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Morgan Freeman has a hunger for big questions.
Questions like, “Who is God? Where did we come from? Why does evil happen? What happens when we die?”
In fact, he recently went on a personal quest to explore those questions: “Over the past few months, I’ve traveled to nearly 20 cities in seven different countries on a personal journey to find answers to the big mysteries of faith,” said Freeman.
Thanks to Revelation Entertainment and National Geographic Channel, in the spring he will get to share his hunger, and the experiences from his quest, with the world.
Before I share a revealing interview with Morgan Freeman about this project (an interview provided by Nat Geo), as well as the full press release and trailer with all the details about the series, I need to make a confession.
Despite the astonishing surge of faith-based films coming out of Hollywood recently, whenever the big names of the entertainment industry put out a documentary about God or Jesus, I feel an automatic resistance towards it — a knee-jerk defensiveness. It’s probably because Hollywood has, over the decades, spent lots of time brow-beating Christians, lecturing us from its often aggressive perch of exclusive humanism, looking down on us, and mocking us either behind closed doors or on camera.
And yes, I realize I just threw a big fat boomerang there. It’s comin’ back at me — and fast. America’s Stoic version of Christianity — a version that occasionally sounds more like the Greek philosopher Zeno of Citium than Christ — has done its fair share of arrogant brow-beating on Hollywood folks too, without really taking the time to understand them or step into their shoes. Secular Hollywood and American Christianity have a complicated relationship — perhaps something along the lines of Batman and Joker, a sort of weird codependent relationship in which they’re always fighting but couldn’t imagine what they’d do if they actually won and their adversary vanished. (And both parties have taken turns playing Joker, in regards to the un-listening, unkind brow-beating).
All of these complicated emotions bubbled up within me when I first heard about ‘The Story of God.’ I immediately thought: will it be another Hollywood documentary that claims objectivity but is really a veiled, passive-aggressive (or outright aggressive) take-down of orthodox Christian faith? Will it assert that Jesus was merely a good moral teacher or will it acknowledge the shocking claims that He made about Himself?
We’ll just have to wait to find out. I’m not going to make the all-too-common-on-the-Internet mistake of judging a production before I’ve seen it.
[Side-note: I bring the “shocking claims of Jesus” issue up because so few people in modern culture know this about what He taught. I wholeheartedly agree with what Oxford scholar C.S. Lewis said this about Christ: “That is the one thing we must not say [that Jesus was a great moral teacher but was not God in the flesh as he claimed]. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”]
Regardless of how “The Story of God” turns out, I will say this: I love the fact that Morgan Freeman has a hunger for big questions. Even if I find out that he and I have very strong disagreements on something, we can at least agree on (and celebrate) our shared hunger — that we both have a deep hunger to ask and aggressively pursue the biggest questions that are out there. I find that hunger refreshing, and I prefer the company of people who love asking those kinds of questions, even if they don’t agree with my passionate views. So many of us in the West — including myself at times in the past and many Christians — have a greater appetite for whatever we’re having for lunch after church than we do for God and the bigger questions. It’s strange but true: just because someone goes to church doesn’t mean they have any hunger at all for God. We can’t always judge from appearances, and I suspect that all of us can learn something from Morgan Freeman’s heart attitude in this series, whether or not we agree with his conclusions. (Hey, the dude traveled to 20 cities and seven different countries. That would be utterly exhausting. You gotta give him props for that, at the very least.)
I plan on doing a very in-depth coverage of it — from both the perspective of theology and philosophy — and I plan to use C.S. Lewis’s essay “Meditations in a Toolshed,” his book “An Experiment in Criticism,” and the works of philosophers Charles Taylor and James K.A. Smith as my blueprints for how I will approach my analysis and critique of “The Story of God.” More on all of that later. (And by the way, C.S. Lewis was not just an author of fiction. He was one of a handful of students in the thousand-year history of Oxford University to earn three Firsts, including one in Philosophy.)
Please enjoy the detailed press release, the trailer, and an interview with Morgan Freeman below. (And my apologies for taking so long to get here. I had a lot on my mind and heart. This is a very important and a deeply personal topic for me.)
Academy Award Winner Morgan Freeman Hosts and Executive Produces This Six-Part Global Television Event Series Premiering This Spring
(Washington, DC – January 14, 2016) Who is God? Where did we come from? Why does evil happen? What happens when we die? Every human being on earth has asked themselves these questions at some point, and most likely each person has found a different answer. This spring, National Geographic Channel and Revelation Entertainment’s epic series The Story of God with Morgan Freeman, produced by Freeman, Lori McCreary and James Younger, will take viewers on a trip around the world to explore different cultures and religions on the ultimate quest to uncover the meaning of life, God and all the
se big questions in between.
The Story of God with Morgan Freeman will air globally in the spring on National Geographic Channels in 171 countries in 45 languages, and in Spanish on Nat Geo Mundo.
As a whole, The Story of God with Morgan Freeman seeks to understand how religion has evolved throughout the course of civilization, and in turn how religion has shaped the evolution of society. Although in our current geopolitical landscape, religion is often seen as something that divides, the series illuminates the remarkable similarities among different faiths, even those that seem to be in staunch contrast. This is a quest for God: to shed light on the questions that have puzzled, terrified and inspired mankind, not to mention Freeman himself.
