International Raëlian Movement
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International Raëlian Movement

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Introduction

The International Raëlian Movement (IRM), founded in 1975 by Claude Vorilhon (b. 1946), aka Raël (‘Light of the Elohim’), is perhaps the world’s most successful extraterrestrial (ET) religion (here used to refer to New Age religions in which ETs figure as the agents of salvation). On 13 December 1973, Claude Vorilhon (Raël) reportedly saw an unidentified flying object—‘a flying saucer,’ according to Raël (2005, 3)—land in the caldera of Puy de Lassolas, a volcano near Clermont-Ferrand, France. There he met an ‘Eloha’, a diminutive humanoid ET who was one of the ‘Elohim’; according to Raël these are the ET scientists who created humanity and all life on Earth. The theologian and sociologist of religions George Chryssides has discussed this as Raëlianism’s ‘scientific creationism’ (Chryssides 2003). Raël reported that ‘the figure was only about 4 feet (1.2 meters) tall. His eyes were slightly almond-shaped, his hair was black and long, and he had a small black beard. … His skin was white with a slightly greenish tinge’ (Raël 2005, 5). Raël was told by the Eloha to return to the crater the following day, which he did for six consecutive days, and he was instructed to tell no one of the meeting (or he would never meet the Eloha again), to wear no metal, and to bring a Bible and notebook (Raël 2005, 9). As historians of religion Eugene Gallagher and Paul Brian Thomas have noted, Raëlianism is fundamentally a biblical religion (Gallagher 2010; Thomas 2010). Sociologist of religion Susan Palmer (1995a, 1995b, 1998, 2000, 2004, 2014; Palmer and Sentes 2012) has written extensively about the IRM.

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The Elohim

The Elohim, according to Raël, are human beings, albeit of an elder race—so they are not gods, the Eloha told Raël, although they are our creators. Evolution, Raël writes, is ‘a myth … this did not happen by chance’ (Raël 2005, 92–93). Evolutionists are ‘false prophets’ (Raël 2005, 273). The Eloha told Raël that the Elohim genetically engineered all life on Earth from the simplest unicellular creatures to humanity’s hominid ancestor, to whom the Elohim creators added ‘what makes us essentially human. In this way, we made human beings in our image’ (Raël 2005, 92). According to Raël, the Elohim have created life on two other planets besides Earth (Raël 2005, 278). The Elohim themselves, according to Raël,

were created by other people coming from another planet, who had been created by other people coming from another planet, and so on to Infinity. It is as foolish to search for the beginning of the Universe in time as it is to search for its beginning in space. (Raël 2005, 253)

In biblical Hebrew, elohim is the plural of eloha. While the God of Genesis 1 speaks in the first person plural (‘Let us make mankind in our image and likeness’), biblical scholars generally see this not as a reference to an actual plurality of gods but as a plural of majesty: ‘The most common of the originally appellative names of God is Elohim, plural in form though commonly construed with a singular verb or adjective. This is, most probably, to be explained as the plural of majesty or excellence’ (‘God’, 1906). Jewish interpreters commonly argue that the Tanach (the Hebrew Bible) ‘believes in the total Unity of E-lohim with such monotheistic clarity, that it usually uses E-lohim more than E-loha … without suspecting any kind of confusion or plurality’ (Shvat 2015). To Raël, though, the Elohim are an ET race of space-faring bioengineers dedicated to creating life throughout the universe.

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Raël, Prophet of the Apocalypse

Raël, it is claimed, has been chosen by the Elohim as the Prophet of the Age of Apocalypse. The Elohim chose a Frenchman as their spokesperson, Raël was told, because France was the birthplace of democracy, and Raël in particular because his father was Jewish and his mother Catholic, and he could thus mediate between the Jews and the Catholics (Raël 2005, 8). In fact, though, Raël claims to have been told by Yahweh and Jesus, whom he later met on the Planet of the Eternals, that Yahweh, ruler of the Elohim home planet, was Raël’s actual father, and that Raël—like Jesus before him—was conceived aboard an Elohim spaceship:

