Annual Meeting

October 10-13, 2002

Pasadena, California


 

Jesus Redux and the New World Order in James BeauSeigneur's Christ Clone Trilogy and the Raëlian Religion

Stephanie S. Turner
John S. Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines
Cornell University
st265@cornell.edu

Because of the prophetic power that genes supposedly have to explain the past and predict the future, cloning narratives can be a compelling way to frame messianic belief systems. Cloning's imitation of immortality in messianic narratives, which depict a transcendence of the flesh through a "resurrection" of the genetic code, becomes in these texts a technological means of fulfilling Christian prophecy. Given the strong belief in Christian prophecy in contemporary American culture (Boyer 13-15), such narratives were bound to increase following the announcement of the birth of Dolly, the world's first cloned mammal, at the turn of the millennium. One such narrative occurred in the mission statement of the now-defunct website known as The Second Coming Project: "Our intention is to clone Jesus, utilizing techniques pioneered at the Roslin Institute in Scotland, by taking an incorrupt cell from one of the many Holy Relics of Jesus' blood and body that are preserved in churches throughout the world [such as the Shroud of Turin], extracting its DNA, and inserting [it] into an unfertilized human egg."

The Second Coming Project's "can do" attitude arises from the genetic explanation itself, that simplistic equation in which genotype equals destiny. Yet The Second Coming Project's confidence is puzzling in light of the cultural anxieties surrounding cloning, including a distrust of copies; a fear of cloned "monsters"; confusion over cloning's threat to kinship and erasure of history; and a uniquely American ambivalence over technology, which the profitable but regulation-resistant U.S. life industry has exacerbated. Narrative theorist Frank Kermode's classic discussion of Western apocalypticism in The Sense of an Ending helps to explain The Second Coming Project's skewed logic. Acutely aware of contemporary crisis and the possibility of historical loose ends, the project reflected a cultural "hunger for ends and for crises" (55) at the turn of the millennium. This is the mechanism by which apocalypse becomes revelation, and it is well dramatized in the tension between utopian and dystopian visions of technology.

While obviously a hoax, The Second Coming Project is a useful opening example because it illustrates the affinity between the broad explanatory power of the theological imaginary and the contemplation of the sublime inherent in science and technology. Here, the technoscientific sublime concerns the possibility that cloning could reproduce a human being from the centuries-old blood of another preserved in a relic. In this application of Jurassic Park technology, the Christian national story manifests as the biblical prophecy of God's will fulfilled through high-tech human endeavor in cloning what turns out to be an American messiah with global citizenship who can at last save us from ourselves-provided he does not, as the cliché goes, destroy us in the process. Kermode's analysis of the connection between longed-for endings and sought-after crises in Western narrative provides a starting point for my discussion of the apocalypticism surrounding messianic cloning narratives. Writing of the Judeo-Christian reconceptualization of time as linear, rather than cyclic, Kermode examines the Bible as the "model of history," beginning with the Genesis account and ending with the Apocalypse of John, also known as the Book of Revelation (6-7). The linear sense of time that arose with the Judeo-Christian tradition is paralleled in Western science, which also explains the world in terms of beginnings and endings. It is here as well, however, that the two explanatory systems are most at odds. While the Judeo-Christian tradition, with its emphasis on the fulfillment of prophecy, focuses on closure, Western science works against closure, identifying ever more problems to be solved. In contemporary biotech's gene fetishism, cloning offers a sublime solution to the theological problem of linear time, and clonable messianic DNA engages the theological imaginary in a distinctly scientific way. In this paper, I consider how the apocalypticism in narratives of cloning Jesus challenges the incommensurability of religion and science in contemporary American culture in a comparative reading of James BeauSeigneur's Christ Clone Trilogy (1997-1998), part of a larger body of contemporary Christian millennial fiction, notably Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins's Left Behind series, and the revelation account of the Raëlian Religion, a UFO cult whose claim to be experimenting with human cloning was taken so seriously by the U.S. government that representatives from the group were asked to testify before Congress in March of 2001. Together, the trilogy's narrative and the UFO cult's theology illustrate how biotechnologically mediated subjects, though they proliferate in a postnational environment, also tend to shore up national boundaries and promote fascism.

In the shared politics of representation between religion and science, Kermode's analysis of "our deep need for intelligible Ends" (8) proves to be limited. The question of who, precisely, is included among his "us" highlights the problem that "Ends" are under constant negotiation. James Berger offers a revision that is helpful in a post-Dolly critical response to messianic cloning narratives. According to Berger, "Apocalypse is not, [. . .] as Kermode describes it, primarily an existential expression of a universal wish for narrative closure. The wish to end the world, or to represent the end of the world, arises in each case from more particular social and political discomforts and aspirations" (34-35). And these discomforts and aspirations, I am arguing, are informed and seek expression through technologies of representation, which are also technologies of reproduction.

For Berger and other theorists of American apocalypticism following Kermode, contemporary apocalyptic thinking "is almost always, at the same time, post-apocalyptic" (Berger xii-xiii), that is, visions of the End have given way to visions of what happens after the End. At the same time, post-apocalyptic narratives evince a different kind of "representational impasse" (13). These narratives, fraught with contradiction, return to that traumatic historical moment at which a revelatory shift has occurred between what can and cannot be known and represented. In this view, the bioprospecting impulse that is central to Jurassic Park-style narratives can be described symptomatically, as an effort to express that which the connection between biotechnology and computer science has made inexpressible: a posthuman view of life.

Lee Quinby qualifies Berger's view of American post-apocalypticism by foregrounding its idealism, with important implications for praxis. Framing the post-apocalyptic in terms of a "millennial seduction," Quinby understands post-apocalypticism as being fed by a "steady diet of apocalyptic imagery and belief" manifesting both "catastrophic and utopian forms" (9). Americans' insatiable hunger for Shroud of Turin lore, for example, feeds on the catastrophe of the torture and crucifixion of Jesus, on the one hand, and on the utopian aspect of his resurrection, on the other, both of which the Shroud as an artifact supposedly documents. For Quinby, the "dream of bioperfection" advanced by genetic engineering figures prominently in her observation of catastrophic and utopian forms; it threatens "biodomination" even as it promises to make death itself a choice (134-36). But Quinby's objective is more political than Berger's. Following Michel Foucault's genealogical method of questioning accounts that arise from absolute origins, Quinby advocates a "millennial skepticism" that "specifically questions truth claims that are authorized through faith alone, whether its source of authority derives from the divine, the natural and social sciences and the humanities, or the legal system" (8). Quinby argues that millennialist practices such as the "programmed perfection" of cloning (135-36) tend to "interfere with the goals of democratic societies" (5). The millennial skepticism that Quinby advocates is especially important in the biotech age. Unlike Cold War apocalypticism, with its emphasis on nation against nation and the proliferation of nuclear warheads, the proliferation associated with cloning and other reprogenetics technologies describes a more diffuse deployment of biotechnologies in the New World Order. Yes, some sort of Jesus seems destined to come again in such a world, to be recreated, Jurassic Park-style, DNA fragment by DNA fragment. What is the threat to democratic practices in this scenario?

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What distinguishes BeauSeigneur's Christ Clone Trilogy from other Christian millennial fiction is its premise that, contrary to the scientific evidence acknowledged by the Vatican, the Shroud of Turin really is the burial cloth of a clonable Christ-like entity. Radically antiscience and technophobic, the trilogy represents technoscience as the "necessary evil" in the predestined unfolding of the apocalypse. Because the novel's relentlessly gruesome, 1,040-page apocalypse hinges on biotechnology's millennialist role in the creation of life and the promise of everlasting life-what until quite recently in human history has been God's business-this contradiction invites a skeptical examination of its genealogy.

As a Christian national story, the novel features the apparent cloned Jesus-who is, in fact, the Antichrist-as an American-born but increasingly postnational subject. Named "Christopher Goodman" by his father-creator, scientist Harold Goodman, who described his discovery of viable DNA on the Turin Shroud as "the most important discovery since Columbus discovered America" (Book One: 25), the much-admired clone's good works ensure his rise to power in the "one-world government" brought about by a centralized United Nations. The novel thus establishes the clone of Jesus as the ultimate copy problem, history's biggest fake, situating the United States as the prime mover in the global apocalypse. Specifically, the cloned Antichrist functions as the scapegoat for the United States' support of the U.N., linking that support to U.S. tolerance of religious pluralism, construed as dangerous in BeauSeigneur's propaganda piece.

The xenophobia underlying the fear of religious pluralism, global unity, and indeed, the possibility of life existing anywhere else but Earth is apparent right from the beginning of the Trilogy, when the apocalypse signified by the clone is linked to his extraterrestrial origins. For Professor Goodman, the scientist-cloner, is a non-believer who can only explain the superior viability of the Shroud cells as having come from outer space. "The image of the man on the Shroud of Turin," he reasons, "is the result of a sudden burst of heat and light energy from the body of a crucified man as his body went through an instantaneous regeneration or 'resurrection,' if you will." This remarkable being "was a member of [our] parent race [from elsewhere in the galaxy], sent here as an observer" (Book One: 32). This hypothesis is, of course, a variant of the "colonizing outer space fathers" account of genesis developed in lavish detail by UFO cults like the Raëlians. In an interesting instance of a thinly veiled theological appeal to scientific authority, Goodman conjures credibility for his space fathers proposal by citing DNA co-discoverer Francis Crick's "Directed Panspermia" hypothesis from his book Life Itself (1983), which speculates about an extraterrestrial origin for life on Earth. However, Goodman views his success in the cloning experiment as proving not a scientific point, but a theological one: cloning "the man on the Shroud [was] proof positive that he was not the son of God" (Book One: 41), for how could a divine being have DNA? So Goodman's naming of the clone "Christopher"-not after Jesus Christ but after the Spanish explorer (Book One: 50)-is a tribute to the "master race" of extraterrestrial explorers from which he is supposedly descended. "I hoped that like Columbus, Christopher might help lead us to a new world: a better world," Goodman explains (Book One: 51), with no apparent regard to the colonialist legacy of disruption and displacement underlying this millennial ideal.

When hypotheses about the physical universe are met with the millennial hopes and fears that Lee Quinby observes in turn-of-the-twenty-first-century American culture, the strange appeal of the colonizing space fathers hypothesis becomes apparent. The American experience, which was founded on overthrowing colonization but was soon characterized by imperialism, confers an elite sense of national destiny, in this case as ambassador for the whole planet. Of all nations, the Trilogy suggest, the United States seems best suited to launch a return visit from our extraterrestrial forefathers, from whom we might learn, through their superior technology, how to save the world. Goodman's hope of bringing about a new and better world by cloning the ET-messiah exemplifies this sensibility.

But as Quinby notes, the Judeo-Christian tradition is also marked by a resistance to embodiment (Millennial 135). Her examination of "bodies [as] a crucial site of power relations" in her earlier work, Anti-Apocalypse, explains why (45; see also 64-66). In a moral order that privileges spirit over matter, the body, with its needs, diseases, and excesses-in other words, because of its imperfections-is not to be trusted (69). Technologies of the body like reprogenetics, which operate by perfecting bodies and the reproduction of bodies, work against this imbalance. By doing so, they risk becoming one of the "modes of technological power [that] thrust toward domination," a phenomenon that Quinby terms "technoppression" (13). Exemplifying the other end of the polarity in cloning scenarios, the "perfected copy," Christopher, the Antichrist, is the very embodiment of technoppression. The world's first cloned human as well as the reincarnation of one of Earth's extraterrestrial ancestors, he uncannily embodies the space alien "other." The novel's ongoing disdain for the flesh and distrust of technology climax in the activities surrounding the cloning of Christopher's own blood for communion. Here, BeauSeigneur allows his right-wing Protestant contempt for the global economy of the New World Order to run rampant. From the ultimate evil that biotechnology can effect-proliferating the Antichrist-to the gross corruption signified by the Catholic Eucharist-the mixing of spirit and flesh-the blood cloning episode epitomizes the divisive and even regressive isolationism of Christian national apocalypticism. Having perfected the blood-cloning technique and set up more than 12,000 "communion clinics" worldwide, Christopher chooses to begin offering the communion capsules on July 4, this "being the [date]," as he puts it "that was best recognized by the world as representing a day of independence" (Book Three: 79). The millions of people who line up outside the clinics days in advance of their opening are happy to recite the mandatory "pledge of allegiance" to United Nations leader Christopher Goodman and accept his signature mark when at last comes their moment to swallow the pill, believing that they will then attain the same healing powers and immortality he enjoys and with it, the ultimate freedom from the flesh (Book Three: 84). This is, however, not to be in the novel's foregone conclusion, in which Christopher, finally revealed to be the Antichrist, dukes it out with the few remaining forces of good-the post-Rapture converts to Christianity, both gentile and Jew-in the requisite fiery Armageddon of New Testament fame.

