When he was taken aboard a flying saucer in 1973, the founder of the Raelian religion says, a green-skinned extraterrestrial greeted him with the question: "Aren't you sorry that you didn't bring your camera?"
Because the former racing car enthusiast who calls himself Rael has no photos to back up his story, he and his estimated 55,000 followers in 84 countries have sought other ways to gain attention and credibility, including yesterday's claim that a Raelian company has cloned a human baby.
Cloning occupies a central role in the Raelians' beliefs. In a 1975 book, Rael says the extraterrestrials whom he met in the crater of a dormant French volcano gave him a new interpretation of the Bible and explained that humanity was created from the DNA of superior alien scientists, named the "Elohim." By creating new life from human DNA, he has since said, Earthling scientists can unlock the secret to immortality.
In addition to promising eternal life, the Raelian creed has attracted adherents with an emphasis on feminism, world peace, tolerance toward gays, sexuality without guilt and physical attractiveness.
Rael, born in France in 1946 as Claude Vorilhon, wears white suits and his hair gathered in a bun. Brigitte Boisselier, the Raelian scientist who made yesterday's cloning announcement in Florida, cut a striking figure with bright orange hair, a midriff-baring top and black-striped hosiery.
Rael advocates a political system of "geniocracy" -- rule by geniuses -- and "humanitarianism," a form of social justice that would bar inheritance of any property except a family home.
He also warns that humanity has entered an apocalyptic age that began with the United States's dropping the atomic bomb on Japan in 1945 and may end with the return of the Elohim around 2035.
One of the Raelians' goals is to build an embassy in Jerusalem to welcome these extraterrestrial creators, whose name in Hebrew means God, but which Rael says should be translated as "those who came from the sky."
To try to win permission for the embassy project from the Israeli government, the Raelians in 1990 changed the original symbol of their religion, a swastika surrounded by a Star of David. Inside the Star of David, there is now a swirling galaxy.