After the explosion at Hiroshima, we decided that the time had come for us to send a new messenger on Earth. He would be the last prophet, but the first one to address mankind asking them to understand and not to believe. We then selected a woman, as we had done in the time of Jesus. This woman was taken aboard one of our ships and inseminated as we had done with the mother of Jesus. Then she was freed after we had totally erased from her memory all traces of what had happened. Your real father is also the father of Jesus, and that makes you brothers. (Raël 2005, 290)

According to Raël, the serpent of Genesis 3:1–5 represents the Elohim scientists who revealed to the human beings whom they had created that they—the Elohim—are not gods, but human beings (Raël 2005, 17). To punish humanity’s Elohim creators, Yahweh, ruler of the Elohim home planet, confined them to Earth, where they took human wives who bore hybrid offspring, the Nephilim: ‘The creators living in exile took the most beautiful daughters of humanity and made them their wives’ (Raël 2005, 19). Here, Raëlianism’s Elohim are the Bene ha’Elohim, the Sons of God of Genesis 6:4 (Flaherty 2010). It was then that Yahweh decided from the Elohim home planet to destroy all life on Earth (Raël’s reading of Genesis 6:5): ‘They then decided from their distant planet, to destroy all life on earth by sending nuclear missiles. However, our exiled creators, informed of the project, instructed Noah to build a spaceship which would orbit the earth during the cataclysm’ (Raël 2005, 206). A single cell from the male and female of each species was preserved. The explosion of the missiles caused a tidal wave that submerged the continent (originally there was only one continent; Raël 2005, 13). Subsequently, the animal species were re-created from the cells that had been preserved on the spaceship, and Earth was restored (Raël 2005, 22).

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The International Raëlian Movement

According to the IRM, there are an estimated sixty thousand members worldwide (Raël 2005, xvi). The movement is strongest in France, Canada, South Korea, Japan, and Africa (Raël 2005, 365). Originally Raël called his movement MADECH (Mouvement pour l’Accueil des Elohim Createurs de l’Humanité, Movement for Welcoming of the Elohim Creators of Humanity; or Moise a Dèvance Elie et le Christ, Moses Preceded Elijah and Christ) but in 1975 the group’s name was changed, with the Elohim’s authorization, according to Raël, to the International Raëlian Movement (IRM).

The original emblem of the IRM was a Star of David (a hexagram)—also called the Shield of David or Māḡēn Dāwīḏ—with a swastika in its centre. Raël claims to have seen this symbol on the Elohim spaceship that he observed in 1973 (Raël 2005, 62). The swastika, according to Raël, is an ancient symbol of infinity with a long history as one of humanity’s most sacred symbols before it was appropriated by the Nazis in the twentieth century. In 1992, though, the swastika in the IRM emblem was replaced for North America and Europe with a six-armed galactic-shaped swirl within the hexagram because of the swastika’s association in the West with Germany’s Nazi past and the Holocaust (Raël 2005, 369): ‘In Asia, where the swastika can be found in most Buddhist temples and where it represents infinity in time, the original symbol is not a problem’ (Raël 2005, 368). In 2007, though, Raël decided to restore the swastika in the hexagram as the official IRM symbol (‘The Official Raëlian Symbol Gets its Swastika Back’, 2007). The swastika, according to Upendra Singh, National Raëlian Guide for Nepal and leader of the Worldwide Pro-Swastika Alliance, ‘is a symbol cherished not only by Raëlians, for whom it represents infinity in time, but by Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains’ (quoted in Simon 2016).

