In a world where very little seems to shock people anymore, devouring what is described as part of a human brain, albeit charred to a crisp, is enough to shock many folks, even if the alleged brain-eating is described as part of a religious exercise. Perhaps, especially so.
Such is the lot of Reza Aslan, who has parlayed making outrageous utterances about religion into a career of "explaining" faith to the rest of us. Aslan -- not to be confused with The Chronicles of Narnia hero -- is (surprise, surprise) fronting a new series on CNN, "Believer." In this series, viewers must understand that Aslan "immerses himself in the world's most fascinating faith-based groups to experience life as a true believer."
Eric Hoffer this ain't. Which is where the alleged brain-munching comes in: Aslan devours what he described as barbecued gray matter on the first episode. He says he did this on a visit to the Aghori, a Hindu sect in India regarded as, well, rather iconoclastic. Aghoris reject the caste system, among other things, it's reported.
This caused no little excitement for more mainstream Hindus around the globe, which brought it to the attention of a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post:
Religion scholar Reza Aslan ate cooked human brain tissue with a group of cannibals in India during Sunday’s premiere of the new CNN show “Believer,” a documentary series about spirituality around the globe.
The outcry was immediate. Aslan, a Muslim who teaches creative writing at the University of California at Riverside, was accused of “Hinduphobia” and of mischaracterizing Hindus.
“With multiple reports of hate-fueled attacks against people of Indian origin from across the U.S., the show characterizes Hinduism as cannibalistic, which is a bizarre way of looking at the third largest religion in the world,” lobbyist group U.S. India Political Action Committees said in a statement, according to the Times of India.
A story on The Atlantic magazine's website brings in other dissenting voices: