Sunday night, CNN launched its series “Believer” with Reza Aslan, with some degree of controversy. Here is Ben Selkow’s site for 34LukeFilms.
The first episode explored the Aghori in India. The episode purported to explore the downside of the “believer’s” notion of karma, which rationalizes the caste system, and the shuttering away of some people as untouchables (leprosy was shown). Hindu belief in reincarnation lies beneath this system, and this group takes that belief quite far.
Reza undergoes a potentially humiliating ritual on a beach-like river bank where all kinds of substances are smeared over main parts of his body.
Huffington Post’s contributor Vamsee Jurluri called the series “reckless, racist and dangerously anti-immigrant”.
The Washington Post headline was that the show “catches grief for showcasing religious cannibals in India”. The Daily Mail weights in on the cannibalism practices here.
The Los Angeles Times says that the series “could use a little more enlightenment itself”.
Wikipedia attribution llink for Aghori image by Lewis2388 under CCSA 3.0.
Update: March 12
Reza (who was born in Tehran, Iran but no longer looks like it -- he also says he is a "moderate" Muslim) visits the Big Island of Hawaii (which I toured in 1980 -- and my car rental contract didn't let me drive up Mauna Loa) to a group called Cinderland or the Rainbow Village, a commune carved out of a volcanic outcrop (which has turned green) at about 8000 feet, run by a guru named Jezus.
The guru preaches that the world will end with another huge Flood or tsunami (well, the Canary Islands Cumbre-Vieja volcano could collapse and send a wave to the US East Coast). But, unlike Jim Jones or Dave Koresh, the guru does not run a dictatorship or cache weapons. The commune reminded me of a miniature Lama Foundation (which is north of Taos, NM, which I have visited twice, in the 1980s). Reza interviews a number of shirtless men, mostly in their 30s and 40s or so, but surprisingly smooth.
Reza visits Hati to explore voodoo, which became mixed with Catholicism, and which maintains that the disincarnates are very much with us. He participates in a ritual sacrifice, and then has his body cleansed at a huge waterfall. Haiti is the site of the only completely successful slave rebellion.
Reza examines the Church of Scientology. He gets audited a couple times, once by an excommunicated adept who has started his own "business." He describes the aggressiveness with which the Church enforces trademark and copyright. He also hears believers talk about their past lives and reincarnation.
Reza explores the para-Catholic "Saint Death" cult in Mexico, as an answer to extreme police corruption and government breakdown by drug cartels, driving many of our immigration controversies in the world of Trump.