Until the 1980s, Raëlianism diffused primarily through the international French community, but in the 1980s Japanese Raëlians translated Raël’s books into English: Le Livre qui dit la Vérité (The Book that Tells the Truth)

(L’Édition du Message, 1974) and Les Extra-terrestres M’ont Emmené sur leur Planète (Extraterrestrials Took Me to Their Planet) (Édition du Message, 1975) were published as a single volume: The Message Given to Me by Extraterrestrials: They Took Me to Their Planet (1986). Raël’s third book, Accueillir les Extra-Terrestres (Let’s Welcome the Extraterrestrials) (L’Édition du Message, 1975) was published as Let’s Welcome Our Fathers from Space: They Created Humanity in Their Laboratories (1989). In 2005, new English translations of The Message Given to Me by Extraterrestrials and Let’s Welcome the Extraterrestrials were completed and published as one book, Intelligent Design: Message from the Designers (2005), which the IRM has made available on its homepage as a free download (https://www.rael.org).

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The Embassy Project

The beginning of the Aquarian Age (the Age of Apocalypse), according to Raël, coincided with Raël’s birth and the return of the Jews to Israel in 1946, which Raëlians count as the Year One (Raël 2005, 206):

The Age of Pisces was the age of Christ and his fishermen, and the Age of Aquarius, which follows, began in 1946. This is the era in which the people of Israel found their country again. … It is not by chance that you [i.e. Raël] were born in 1946. (Raël 2005, 81)

Raël says that the Elohim instructed him to create a movement to spread the messages of the Elohim creators worldwide, and to build an ‘embassy’ near Jerusalem where the Elohim spaceships will land (Raël 2005, 176). Raëlianism’s embassy will be, according to Raël, the rebuilt third temple of biblical prophecy (Raël 2005, 368), which to many Zionists and Christians is a necessary prerequisite of the advent of the messianic age (the first temple in Jerusalem, the Temple of Solomon, was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 bce; the accession of Cyrus the Great of Persia in 559 bce made possible the construction of the second temple, which was destroyed by the Romans in 70 ce). Raël has warned that if Israel does not permit the embassy’s construction, the embassy will be built elsewhere and the people of Israel will once again be dispersed (Raël 2005, 177). According to Raël’s 1997 Message of the Elohim:

Jerusalem is everywhere where human beings love us, respect us and wish to welcome us with due respect, and the chosen people are those who, knowing what we are, want to welcome us, meaning the Raëlians. The real Jews on Earth are no longer the people of Israel, but those who recognize us as their creators and wish to see us return. The link we have with the people of Israel is about to be severed. … They have very little time to understand their mistake before being dispersed once again. (Raël 2005, 359)

In 1991 the IRM submitted an official request to the Chief Rabbi in Israel regarding the construction of the Elohim embassy in Jerusalem. The swastika had been removed from the IRM symbol in 1992 not only ‘out of respect for the sensitivities of the victims who had suffered and died under the Nazi swastika during the Second World War’ (Raël 2005, 368) but also to facilitate embassy negotiations with Israel. An Israeli government commission concluded that the IRM was peaceful and not a threat to Israel’s national security; nonetheless, in 1993 Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin rejected the IRM’s request that the embassy be constructed in Israel (Raël 2005, 368). The IRM then began negotiations with other nations, including Canada and Russia, but it has not yet succeeded in securing the agreement of a nation-state in which it can establish the embassy. Once a country authorizes the embassy’s construction, Israel will, according to Raël, have one last opportunity to reconsider, but if in the end Israel rejects the embassy project, according to Raël, Israel will be dispersed (Raël 2005, 360).

According to Raël, ‘our greatest task is to build the embassy for the Elohim so that at long last they can come here and land officially and live among us’ (Raël 2005, 71). In 2015 the IRM submitted a request to the United Nations—‘Optional Protocol Concerning Embassies for Extraterrestrials’—asking that the Elohim be granted special diplomatic status (International Raëlian Foundation, 2015). Daniel Turcotte, Raëlian Guide and leader of the IRM in Canada, is Raël’s assistant responsible for the IRM’s Embassy for Extraterrestrials Project.

