At a public meeting held by the Raelians at OISE, the hugging begins while waiting for the elevator and continues outside the meeting room upstairs. I have no way of knowing whether all this body contact is a Raelian thing or just the warmth of French Canadians as viewed by a repressed Anglo. (Quebec is the group's North American base.)A mixed assortment of about 60 people crowd into a room where Cuban music is playing along with video shots that appear to the uninitiated completely random: penguins, India, galaxies. I have time to study a hand-painted sign that does little to point to the presence of superior beings. "Yes to Science, Yes to Cloning" is spelled out in uneven lettering. Below some bright blobs is a blurry baby in the middle of a six-pointed star. Sitting in front of the sign are two stuffed toy frogs whose significance I won't even attempt to guess.
A switch to Cirque du Soleil-type music signals showtime. Beautiful, permanently smiling Nadia, one of several long-haired Raelian women wearing snug sweater tops and tight pants, introduces David Berman. Not a gifted public speaker, he hesitates every time he comes to "woman," as in "taking an egg from a woman," as though the mention of a female human interferes with the Raelian theory of all life originating in a laboratory.
Cloning, Berman says, eliminates the risks of artificial insemination, where the sperm could come from a junkie and you'd end up with a "junkie baby."
We're subjected to interminable clips from CNN interviews with Rael, the leader, and Brigitte Boisselier, who could be played by Meryl Streep in the movie version.
When a reporter accuses Rael of supporting eugenics, the tape mercifully cuts out. Next, a long excerpt from a movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Robert Duvall as a pet-cloner with bigger plans. It's obviously inspired Raelian speechmakers, whose dialogue is very near identical to the actors'. (The other day Citytv aired the Roger Corman flick in which a lady doctor breeds carnivorous reptiles in chicken eggs and women's wombs, which is far more impressive than the Raelians' C-movie clip of a woman being created in a cloning machine.)
Harsh as it sounds, the Raelians need to work on their production values. Yeah, yeah, you can create life in a lab. How about injecting some into those cheesy lampoon-proof videos? Keep the spaceship and the bearded android Elohim, the one the Bible mistook for Jesus.
And about the deadening live show. They say they love science, so how about some science experiments/magic tricks to get things moving? Watching the black beer that froze in my kitchen rise from the bottle in a brown spire was far more fascinating than anything here.
By the time the man wearing the happy-face tie is advocating cloning for spare body parts and making attempts at humour as feeble as the last guy's, I feel myself growing faint, just as I used to during Catholic mass. There's a form here that I can fill out and send to the Catholics or any other church to get "debaptized." Then I'd be free to plunge into "sensual meditation" with the Raelians.
"Hiroshima ushered in the age of science. The Raelian Embassy will be built, preferably in Israel, and our parents from space will come." Jesus, Mary and Joseph! I need a cigarette -- and I don't even smoke! These people want to live hundreds of years? I feel like I've spent a few decades with them already.
A public question period is nixed in favour of a "mingle," with enough Raelians on hand to glom onto the curious or slow-moving.
Out by the elevators, a gaggle of young skeptics are questioning the slipperiness of Bishop Boisselier's claims. This doubt activates a light bulb over my head. Tomorrow is Thursday, the day the Doubters Club meets at the Parkdale Neighbourhood Church.
I'd walked right by the Parkdale Neighbourhood Church on Queen west of Noble countless times and never noticed it. When I finally looked in, I saw a schedule including a club I wouldn't mind joining -- the Doubters.
What a difference between the Raelians and the St. Thomas Society, where skepticism is not only encouraged but is a prerequisite. A bit late for the 3 pm start, I am very cordially welcomed by pastoral doctor Joe, and introductions are exchanged with the other five doubters.
They apologize for the cold inside and offer me tea, coffee, hot chocolate, biscuits and oranges before updating me on the current doubt. I was asked to keep our discussion confidential. Suffice to say it was livelier and way more relevant than anything the Raelians offered. We are free to argue. Joe moderates, and illustrates some aspects of human nature with well-told stories.
Every once in a while someone comes into this storefront parish looking for a streetcar ticket to get to Out of the Cold. One such fellow who expresses regret that a previous engagement precludes his doubtful participation shoots me a friendly sock in the shoulder. Maybe he knows me from my other social circle down the way.
Raelians want to replicate and redesign humans. The Parkdale Neighbourhood Church does something more difficult. "We are accepting of differences and welcoming to the hurting, the broken and the needy."
The Raelians are "for those who are not afraid of the future!" Meanwhile, here on Earth, it's having the guts to deal with the present that makes a difference.