Reza Aslan is an author, a scholar, and the host of CNN’s new show, Believer — in which he embeds with the world’s most “fascinating faith-based groups” to give the audience a real idea about what it’s like to be a devout member of some of religion’s strangest sects. But while the show exists to educate and explain, it’s already receiving a huge amount of backlash after its premiere episode.The fury comes from the fact that Aslan ate brains, human brains, on national television.
Let’s back up for a second, because just saying “this dude ate brains and said they tasted like charcoal” won’t give anyone a clear picture of what actually happened. The reality is that Aslan ate the brains as part of a ceremony performed by the Aghori, a small Hindu group that’s known for its bizarre and extreme rituals.
Why the backlash then? Two reasons: First, Aslan’s choice to film the Aghori — a group of outcasts — has been seen as an insult to adherents of more mainstream Hindu principles; Second, Aslan’s demeanor on the show (his performance has a certain hamming-it-up feel) as well as his remarks about the clips he’s posted have been criticized as mocking and insensitive.
In fact, Hindu groups have even begun protests against both Aslan and CNN in a bid to get the network to pull the show, which they feel will incite both racial and religious intolerance.
Here’s a clip from the show, in which Aslan wears a headband made of human remains and does his best to remain calm as the situation around him gets frightening and violent. It’s a clear bid for ratings and you’ve got to agree that it absolutely works as “riveting television you’ll be discussing with your co-workers at the water cooler on Monday morning.” But was this interview necessary, might it cause more harm than good? On the flip side, shouldn’t there always be a place for these sorts of untold stories?
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