Although it seems like a late April Fool’s prank, a press release from the Raelian movement on April 2 announced that they were delivering a project file to the White House with plans to construct an embassy for extraterrestrial visitors. Copies of the file were also given to the State Department and the Council on Foreign Relations.
The Raelian movement has insisted for decades that Earth’s survival depends on the creation of such an embassy. The arrival of benevolent aliens will inaugurate a messianic age of peace; but if humans fail to build the embassy by a certain date, we will destroy ourselves. A petition to build an embassy of this kind has nearly 3,000 signatures, revealing that many are still compelled by the idea of salvation in a flying saucer.
The UFO phenomenon began in June 1947 when Kenneth Arnold reported seeing disk-like objects in the sky while flying past Mount Rainier in Washington State. Almost immediately, UFO enthusiasts connected the sightings to the advent of nuclear weapons and millennial expectations. One month after the Arnold sighting, the Buchanan Brothers sang:
And though the war may be through there’s unrest and trouble brewin’
And those flying saucers may be just a sign
That if peace doesn’t come it will be the end of some
So repent today, you’re running out of time
The man known as Rael (née Claude Vorilhon) incorporated the same elements of UFOs, nuclear anxiety, and Biblical prophecy. Rael allegedly encountered space aliens in 1973, who warned him that humanity had entered the “Age of Apocalypse” following the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
Possibly inspired by writers like Erich Von Daniken, Rael announced that the Elohim–a name for God used in the Hebrew Bible–were actually aliens who created humanity “in their image” using advanced genetics. Prior to Rael, the Elohim employed numerous other prophets including Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad. Thus all religions are actually the result of alien contact.
To show the Elohim we are prepared to receive their help, Rael was to oversee the construction of an embassy in Jerusalem that would serve as a millennial “third temple.” Originally Earth was given until 2025 to construct the embassy or face destruction, though a website describing the embassy has pushed the critical date back to 2035. It also features messages from the Elohim expressing frustration with Israel and threatening to move the embassy to a more worthy country.
The Raelian movement has a history of using controversial campaigns to remain socially relevant. (Recent examples include the Swastika campaign and the Clitoraid initiative). But the petition to build an embassy for the Elohim points to broader religious attitudes. Thousands of signatories left comments expressing grave doubts about the ability of humanity (especially governments and churches) to change the world and a longing for superhuman intervention. One wrote:
Despite all the bad choices we humans have made over time, I know we will have the good sense to accept this help and prevent the extinction of life on Earth. It’s our duty to save our children from the disastrous consequences of our bad decisions. Let’s build the embassy and welcome those who truly can help/save us.
These comments demonstrate the plasticity of millennial hopes. A quarter century after the end of the Cold War, fears of nuclear annihilation have been superseded by fears of a global financial collapse and environmental devastation. Whether they believe the “Elohim” is God or a race of benevolent aliens, many still long for a new sacred order founded on something more than human agency.