There’s a reason Morgan Freeman often plays God or a prophet or a head of state. He has a very regal voice and a tremendous amount of presence. He was a natural choice for the new show coming on the National Geographic Channel: The Story of God. Because it is a six part series examining different faith traditions around the world, I was invited to a special screening of the first episode that also included a Q&A with Morgan Freeman and a cocktail reception ahead of time. It was pretty spectacular!
Usually as a blogger I’m just sitting in my pjs writing whatever thoughts come into my head. It’s amazing when someone thinks it’s worthwhile for me to attend a premier and meet Morgan Freeman!
I was shy and nervous at the reception. There were about twenty-five other people I would say. I made friends with a reporter from the Christian Post and he helped me get my picture with Freeman. Freeman himself was wonderful. He was kind to everyone, made jokes, made sure everyone got a picture who wanted one. We were all trying to be professional and all but couldn’t help gushing over him.
There were so many Christians I met that I started to wonder if I was going to be the only Hindu. But then a gorgeous woman walked in wearing a stunning anarkali suit and a bindi. We locked eyes and she came over to introduce herself. It turns out she was Suhag Shukla from the Hindu American Foundation. She told me that she had consulted on the show and I can’t even tell you how relieved I was to hear that. I had been nervous about how Hinduism would be represented considering that all three of the producers come from western monotheistic traditions. I was able to relax when I found out that she had helped them on it.
Then we went for the screening and there were seats reserved for us up front. I sat with my friend from the Christian Post.
The show itself was great! I’m very excited to watch the rest of it when it comes on in April. Rather than divide it by religion, the six parts are divided by subject. For this first episode they talked about life after death and what different faith traditions believe about it. They opening was a story of a man who had a near death experience and I appreciated the tone it set because he came back from it saying that God was light and he didn’t ascribe it to any one religion or image of God. He said that before the experience he hadn’t been interested in the mystical but now he has a library full of books about different faiths. Morgan Freeman said his library was similar.Morgan Freeman then traveled to Egypt where he learned about the the ancient Egyptians and their ideas about life after death. He also explored Mexico City’s day of the dead and Aztec traditions about afterlife. He visited Jerusalem to see the site of Jesus’s crucifixion. He also went to Varanasi and spoke with a Swami whose name I didn’t quite catch. He visited with a couple of scientists too. One claimed that research has shown the “soul” or “consciousness” doesn’t end with brain death. I am curious to know what research he is quoting and to hear more. The other scientist is working on developing a robotic human, trying to put her own memories and personality into the robot (which to me personally seems like a terrible idea, but her partner described it not as cheating death but as “stopping death from cheating life” which I thought was an interesting perspective).
To me the scenes in India were comforting and familiar but I was hyper aware that the people around me mostly had no experience of India and it certainly must have come across quite strange and exotic.
The Swami explained reincarnation and moksha. Afterwards in the Q&A Morgan Freeman admitted that he had not realized that reincarnation itself was not the end goal. He had always assumed that for Hindus coming back to earth was the point and so he was able to learn something new. It was his first time in India and he described it as a “dream place.” He said to the audience that everyone should go just for the experience.
I’m impressed with the ambition in this show. They really want to show the multitude of ways God can be seen and not make any statement about one or another being correct or better. Freeman spoke out against the “tyranny of certainty and absolutism” and said that God speaks to us each in our own way. He said that all religions are aimed toward perfection (enlightenment) and so we set God up as the epitome of what is good and what we are aiming for.
So he and the other producers are certainly universalists, looking for the common thread of truth in all the world religions. I know that view isn’t always popular because it can veer into trying to make all religions the same and smooth over the wonderful details that make them unique. But I don’t think that’s what’s happening here. I think they are showing a lot of respect for the different ways people approach these big questions.
The series can’t help but have a bit of a bias towards the Abrahamic faiths but they are doing the best they can to counteract that and present Hinduism and Buddhism equally and fairly with the others. I think they’re on the right track and I hope this series will educate and inspire people.
It is scheduled to air on National Geographic Channel starting Sunday April 3 at 9/8c