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A similar colonialist account of alien disruption and displacement frames the Raëlian Religion's theology, which, like the Christ Clone Trilogy, also contains a cloned extraterrestrial messiah. The essence of Raëlian theology, as presented in the cult's key text, The Message Given by Extra-Terrestrials (1998), is a eugenic enthusiasm arising from the Raëlians' belief that life on Earth originated as part of a genetic engineering project of a superior race of scientist-father extraterrestrials, the Elohim (Hebrew for "those who came from the sky" Message 20). Although this is a common tenet of UFO movements (Wojcik 175-208; Saliba), what distinguishes the Raëlian Religion from other UFO cults is its emphasis on cloning. Raëlians hold that the resurrection of Jesus, an extraterrestrial-human hybrid created by the Elohim to spread the word of humanity's origin and destiny, was an instance of ET cloning intended to reiterate and authenticate the extraterrestrials' message. Rather than seeing a copy problem in cloning Jesus, as the novel does, the Raëlian theology upholds cloning as an authenticating strategy. Indeed, the potential of human cloning, in conjunction with accelerated cell growth and uploadable consciousness, to confer immortality offers a means by which humans can realize their true nature as the offspring of superior beings. Created by the Elohim in their image, humans are destined to collaborate with them. The problem, however, is that Old Testament one of a jealous god-in this case the Elohim-who, distrusting the intelligence of their own creation, try to destroy it but succeed only in scattering it to minimize its threat. The scapegoating of Jews is a case in point. These descendants of Elohim-human unions "did not show [them]selves worthy of [Elohim] confidence" in supporting Jesus as their messenger, and thus their persecution has been justifiable, according to Raëlian leader Raël, one of a long line of cloned Elohim-human hybrids (Message 204) whose arrival in human history is meant to be the latest corrective (Message 163-64).

More than the Trilogy, the Raëlian worldview demonstrates the syncretic tendency of the Christian national apocalypse to incorporate cultural anxieties regarding new genetic technologies like cloning. Cult leader Raël's treatise Yes to Human Cloning (2001) and his testimony before Congress regarding the group's plans to begin human cloning demonstrate the decisive influence of the Dolly experiment on Raëlian theology. Utopian elements in the Raëlians' scientistic cooptation of the Old and New Testaments and religious zeal over contemporary reprogenetics developments, though they seem technophilic, in fact demonstrate a technophobia similar to that of the novel. Here, Quinby's skeptical method works well to identify contradictions in the Raëlians' post-apocalyptic amnesia of the same eugenic colonialism that they claim has brought humanity to the brink of destruction. The group's mission to gain enough converts to establish a worldwide "geniocracy" of biologically superior persons, a "cloning of the fittest" project initiated by the U.S. but with Israel at the top, suggests a regressively antidemocratic vision.

Despite the distinct but related efforts of religion and science to conceptualize beginnings and endings in some definitive way, these representational difficulties have merely intensified in the biotech age. Regarding the beginnings associated with genetics, the representational problem involves repetition and displacement, the antithesis of apocalypse in the sense of a literal ending, but certainly a revelation of sorts. With somatic cell nuclear transfer cloning, a new life has "always already" begun in any given cell, while cells themselves leave a genetic trace of the comings and goings of the body proper long after that body has died. The revisionary explanation of life presented by reprogenetics technologies like cloning calls for a reappraisal of the representational problems of beginnings and endings in the twenty-first century.

The importance of critically examining these narrative forms resides, as Berger insists, in the "real ethical and historical consequences" resulting from the representational impasse of post-apocalyptic modes of expression, their obliteration, in other words, of "particular political needs and relations of power" (218). Such an examination can reveal the underlying assumptions about the relationship between the sacred and the secular that have proven to be problematic in American culture. Identifying these assumptions and tracing in them the network of conflicting interests is a necessary step toward representational practices that effectively locate the limitations-and possibilities-of scientific and religious authority in secular society.

Linking the mixed success of technoscience to effect messianic change with the fallibility of Judeo-Christian authority, narratives like BeauSeigneur's Christ Clone Trilogy and the Raëlian theology tell a partial truth more credible than the truths they purport to uphold. Cultural anxieties over the authenticity of clones, their threat to historical beginnings and endings, and their eugenic intimations of geniocracy together comprise the crux of this revelation-comprise, in fact, the "true" revelation of messianic cloning narratives.