February 23, 2014 - ‚ÄúPeople are not [ready] yet, but we will keep trying to spread the message,‚ÄĚ said Am Vichet, the head of the Cambodian chapter of the Raelian Movement, which believes a group of scientists created life 25,000 years ago in a laboratory.
The 41-year old, who works at reproductive health NGO Marie Stopes, said he became a Raelian in 2007 after attending a lecture where the cult‚Äôs philosophy was explained. ‚ÄúI want to learn new things. Then, at that time, I joined a lecture and they showed me a video and I thought it was interesting. But it was not enough just to go one time; I wanted to learn more,‚ÄĚ Vichet
His next step was to read a book penned by the group‚Äôs leader, Frenchman Claude Vorilhon, now known by his acolytes only as Rael and who founded the cult in 1974. He claims to be a reincarnation of Buddha.
Vorilhon, then a journalist for an automobile magazine and racing car test driver, says that, on December 13, 1973, he took a detour on his way to work and wandered around an inactive volcano near Auvergne in France. There, he met an extraterrestrial called Yahweh Elohim, who explained ‚Äúthe message‚ÄĚ.
The message was simple: life on Earth is the scientifically engineered creation of an advanced alien civilisation, and Vorilhon‚Äôs mission on this planet is to prepare humankind for their eventual return.
One of the main goals of Raelism is to build a $20 million embassy
for the Elohim, preferably in Israel. Perhaps due to Raelism‚Äôs symbol ‚Äď a swastika enveloped in a Star of David ‚Äď the movement is banned in the birthplace of Judaism.
So Raelians are looking eastward and, last January, applied to the Council of Ministers in a letter addressed to Prime Minister Hun Sen.
The project, which the letter states will generate ‚Äúseveral billion euros of revenue, as well as additional spinoff ventures‚ÄĚ, will make Cambodians ‚Äúthe first [people] to benefit from the Elohim‚Äôs highly advanced technologies‚ÄĚ.
But more than a year after the application was submitted, Rael has yet to receive a response from Phnom Penh.
Ek Tha, a spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said that although he was not aware of the application, he would welcome an extraterrestrial movement in Cambodia.
‚ÄúI myself have researched UFOs
and extraterrestrial life for the last two years,‚ÄĚ he said.
‚ÄúTo me, this would be great if we can start an alien movement or institution in Cambodia. We are not alone, my friend. When I tell my friends at work, nobody believes me.‚ÄĚ
But any attempt to build the embassy may come up against practical obstacles, according to Dan Thibault, a French-Canadian who travels across Asia
spreading Rael‚Äôs teachings and was in Phnom Penh last week to hold a public lecture.
‚ÄúThe problem is political . . . the problem is the extra-territoriality, the airspace. We need a protected airspace, like a no-fly zone over the embassy,‚ÄĚ Thibault said. ‚ÄúThe country that will organise the embassy will be the spiritual and cultural centre of the union to come. It‚Äôs a really big thing.‚ÄĚ
The symbol of the cult is a star of David with a swastika inside. PHOTO SUPPLIED
Vichet explained how he began to accept the Raelians‚Äô ideas after he read Vorilhon‚Äôs first book, The Book Which Tells the Truth, which Vichet recently translated into Khmer.
‚ÄúI started thinking what our natural state was, and one day you can see these things in the sky, and then I thought, oh, it‚Äôs true. And then that night I saw the lights again and after that I start to become a Raelian,‚ÄĚ Vichet said.
‚ÄúAfter that, my life changed. I learn and I read the books and I changed a lot of what I used to think, like negative thinking, and I changed myself.‚ÄĚ
The movement claims to be expanding in Asia, boosted by growing followings in China and Japan. Three Cambodians turned up to the meeting last week, at which Thibault delved further into Raelian philosophy.
‚ÄúLife has been created 25,000 years ago. The Elohim
came here, they were a group of scientists who had mastered DNA, and they created all forms of life on this planet,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúThey sent all the gods ‚Äď Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, Moses ‚Äď all the prophets sent throughout history. We live in the scientific era and at this time we can create life significantly in laboratories, which means we are equal to gods.‚ÄĚ
To appeal to Asia‚Äôs Buddhist masses, Raelians have tailored their teachings to the students of the Buddha.
Rael now claims to be the Maitreya, the reincarnation of the Buddha. He said the date of his meeting with Yahweh Elohim
corresponds with the Buddhist calendar year 3000, when the sutras state the Buddha shall reappear. The new Buddha, the sutras continue, ‚Äúwill come from the west‚ÄĚ in ‚Äúthe land of the cock‚ÄĚ, which is a national symbol of France.
But controversies over attempts at human cloning in Europe have led to Vorilhon‚Äôs exile from France, where there is a warrant out for his arrest.
‚ÄúWe want to live forever. [Human cloning] is the first step towards eternal life,‚ÄĚ Thibault said. ‚ÄúIt sounds, perhaps, crazy, but some scientists are working right now on downloading your personality. We‚Äôll be able to download our personality from our brain to a computer.
‚ÄúThe next step is you upload your personality into a new body. We‚Äôre going to do that, it‚Äôs just a matter of time.‚ÄĚ
Proposed plans for the ‚Äėembassy‚Äô that the Raelians say they hope to build in Cambodia. PHOTO SUPPLIED
Despite the movement‚Äôs expressed alignment with Buddhist values, since its first seminar in 2006, it has only managed to attract 10 adherents in Cambodia.
‚ÄúWe just have a very small number in Cambodia,‚ÄĚ said Vichet, adding that he hopes more people will hear the message now that he has translated one of Vorilhon‚Äôs books into Khmer. ‚ÄúMost of the Cambodian people, they don‚Äôt want to read, especially big books. They don‚Äôt want to read a whole story.‚ÄĚ
Raelism, which now claims to have close to 85,000 members in more than 100 countries, has courted controversy in an attempt to gain notoriety and support, including campaigns for public nudity, LGBT rights and setting up a clinic in Burkina Faso
to reconstruct women‚Äôs genitals after they have suffered female genital mutilation.
They also hope to attract celebrity support, much like Scientology.
‚ÄúWe met Michael Jackson; Rael met Russell Brand in the past year. But the fear, they don‚Äôt want to identify themselves publicly,‚ÄĚ Thibault said, shortly after playing an animated video showing the four-foot-tall Elohim, who look remarkably similar to Jackson, meeting Vorilhon.
Mike Kropveld, executive director of the Montreal-based InfoCult, which has documented Raelism for about 30 years, said that the group is attempting a two-pronged approach to move into Asia.
‚ÄúThey have been trying for years to move into other countries. They have been raising money endlessly [to do this],‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúAt the same time, they‚Äôve been trying to get Israel to form an embassy. I don‚Äôt know why they want an embassy in Cambodia.
‚ÄúThey also often move into the shock area, or something that‚Äôs titillating, like the topless campaign. A more accurate [membership] figure would be 5,000, of people who would consider themselves members.‚ÄĚ
Kropveld said that Raelism appeals to disillusioned followers of many religions.
‚ÄúIt has had an appeal here, some of the messages the group subscribes to, it‚Äôs like a church in terms of the treatment of women, going to heaven, going to where the creators are,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs not really so far off from what [new members] believed before. They kind of have a global religious perspective.‚ÄĚ
While Raelian leaders say Buddhism is compatible with their beliefs, Vichet stopped practising around the time he became a Raelin ‚Äúguide‚ÄĚ through a baptism ceremony in 2007. Through the ceremony, Vichet believes his ‚Äúcellular plan‚ÄĚ was transmitted to a computer in preparation for judgment when the Elohim
return in 2035.
‚ÄúWe do a baptism to get the plan transmitted and become a Raelian. The baptism actually is physical . . . everybody has vibrations, you transmit these vibrations.‚ÄĚ