Reza Aslan: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

Here’s the official set up for CNN’s Believer with Reza Aslan: “In this new spiritual adventure series, renowned author and religious scholar Reza Aslan immerses himself in the world's most fascinating faith-based groups to experience life as a true believer.”

Right out of the gate, I thoroughly reject the premise on its face. Surely a “religious scholar” worthy of the name would know that you cannot truly experience faith on a field trip—no more than I could pretend to appreciate the conviction of a devout Catholic because I toured The Vatican.

Consequently, I had low expectations for the series. These expectations were certainly not exceeded as his first subject was purportedly the exploration of Hinduism, one of the oldest religions on Earth with over one billion followers, through the lens of a cannibalistic minority sect practicing their sacred death rites in the Holy City of Varanasi. Without even watching the episode, I am sure you can conjure up the results of a voyeuristic look at ancient rituals directed and edited for effect to maximize television ratings. (It did premiere against Discovery’s popular series Naked and Afraid after all!)

The scathing reviews were not limited to the Hindu community: witness “CNN’s ‘Believer’ Is Reckless, Racist And Dangerously Anti-Immigrant” and “CNN criticised for ‘disgusting’ portrayal of Hinduism in new show.”

Next up on the hit list was a small community in Hawaii preparing, peacefully by all accounts, for global warming which in CNN parlance becomes “an apocalyptic cult” and at Aslan’s hand draws comparisons with Jim Jones and Charles Manson. That episode was as disingenuous as every other one—if I am to believe the posting on social media of one of the members of the community stating that CNN paid for the Noah ark the community was building.

When it came to Scientology, Aslan had to invent a scenario that would justify putting my religion in his lineup.

Millions of people around the world benefit from Scientology. Reza lives within driving distance of some of the largest congregations of Scientologists in the world. Yet Reza opted to feature the fringe, a handful of expelled members who now deliver and offbeat altered version of Scientology out of their homes.

Reza attempts to give the episode some prestige by comparing these individuals to the Protestant Reformation. It’s so grossly inaccurate, it’s fraudulent.

The Reformation spawned more than a century of warfare and killed tens of millions of people. A few people selling offbeat versions of something they call Scientology out of their homes is not a “reformation.”

All religions have dissenters. That is not the point. L. Ron Hubbard wrote very specifically about the need for Scientology to be practiced exactly as he intended, and practiced within the Church of Scientology itself. I am proud of all that my Church has done to preserve and maintain the orthodoxy of our faith. That is an integral part of our religion.

I don’t know what the next episodes will bring—but one thing is certain: Aslan, CNN and shows like Believer are adding to public distrust of the media. But for the real story of Scientology, I choose this:

Alicia Selverson
Alicia Selverson is a writer, artist and model from New York. She is also a third-generation Scientologist and mother of two.