Reza Aslan, host of the CNN show Believer, is making national headlines after partaking in a bizarre cannibalism ritual that caused many viewers to cringe in horror. For one of the latest episodes of his show, Aslan joined up with an extreme Hindu sect known as the Aghori that fed him alcohol from a human skull, as well as cooked human brain, which he ate on camera.
The incident took place in the holy Hindu city of Varanasi, located in Uttar Pradesh, and was meant to be Aslan’s way of showing spiritual solidarity with this particular sect of Hinduism, which claims only about 100 members. But participating in cannibalism went too far, say critics, who include among them adherents to mainstream Hinduism, the vast majority of whom would never advocate for eating human flesh.
The premise behind Believer is to highlight Aslan’s journeys in pursuit of exotic religious traditions of which most people are unfamiliar. On each episode, Aslan immerses himself into a new religious paradigm, engaging in and partaking of whatever its adherents hold near and dear as part of their practice or worship. In this case, there was a whole lot of human death involved.
Reports explain that, upon his arrival to Varanasi, Aslan witnessed members of the Aghori smearing the cremated remains of human flesh all over their faces. These same individuals proceeded to fill a hollowed human skull with an alcoholic beverage that they served to Aslan, along with a kabob, of sorts, containing tissue from the human brain.
Mainstream Hindus more concerned about reputation than human brains being extracted for food
The 44 year-old, Iranian-born religious scholar is no stranger to controversy, having previously attended voodoo ceremonies and schmoozed with a cult member who calls himself “Jezus.” But this is the first time that Aslan has publicly defied conventional and even moral norms by consuming part of a human being.
Not only that, Aslan has also ruffled a few feathers in the Hindu community, where many mainstream religious adherents are outraged over his supposed stereotyping of Hindus as cannibalistic extremists. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), the only Hindu member of the American Congress, was among the first to outspokenly condemn Aslan for participating in the ritual.
“Aslan apparently sought to find sensationalist and absurd ways to portray Hinduism,” the politician commented. “Aslan and CNN didn’t just throw a harsh light on a sect of wandering ascetics to create shocking visuals — as if touring a zoo — but repeated false stereotypes about caste, karma, and reincarnation that Hindus have been combating tirelessly.”
Tulsi, a U.S. Army Major who currently serves in the Hawaii National Guard, added that she is “very disturbed” that CNN even allowed the segment to air. She believes that the segment sends the wrong message to the public about what Hinduism is, offering a skewed view as to why potentially billions of people around the world claim this religious system as their own.
Shalabh Kumar, an industrialist, also took issue with the stunt, which he described to the Press Trust of India as “a disgusting attack on Hinduism.”
“We are very disappointed,” added United States India Political Action Committee chairman Sanjay Puri, who told the media that he and his group were “very disappointed” by the episode.
“This is an issue that is of deep concern to the Indian-American community evidenced by the large number of calls/emails we have received,” he added. “In a charged environment, a show like this can create a perception about Indian-Americans which could make them more vulnerable to further attacks.”
Aslan isn’t sorry, though, as evidenced by a recent “tweet” in which he joked that people work all their lives for a headline like the one published by the American Council on Science and Health, stating, “Why CNN’s Reza Aslan Shouldn’t Eat Human Brains.”
Sources for this article include: