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Cloning driven by sect's search for eternal life

Rael, the sect's spiritual leader, pictured next to a UFO

(Keystone)

A company which last week claimed to have successfully cloned a child is linked to a Swiss-based sect that believes cloning is the key to eternal life.

The sect - known as Raelians - are led by a former French journalist, Claude Vorilhon, who believes humans were cloned by aliens 25,000 years ago.

Georg Schmid, a Swiss theologist and expert on sects, told swissinfo that the Raelians count between 1,000 to 2,000 members in Switzerland. He added that they are typically well-educated and wealthy people.

The Geneva-based Raelians last week triggered a global media storm after a company associated with the sect - Clonaid - announced it had successfully cloned a baby girl from its 31-year-old mother.

"Raelians are interested in science. They don't believe in Nirvana or the heaven of Christians... but they try to think about life in a scientific way," says Schmid.

"They have found another way to hope for life after death."

This includes the belief that humans can prolong life through cloning.

The sect's founder, Claude Vorilhon, claims to have met aliens, or what he calls "Elhoms", while walking in the French countryside.

It was this meeting that led him to spend six days with extraterrestrials who, he says, furnished him with exclusive knowledge about the origins of humanity.

Charismatic leader

"The group is quite radical because the chief of the group has an absolute position," says Schmid.

"Vorilhon is the chief of every aspect of a cult member's life. He is also the only one who has had meetings with the Elhoms... and must be therefore be obeyed absolutely."

From its base in Geneva, Raelians have spread around the world - especially in North America - and now claim a membership of some 55,000 people.

Schmid says Switzerland provides an ideal home for radical groups because of the country's liberal laws.

"The Raelians had problems in France - where they introduced tough laws following a mass suicide by members of the solar temple sect in 1994.

"After that they started to come over the border."

Schmid says at least two other groups with similar beliefs operate within Switzerland.

Open-minded

"When we look at religious groups we are very open minded. If it was a political [movement] it would frighten us. But as long as this is spiritual or religious we let them practice."

But are such groups potentially dangerous? Switzerland was one of several places around the world where members of the solar sect committed simultaneous mass-suicide.

"If you are a member of this sect, it is a dangerous sect, because you must obey it totally," Schmid says. "Members must also open their personal feelings to the group."

Members also contribute seven per cent of their income to the group - as well as all their assets upon dying.

Group meditation - or what the Raelians call "essential meditation" - is a regular feature of sect life, and is said to involve group sex.

"You are no longer an individual, you give yourself totally," says Schmid.

Despite the flurry of media attention that has accompanied the sect's sensational claims, Schmid does not see the Raelians attracting a bigger following.

swissinfo.

Raelians facts

The Raelians have between 1000 and 2,000 members in Switzerland.
The sect's founder claims to have met extraterrestrials while walking in the French countryside.
He says they told him humans were cloned by aliens 25,000 years ago.
Raelians claim a membership of some 55,000 people, most of whom are in North America.

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