The Raëlian Happiness Academy was the culmination of our five months undercover with the UFO-believing group. During those five months, we spent many hours in one Raëlian sister’s apartment, cross-legged and staring sublimely into one another’s eyes. At our third meeting, we arrived a bit late and found everyone in a semi-circle quietly staring at one another. Ross and I also sat quietly and stared, since it seemed the thing to do. I now know that if I ever enter a room full of dead people, it will take me at least thirty minutes to catch on.
At first, the staring was a bit unsettling, even creepy. Everyone was smiled at me, completely silent, while I adjusted my skirt and took the occasional baby carrot from an untouched display of food. It seemed a bit like open-eyed meditation or perhaps the way lovers gaze into one another’s eyes, but instead of two smitten lovebirds, we were ten UFO devotees, looking vacantly into each other’s souls. Not that the Raëlians believe in souls, per se. According to Raël, we can achieve immortality only through DNA replication. A soul extends as far as a chromosome.
When the silence finally ended, half an hour had passed. Gabriel, a man in his late thirties wearing a long tie-dye shirt, announced, “You know, all sickness is caused by stress.”
The rest of the members bobbed their heads in agreement. Ross and I looked at them, puzzled. Then we looked at each other. Then we looked at them again.
“Hm,” I said slowly, trying to sound more interested than concerned. “What about viruses and bacteria? Pathogens?”
“It’s the stress that lets them in,” Gabriel replied.
“What about cancer?” I asked.
“Cancer is caused by stress,” he said.
It was a bit early in our assimilation to fight him on this, but I was skeptical that all cancer could be reduced to simply too much time at the office.
“There’s new research all about it,” he said.
“So, tell me what you think about evolution,” Ross piped in, trying to change the subject. “It sounds like, with your respect for science, you probably share scientists’ view that we evolved from other species?”
A chuckle arose from the crowd. Winston, a devoted attendee who had become a good friend, grabbed his copy of Intelligent Design, written by Raël himself, who they say transcribed every word the aliens spoke to him while on a French mountaintop:
Evolution of the various forms of life on Earth is really the evolution of techniques of creation and the increased sophistication of the creators’ work. This eventually led them to create people similar to themselves... This continued right up to your present form, which is the exact replica of your creators who were afraid to create anything highly superior to themselves, although some were tempted to do so.1
In other words, if you believe in evolution, the Raëlians don’t think you’re foolish for doing so. After all, our creators did leave behind traces of their handiwork that looks a lot like natural selection. But scientists have the mechanism all wrong. It wasn’t survival of the fittest; it was survival of the sexiest. That which excited the Elohim was developed, and that which displeased them was done away with. And what pleased them most were carbon copies of themselves.
The meeting carried on this way, not bound to the rules of an agenda or even the standard rules of conversation. Members would make sudden announcements of inspired wisdom, seemingly unrelated to the topic at hand. Eventually, they got to talking about the Happiness Academy, which was coming up in a few months.
“It’s amazing,” they said. “There’s nothing like it. Will you two be joining us?”
Ross and I explained that we both had jobs that might prevent us from attending the entire week but that we were looking forward to coming to part of the event and to getting our “transmissions,” the Raëlian version of a baptism. Linda’s face lit up. She was our hostess and one of the highest-ranking members of the organization. She wore a long, flowing white dress made of sheer fabric and bounced with joy when she spoke.
“You will be receiving your transmissions!” she said, her eyes watering with pride. She told us about her own baptism, and how central it had been in her life. The Raëlians believe that during the ceremony an individual who has devoted his or herself to the beliefs of Raël has their DNA uploaded to a “master computer” flying overhead in a spacecraft. There, the Elohim begin the process of cloning each Raëlian. The only shot we have at eternity is to have our DNA cloned forever.
“I’m so excited for you both!” she said. Then she guided us all to her living room to watch a History Channel special on aliens. A statue of the Buddha holding a swastika sat in the corner of the room, watching over us.
The monthly meetings went on like this, with unplanned talks and organic finger foods. Each conversation would start relatively normally, and though the Raëlians certainly attracted a certain type of follower (the kind who might wear eight scarves during the summer), I rarely felt like much of an outsider. It was almost as if they weren’t a sex-obsessed movement based on the belief that a racecar driver could speak to aliens.
When it was time to register for the Happiness Academy, Ross and I signed up eagerly. We would only be able to make two of the days, but it was better than nothing. And anyway, we would be there for our transmissions. After all, our eternal lives—our DNA—was at stake.