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Cloning

Raël claims that in 1975 he encountered the Elohim a second time, and they took him to the Elohim home planet and to a second, smaller planet—the Planet of the Eternals—where he met Moses, Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, and Yahweh. On the Planet of the Eternals, people live seven hundred years. Upon their death, eternals are cloned from a cell taken from their old bodies. There are nine thousand eternals—Elohim and people from Earth—and ninety thousand biological robots who serve them. Eight thousand Earth humans have already been re-created on the Planet of the Eternals (Raël 2005, xix). The biological robots are incapable of suffering or feeling and cannot reproduce (Raël 2005, 162). Raël teaches that we must show the Elohim that we are proud of having been created in their image by one day being able to ourselves create human beings in our image: biological robots who will free us, their creators, entirely from work:

Work should not be considered as something sacred. Everyone has the right to be comfortably off even if he does not work. Everyone should try to fulfill himself and blossom in the field which attracts him. If men organize themselves, it will not take them long to mechanize and automate entirely all indispensable work. … Do everything to create the biological robot which will relieve you from menial labor and enable you to blossom and fulfill yourselves. (Raël 2005, 196–97)

In 1997 the IRM established Clonaid, the world’s first human cloning project. In 2000 Raël severed all formal involvement in Clonaid (Raël 2005, 365), placing it under the direction of Brigitte Boisselier (b. 1956), a PhD-level biomolecular chemist and Raëlian bishop. According to Boisselier:

In a not too distant future, advanced cloning technologies will allow us to even re-create a deceased person in an adult body, with all his past experiences and memories, allowing mankind to enter the age of immortality as it has been announced by His Holiness Raël, founder of Clonaid, in 1973 already after his contact with the Elohim, mankind’s extraterrestrial creators. (Boisselier 2004)

There is no ‘God’, Raël teaches. Nor is there a soul that survives the body’s death. There are our ET Elohim creators, though, and the genetic code, the ‘cellular plan’, which allows the Elohim to re-create the individual, to whom is granted eternal life (Raël 2005, 247). As feminist theorist Gena Corea wrote: ‘The promise of immortality is apparently one of the most attractive features of cloning’ (Corea 1985, 262).

On 28 March 2001, Raël appeared before the US Congress during hearings on human cloning. He testified that ‘human cloning will make it possible for us to reach eternal life’ and dedicated his testimony to Giordano Bruno (1548–1600), the Italian Dominican monk, philosopher, and scientist who was, Raël said, ‘sentenced to death by the Catholic Church for saying there was life on other planets’ (‘User Clip’, 2001) (in his 1584 treatise De l’Infinito, Universo e MondiOn the Infinite, Universe and Worlds—Bruno postulated an infinite universe and multiplicity of inhabited worlds; he was tried for heresy by the Church of Rome and executed). While there have been a number of legislative attempts to institute a federal ban on human cloning in the United States since Raël testified before the US Congress, there is currently no federal law in the United States that completely prohibits human cloning, although cloning is banned in a number of individual states.

In July 2002, Clonaid’s South Korean affiliate, Biofusion Tech Inc., announced that a woman had been impregnated with a cloned human embryo (Park 2003). In response, in September 2002, South Korea’s Ministry of Health and Welfare announced a ban on human cloning: ‘Whether the claim is true or not, it has become more imperative that we enact such a law at the earliest possible date’ (Shin 2002). In December 2002, Clonaid announced that a cloned baby girl, whom they named Eve, had been born by caesarean section in the US state of Florida. In January 2003, Clonaid reported that a second cloned baby girl had been born in the Netherlands, and that a cloned baby boy had been born in Japan (‘Clonaid Says It’s Cloned First Boy’, 2003). Clonaid’s claims were met with scepticism from scientists (‘Clonaid’s Claims Were a Hoax’, 2003) and condemned by mainstream religious and political leaders worldwide (Associated Press 2002).

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Nuclear Holocaust and the Apocalypse

According to Raël, the development of nuclear weapons was a sign to the Elohim that human beings were ready for reestablished contact with their ET creators. Whereas to Raël the sixth seal of the Apocalypse (Revelation 6:12–17) represents the development of nuclear weapons, the seventh seal (Revelation 8:1–6) represents actual nuclear war (Raël 2005, 299). Raël’s Elohim will not intervene to prevent nuclear war: ‘Either Humanity will develop an interplanetary consciousness and the whole of Mankind will enter the Golden Age, or everything will explode, and you will be those who we will saved to rebuild everything’ (Raël 2005, 306).

