If the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church, sincerely believed the religious ideas he propagated in his lifetime he was likely in for some big surprises when he met his Maker on Monday. But then, when you look at the spectrum of weird ideas today, he would not be the only one liable to face that sort of denouement.

The Korean leader of the “Moonies” regarded himself as the saviour that, according to him, Jesus Christ failed to be — because he was crucified before he was able to marry and have children. Mr Moon believed in breeding a purified human race through the mass marriages he arranged and blessed.

Fiercely anti-communist (he had been imprisoned by the communists in his northern Korean homeland in the 1940s) Mr Moon at one stage regarded the United States as a kind of promised land for church growth. In a bizarre episode as late as 2004 he had himself and his wife crowned at a Capitol Hill luncheon, and announced to the astonished gathering (which included some Members of Congress) that emperors, kings and presidents had “declared to all heaven and earth that Reverend Sun Myung Moon is none other than humanity’s saviour, messiah, returning lord and true parent.”

Mr Moon was not, of course, the only citizen of the twentieth century to have messianic delusions, nor was he the most harmful. Remember the Rev Jim Jones, founder of the Peoples Temple, who orchestrated the mass suicide of more than 900 followers at his commune in Guyana? Compared with Rev Jones, Mr Moon was sanity itself. At least there’s a germ of truth the idea of marriage and children as means of salvation.

That is not the case with the founder of the Raelians, Canadian Claude Vorilhon, who claims to have received revelations from aliens who were the creators of the Earth. Rael (as he is also known) and followers believe that humanity can attain eternal life by cloning — a theory with much elaborate detail including bringing people back from the dead by using a bit of their DNA. But in case sci-fi mumbo-jumbo did not catch enough people Rael added sexual liberation as a drawcard.

But why reserve ridicule for the lunatic fringe of religion when there are mainstream scientists and other academics who sound like Raelian first cousins? There are would-be messiahs floating crazy ideas every week in some journal or other.

Human enhancement theorists lead the pack with proposals for drugs that will do everything from putting people off meat (to cut livestock farming and its greenhouse gas emissions) to curing racism, reforming criminals and preventing divorce. All this would bypass the individual’s free will (and human dignity), which many scientists do not believe in anyway.

Then there’s genetic engineering, starting with babies. Dr Matthew Liao of New York University believes that, to save the planet, we should consider genetic modification and drugs to make people smaller by an average of 15 cm and corresponding body weight. Families, he said in an interview, could have the choice between two-medium-sized children or three small children — or even, “one really large child” if you want “a really good basketball player”.

Oxford University philosophy professor Julian Savulescu develops that theme further. He said recently that creating designer babies could be considered a “moral obligation” as it makes them grow up into “ethically better children”. He believes parents should be offered (for how long, before being “morally obliged”?) the choice to screen out personality flaws in their children as it meant they were then less likely to “harm themselves and others”. Presumably all children would have to start life in a laboratory dish and be screened for the “aggression gene” etc and then be ever-so-gently modified.

A couple of weeks ago the New York Times ran an opinion piece by a professor of biology and criminal justice suggesting that cloning, and the existence of large reserves of frozen sperm, has made men redundant. Men, Greg Hampikian argued, are no longer need for their earning power or muscle (plus they are less healthy and more violent than women) and now, they are not even needed for reproduction since a recent experiment shows that the male cell for that purpose can be manufactured.

Perhaps that was meant to be funny. The problem is that it’s hard to tell the difference between a joke and an earnest proposal these days when academics air their delusions of human grandeur. And there are always a few people around with more money than sense — and a grandiose idea of themselves — who will back the equivalent of Raelian cloning laboratories with their cash.

Russian billionaire Dmitry Itskov claims his research team will be able to transplant a human brain into an artificial body by 2020, and by 2045 he is sure he will be able to create hologram avatars with the same capabilities as the humans in the James Cameron film. BioEdge reports:

In an open letter to the members of Forbes World’s Billionaires List, Mr Itskov makes some bold predictions for his 2045 Initiative: “substance-independent minds will receive new bodies with capacities far exceeding those of ordinary humans. A new era for humanity will arrive! … humanity, for the first time in its history, will make a fully managed evolutionary transition and eventually become a new species.”

Mr Itskov has some high-profile supporters. Actor Steven Seagal has written an open letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin calli upon him to support the project.

Compared with these scientific ambitions, Mr Moon’s spiritual claims, even allowing for the worldly fortune they helped him to amass, seem comfortingly old-fashioned and harmless.

Carolyn Moynihan is deputy editor of MercatorNet.

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet