eggs are key ingredients, and the Raelians have those. They certainly have what's necessary to make a solid attempt." (10)
But despite having the motivation and resources to clone a human being, the Raelians, and others in the U.S. where cloning is still legal, face challenges to the procedure. In addition to the medical challenges seen in the overwhelming percentage of genetic failures in the cloning of animals, human cloning in the U.S. faces serious legal hurdles. Congress, which heard Rael's testimony in favor of human cloning, hopes to produce legislation that will ban the procedure, thus adding the U.S. to the list of 26 other countries that forbid it. President Bush hopes to sign such legislation before successful experimentation begins. The Food and Drug Administration believes that it has jurisdiction in this area and issued a warning letter to Clonaid's Brigitte Boisselier stating, "You should be aware that failure to comply with FDA regulatory requirements may lead to enforcement action." (11)
Boisselier recently responded by threatening legal action in federal court to challenge the jurisdiction of the FDA or any other legal ruling that might prohibit the cloning efforts the Raelians hope to see completed successfully within the next year.
Yet despite the objections of Congress and the FDA, some legal scholars think it may not be so easy to ban this fledgling reproductive technology. Some argue that such a ban would be struck down as unconstitutional because it would abridge a fundamental right to create, and might force the Supreme Court to consider the implications of Roe v. Wade as it relates to the number of ways a person can reproduce. In addition, legal scholars question whether the FDA has jurisdiction over cloning. While the FDA regulates "biological products," some question whether a cloned human embryo meets this definition. "'It's an indefensible position,' said Elizabeth Foley, a law professor at the Detroit College of Law, who has written scholarly articles on cloning and the law. 'It shows that their assertion of jurisdiction is really a stretch.'" (12)
In addition to legal hurdles that must be dealt with, the Raelians' efforts to clone human beings raise significant ethical considerations for 21st century life.
Central to these issues are questions about the nature of personhood, about the reality of life after death and about the existence, nature, accessibility and degree of justification of ethical or religious knowledge as compared to scientific knowledge. It is not too dramatic to say that we are facing a contemporary crisis in ethics, a crisis that has lead to a good deal of moral confusion, chaos and fragmentation. (13)
Human cloning, along with abortion, free sex (or sensual meditation as the group calls it) and assisted suicide, are ethically acceptable to the Raelians. (14)
Their ethical system is a form of religious naturalism in that it is based upon a lack of belief in the existence of the personal God of Christian theism. In addition, the Raelian Movement teaches that humans are only material beings with no immaterial soul or spirit. This is a form of reductionism whereby human nature is reduced to one element, the material, and at its most basic level, human nature is explained in terms of human genes and DNA. While this view is often expressed by secularists, the Raelians hold to a form of religious materialism. It is claimed that this view is supported by modern science through studies in neurophysiology and artificial intelligence.
While an increasing number of Christian intellectuals similarly hold to a form of holistic material unity as it relates to human nature, most Christian thinkers throughout history have hold to some form of dualism. That is, human beings are believed to be unity of a physical body and an immaterial entity, whether soul, spirit, or mind.
The Raelian Movement's involvement in the cloning debate should serve as an impetus for reassessment in American culture and evangelicalism over the proper understanding of human nature.
A Powerful Mythology
The UFO phenomenon continues to hold the attention of millions of people. A 1990 Gallup Poll indicated that 14% of Americans (up to 12 million people according to one source), claimed to have seen a UFO. People have increasingly attached a growing religious meaning to UFOs as a symbol for personal transformation. The Raelians have taken this one step further. They are a religious group that has not only tried to accommodate technology, they have embraced it with a vengeance. To those struggling with a rapidly changing society and new scientific technologies, the UFO phenomenon, particularly as expressed in the Raelian Movement, provides a powerful mythology that may be small in membership, but provides an important ideological framework for scientific and social experimentation. Charles Cameron with the Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University has said, Rael has "done an extremely good job of placing himself astride a powerful tide of hope and fear - the longings of people who want to find emotional and religious meaning in science and biotechnology." (15)
- Other Hollywood treatments of cloning include the films The Boys from Brazil, Blade Runner and Multiplicity. (Back to text)
- "RAEL, The Messenger of the Elohim," Raelian website at http://www.rael.org/int/english/philosophy/
(Back to text)
- "The Prophet," http://www.rael.org/int/english/press/pages/prophete.html. (Back to text)
- "Summary of the Messages: Scientists From Another Planet Created All Life on Earth Using D.N.A., http://www.rael.org/int/english/summary/summary/body_summary.html. (Back to text)
- "The Message given by the Extra-Terrestrials," http://www.rael.org/int/english/philosophy/
(Back to text)
- http://www.rael.org/int/english/press/pages/ufoland.html. (Back to text)
- Clonaid website, http://www.clonaid.com/english/pages/home.html. (Back to text)
- Ibid., emphasis in original. (Back to text)
- http://www.rael.org/int/english/press/pages/clonaid.html. (Back to text)
- "A Desire to Duplicate," New York Times magazine, Feb. 4, 2001, Internet edition, http://www.nytimes.com. (Back to text)
- "Efforts to Ban Human Cloning May Not Hold Up, Legal Scholars Warn," International Herald Tribune, May 24, 2001, Internet edition, http://www.iht.com. (Back to text)
- Ibid. (Back to text)
- J.P. Moreland and Scott B. Rae, Body and Soul: Human Nature and the Crisis in Ethics (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 18. (Back to text)
- http://www.rael.org/press/english/pages/author/true.html. (Back to text)
- "A Desire to Duplicate," New York Times magazine. (Back to text)