While there is a 1 percent chance of averting nuclear holocaust, according to Raël, there is a 99 percent probability that there will be a cataclysmic nuclear war (Raël 2005, 306). In the event of such, those who have had their ‘cellular plan’ transmitted to Raël or to a Raëlian Guide designated by Raël will be re-created on the Planet of the Eternals. Additionally, upon death a one-square-centimetre bone sample is to be taken from the forehead of the deceased and sent to the Guide of Guides (Raël) to be kept in the Raëlian embassy (Raël 2005, 192). Individuals will be re-created on the Planet of the Eternals only if the required bone sample is sent to the Guide of Guides (Raël):

The total of those who will be ‘sealed in the forehead’ will be around 144,000. For as long as the total of these human beings does not reach 144,000, we will help delay the final cataclysm, so as to have a sufficient number to start a new generation on Earth when it has become a suitable place again for humans to live. (Raël 2005, 298–99)

Here, Raël’s teaching is a reading of Revelation 7:1–8 and 14:1,3–5, in which it is prophesied that 144,000 servants of God bearing the seal of the Living God on their foreheads will reign with him on the heavenly Mount Zion.

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Further Reading

Bozeman, John M. 1999. ‘Field Notes: The Raelian Religion—Achieving Human Immortality through Cloning’. Nova Religio 3 (1): 154–56.

Chryssides, George D. 2000. ‘Is God a Space Alien? The Cosmology of the Raëlian Church.’ Culture and Cosmos 4 (1): 36–53.

Clonaid. n.d. ‘History.’ Clonaid: Pioneers in Human Cloning. Retrieved from http://www.clonaid.com/page.php?7.

Flaherty, Robert P. 1990. ‘Extraterrestrials and the Neoplatonic Revival: Flying Saucers, Hybridity, and the Convergence of Opposites.’ Chapter 5 in Flying Saucers and the New Angelology: Mythic Projection of the Other and the Convergence of Opposites. PhD diss., University of California, Los Angeles.

Flaherty, Robert P. 2011. ‘UFOs, ETs, and the Millennial Imagination.’ In The Oxford Handbook of Millennialism, edited by Catherine Wessinger, 568–87. New York: Oxford University Press.

International Raëlian Movement. n.d. Retrieved from https://www.rael.org/home.

Raël (Claude Vorilhon). 2001. Sensual Meditation: Awakening the Mind by Awakening the Body. n.p.: Raëlian Foundation.

Raël (Claude Vorilhon). 2001. Yes to Cloning: Eternal Life Thanks to Science. n.p.: Raëlian Foundation.

Raël (Claude Vorilhon). 2003. Maiteya. n.p.: Raelian Foundation.

Raël (Claude Vorilhon). 2008. Geniocracy: Government of the People for the People by the Geniuses. n.p.: Raëlian Foundation.

Sentes, Bryan and Susan Palmer. 2000. ‘Presumed Immanent: The Raëlians, UFO Religions, and the Postmodern Condition’. Nova Religio 4 (1): 86–105.

Thomas, Paul B. 2010. ‘Revisionism in ET-Inspired Religions.’ Nova Religio 14 (2): 61–83.

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References

Associated Press. 2002. ‘Pope, Religious Leaders Condemn Cloning Claim.’ World-Wide Religious News. 29 December 2002. Retrieved from https://wwrn.org/articles/14751.

Boisselier, Brigitte. 2004. ‘Godsend the Movie, Clonaid the Reality.’ Clonaid. Retrieved from http://www.clonaid.com/news.php?default.0.1.

Bruno, Giordano. 1584. De l’infinito universo e mondi.

Chryssides, George D. 2003. ‘Scientific Creationism: A Study of the Raëlian Church.’ In UFO Religions, edited by Christopher Partridge, 45–61. London: Routledge.

‘Clonaid Says It’s Cloned First Boy.’ 2003. CNN. 23 January 2003. Retrieved from https://edition.cnn.com/2003/WORLD/americas/01/23/clonaid.claim.

‘Clonaid’s Claims Were a Hoax.’ 2003. BioNews. 13 October 2003. Retrieved from https://www.bionews.org.uk/page_89056.

Corea, Gena. 1985. The Mother Machine: Reproductive Technologies from Artificial Insemination to Artificial Wombs. New York: Harper & Row.

Flaherty, Robert P. 2010. ‘These Are They: ET-Human Hybridization and the New Daemonology.’ Nova Religio, 14 (2): 84–105.

Gallagher, Eugene V. 2010. ‘Extraterrestrial Exegesis: The Raëlian Movement as a Biblical Religion.’ Nova Religio, 14 (2): 14–33.

‘God’. 1906. In The Jewish Encyclopedia: A Descriptive Record of the History, Religion, Literature, and Customs of the Jewish People from the Earliest Times to the Present Day. Retrieved from http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/5704-elohim.

International Raëlian Movement. 2015. ‘Optional Protocol Concerning Embassies for Extraterrestrials Draft v1.2.’ Retrieved from http://elohimembassy.org/wp-co...

Palmer, Susan J. 1995a. ‘The Raelian Movement International.’ In New Religions in the New Europe, edited by Robert Towler, 194–210. Aarhus: Aarhus University Press.

Palmer, Susan J. 1995b. ‘Women in the Raelian Movement: New Religious Experiments in Gender and Authority.’ In The Gods Have Landed: New Religions from Other Worlds, edited by James R. Lewis, 105–36. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Palmer, Susan J. 1998. ‘The Raelians Are Coming! The Future of a UFO Religion.’ In Religion in a Changing World, edited by Madeleine Cousineau, 139–46. Westport, CT: Praeger.

Palmer, Susan J. 2000. ‘The Raelian Movement.’ In UFOs and Popular Culture: An Encyclopedia of Contemporary Myth, edited by James R. Lewis, 249–51. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.

Palmer, Susan J. 2004. Aliens Adored: Raël’s UFO Religion. Rutgers: Rutgers University Press.

Palmer, Susan J. 2014. ‘Raël’s Angels: The First Five Years of a Secret Order.’ In Sexuality and New Religious Movements, edited by Henrik Bogdan and James R. Lewis, 183–211. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Palmer, Susan J. and Bryan Sentes. 2012. ‘The International Raëlian Movement.’ In The Cambridge Companion to New Religious Movements, edited by Olav Hammer and Mikael Rothstein, 167–83. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Park, Bong-ju. 2003. ‘Clone Firm Active in Korea‘. JoongAng Ilbo. 5 January 2003. Retrieved from https://koreajoongangdaily.joins.com/news/article/article.aspx?aid=1906026.

Raël (Claude Vorilhon). 2005. Intelligent Design: Message from the Designers. n.p.: Raëlian Foundation.

Vorilhon, Claude. 1986. The Message Given to Me by Extraterrestrials: They Took Me to Their Planet. Tokyo: AOM Corporation.

Vorilhon, Claude. 1989. Let’s Welcome Our Fathers from Space: They Created Humanity in Their Laboratories. 2nd ed. Tokyo: AOM Corporation.

Shin, Paul. 2002. ‘South Korea to Expedite Enactment of Law Banning Human Cloning.’ World-Wide Religious News. 26 July 2002. Retrieved from https://wwrn.org/articles/12261.

Shvat, Ari. 2015. ‘El and Eloha.’ Yeshiva. 31 March 2015. Retrieved from https://www.yeshiva.co/ask/7465.

Simon. 2016. ‘Raelians Honour Swastika Rehabilitation Day, Seek to Restore Symbol’s Ancient Meaning!!’ Canadian Raelian Movement. 23 June 2017. Retrieved from https://raelcanada.org/raelians-honour-swastika-rehabilitation-day-seek-restore-symbols-ancient-meaning.

‘The Official Raëlian Symbol Gets its Swastika Back.’ 2007. Raëlian News. 18 January 2007. Retrieved from http://raelianews.org/news.php?item.206.3.

Thomas, Paul Brian. 2010. ‘Bible Lessons with Raël: On Religious Appropriation in ET-Inspired Religions.’ Nova Religio 14 (2): 6–13.

‘User Clip: Raël at US Congress on Cloning on 28 March 2001.’ 2001. C-SPAN. 10 November 2018. Retrieved from https://www.c-span.org/video/?c4760066/user-clip-rael-congress-cloning.



© Robert Pearson Flaherty 2021

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Robert Pearson Flaherty. 2021. "International Raëlian Movement." In James Crossley and Alastair Lockhart (eds.) Critical Dictionary of Apocalyptic and Millenarian Movements. 15 January 2021. Retrieved from www.cdamm.org/articles/international-raelian-movement.

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144,000

144,000 refers to a belief in an elect group, often at end times or in an imminent transformation of the world. The usage typically derives from the book of Revelation. In Revelation 7:1–8, 144,000 refers to the twelve tribes of Israel who have the seal of God on their foreheads. They are also presented as virgins, blameless, ‘redeemed from the earth’, and expected to sing a new song at Mount Zion (Revelation 14:1–5).

Apocalypticism

In popular usage, 'apocalypticism' refers to a belief in the likely or impending destruction of the world (or a general global catastrophe), usually associated with upheaval in the social, political, and religious order of human society—often referred to as an/the 'apocalypse'. Historically, the term has had religious connotations and the great destruction has traditionally been seen as part of a divine scheme, though it is increasingly used in secular contexts. See the Apocalypticism article for a more detailed discussion.

Armageddon

In popular use, ‘Armageddon’ involves ideas of great cataclysmic events or conflict. The term has long been used to refer to a future battle or ongoing war at the end of time or civilization, whether understood generally as a cataclysmic final battle or specifically as a battle at a place called Megiddo (a location in modern Israel), or a more flexible understanding of Megiddo as a coded reference to an alternative location. ‘Armageddon’ derives from the book of Revelation where it appears just once (Revelation 16:16) with reference to the location of a great cosmic battle associated with the end times. See the Armageddon article for a more detailed discussion.

Beast of the Apocalypse

In popular terms, the 'Beast' or the 'Beast of the Apocalypse' refer generally to a violent and destructive creature that emerges at end times. Such understandings of an end-time beast or beasts derive from the book of Revelation (also called the The Apocalypse) and its long and varied history of interpretation. Revelation refers to 'beasts' on different occasions, including beasts in opposition to God: one emerging from the sea or a pit (Revelation 11:7; 13:1; 17:8; cf. Daniel 7), one from the earth (Revelation 13:11), and another scarlet in colour (Revelation 17:3). The beast from the earth is also associated with the number 666 (alternatively: 616) (Revelation 13:18) and Revelation 19:20 claims that the beast will 'thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur' (New Revised Standard Version).

Eschatology

‘Eschatology’ concerns the study of end times and is derived from the Greek term ἔσχατος (eschatos), meaning ‘final, ‘last’, ‘end’, etc. Eschatology is a label that can incorporate a cluster of related beliefs which differ according to tradition (e.g., end of the world, resurrection, regeneration, Day of Judgment, Antichrist).

Kingdom of God

In the Bible, the ‘Kingdom of God’ (sometimes synonymous with the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’) refers to notions of ruling and kingship which are often understood to have a spatial or territorial dimension, whether in heaven or on earth. According to the book of Daniel, such ‘kingdom’ language is used to describe the claim that God rules the universe eternally (Daniel 4:34) but will also intervene in human history to establish a kingdom for his people (Daniel 2:44). According to the Gospels, Jesus predicted the coming Kingdom of God or Heaven and these predictions have been influential in the history of speculations about end times or the benefits of the kingdom being experienced in a present time and place. Across different traditions, such language has also been used to describe communities deemed holy or places deemed sacred, as well as being understood with reference to personal or ‘spiritual’ transformation.

Messianism

Messianism refers to ideas about a redeemer figure or figures who transform the fortunes of a given people or the world as a whole. The term ‘Messiah’ is derived from the Hebrew משיח (mashiach), meaning ‘anointed one’. In the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, it is a term used to denote people such as kings, priests and prophets anointed to carry out their duties on behalf of God. In early Judaism, the term took on a more precise meaning as a future redeemer figure, including a king in the line of David. New Testament texts made such clams about Jesus where a Greek equivalent of the Hebrew, Χριστός (christos), became part of his name: Jesus Christ.

Millenarianism

In popular and academic use, the term ‘millenarianism’ is often synonymous with the related terms ‘millennialism’, ‘chiliasm’ and ‘millenarism’. They refer to an end-times Golden Age of peace, on earth, for a long period, preceding a final cataclysm and judgement—sometimes referred to as the 'millennium'. The terms are used to describe both millenarian belief and the persons or social groups for whom that belief is central. ‘Millennialism’ or ‘chiliasm’ are chronological terms derived from the Latin and Greek words for ‘thousand’. They are commonly used to refer to a thousand-year period envisaged in the book of Revelation (20:4–6) during which Christ and resurrected martyrs reign prior to the final judgment. More recently the terms have been used to refer to secular formulas of salvation, from political visions of social transformation to UFO movements anticipating globally transformative extra-terrestrial intervention. See the Millenarianism article for a more detailed discussion.

Prophecy

‘Prophecy’ can be broadly understood as a cross-cultural phenomenon involving claims of supernatural or inspired knowledge transmitted or interpreted by an authoritative recipient, intermediary, or interpreter labelled a ‘prophet’. The term is also used in a more general and secular way to refer to individuals who simply predict or prognosticate future events, or those leading principled causes or in pursuit of a particular social or political vision without any special association with inspired or supernatural insight. The language of ‘prophet’ and ‘prophecy’ in English derives from the Greek προφητης (prophētēs) found in the Greek translations of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and in the New Testament. See the Prophets and Prophecy article for a more detailed discussion.

Son of Man

‘Son of man’ simply means ‘man’ in biblical Hebrew and Aramaic and is a title for Jesus in the Greek New Testament. While the ancient idiom is gendered, some scholars prefer to bring out the generic implications and reflect inclusive language today in their English translations (e.g., 'son of a human being', 'son of humanity'). The phrase sometimes took on a more titular function before Jesus because of the book of Daniel. In Daniel 7, Daniel is said to have had a vision of four destructive beasts representing four kingdoms and who stand in contrast to a human-like figure—‘one like a son of man’. The ‘Ancient of Days’ then takes away the power of the beasts and Daniel sees ‘one like a son of man’ approaching, ‘coming with the clouds of heaven’ (Daniel 7:13; New International Version). Daniel 7 claims that this ‘son of man’ figure will be given ‘authority, glory and sovereign power’, ‘all peoples’ will worship him, and his kingdom will be everlasting. The precise identification of the ‘one like a son of man’ in Daniel 7:13 is not made explicit and there has been a long history of identification with a variety of candidates in apocalyptic and millenarian movements, sometimes without reference to the book of Daniel.

Zion

‘Zion’ is an alternative name for Jerusalem and the ‘city of David’ (2 Samuel 5:7; 1 Kings 8:1; 1 Chronicles 11:5; 2 Chronicles 5:2), though it is also used with reference to Israel. Zion can also refer to ‘Mount Zion’, a hill located in Jerusalem which was the site of the Jewish Temple (destroyed 70 CE) and is the site of the al-Aqsa Mosque. Zion and Mount Zion are sometimes interpreted as coded references to an alternative geographical location or to something ‘spiritual’ and otherworldly. In some religious traditions, Zion plays a central role in expectations about end times or the benefits associated with end times being fulfilled in the present.