“Over the past few months, I’ve traveled to nearly 20 cities in seven different countries on a personal journey to find answers to the big mysteries of faith,” said Freeman. “I’ve sung the call to prayer at a mosque in Cairo, taken meditation lessons from the Buddhist leader of the oldest line of reincarnating Lamas, discussed Galileo with the head of the Papal Academy of Sciences and explored the first instructions for the afterlife rendered in hieroglyphs inside the pyramids. In some places I found answers, and others led to more questions. The constant through it all is that we’re all looking to be part of something bigger than us. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that we certainly are.”
Each episode of The Story of God with Morgan Freeman is centered on a different big question about the divine:
Creation – Are there similarities among the religious creation stories from around the world? How do they compare with the scientific theory of the creation of the cosmos and the dawn of civilization?
Who Is God? – How has the perception of God evolved over human history? Is God just an idea, and if so, can we find evidence of a divine presence in our brains?
Evil – What is the root of evil and how has our idea of it evolved over the millennia? Is the devil real? The birth of religion may be inextricably tied to the need to control evil.
Miracles – Are miracles real? For many believers, miracles are the foundation of their faith. Others regard miracles as merely unlikely events on which our brains impose divine meaning. Belief in miracles, however we define them, could be what gives us hope and drives us to turn possibility into reality.
End of Days – Violent upheaval and fiery judgment fill popular imagination, but was the lore of apocalypse born out of the strife that plagued the Middle East two millennia ago? The true religious meaning of the apocalypse may not be a global war, but an inner revelation.
Resurrection – How have beliefs in the afterlife developed, and how has our reaction to the afterlife changed the way we live this life? Now that science is making such rapid advances, we may soon be confronted with digital resurrection. What will that do to our beliefs?
To explore each of these topics, host and narrator Freeman went on the ground to some of humanity’s greatest religious sites, including Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall, India’s Bodhi Tree, Mayan temples in Guatemala and the pyramids of Egypt. He traveled with archaeologists to uncover the long-lost religions of our ancestors, such as those at the 7500 B.C. Neolithic settlement Çatalhöyük in Turkey. He immersed himself in religious experiences and rituals all around the world, and became a test subject in scientific labs to examine how the frontiers of neuroscience are intersecting the traditional domain of religion.
“As we put this series together, we sought answers to some of mankind’s biggest questions, but in the end what surprised us most was to find how personal those answers were for each of us,” said executive producers Lori McCreary and James Younger. “There is no wrong answer when it comes to God or what you believe, and we hope The Story of God will help open an interfaith dialogue about ideas and values that we all share, not that we disagree on.”
For more information on The Story of God with Morgan Freeman, visit www.natgeotv.com, our press room at FoxFlash.com or on Twitter using @NGC_PR.
Q&A WITH MORGAN FREEMAN
Executive Producer and Host of ‘The Story of God’
When did the idea for The Story of God first start to take shape?
I think the idea first took root when Lori [Lori McCreary, co-founder, along with Freeman, of Revelations Entertainment] and I were in Istanbul five or six years ago. We were visiting the Hagia Sophia, a museum that, 1,400 years ago, was built as a church cathedral and then, in 1935, was transformed into a mosque. While observing the museum’s frescoes, we noticed that many of their portrayals were of biblical stories usually associated with only the Jewish and Christian faiths. Lori asked our tour guide if these had been covered up during the time that it was used as a mosque. The man said no, that Muslims celebrated these stories, too. And we were both quite surprised that we didn’t know how much history and narrative the three faiths have in common. Now, from there, Lori and James [James Younger, director and executive vice president at Revelations Entertainment] developed the idea, thinking that a documentary about God, one that focused on telling the stories from myriad perspectives, could be very interesting. At some point, they asked me if I would be interested in not only narrating the film but also starring in it, too; and, well, I said yes.
How do you personally relate to God’s story?
I call myself a lifelong student of religion. But I haven’t landed on any conclusions. I can relate to the big questions that most of us ask ourselves at some point in our lives: Why am I here? What’s my purpose? How did we get here? Those questions resonate with me. And while science has produced answers to many of the big questions that people have asked throughout history, it doesn’t offer answers for everything.
Like for instance, when I was at the Vatican, I was talking to Monsignor Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo [the Vatican’s chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences], and I thought what he said about the big bang was interesting. He was very clear in his explanation that the big bang does not explain away creation — because it doesn’t explain what existed before the big bang. I’ve wondered about that, too — if all of the matter that exists in the universe condensed down to a dot, where did that dot come from? You can’t answer that question. So, for me, God is the great mystery — the term that we use to talk about the great mystery.
How did you decide on the individual themes that the episodes focus on?
The six themes we landed on are driven by the fundamental questions that we humans have been asking ourselves since the beginning: Creation—how did we get here? Resurrection—what happens after we die? Apocalypse—will the un
iverse eventually come to an end? Evil—why do we do bad things, and how does morality arise out of religion? And so forth.
Over the last 40 days of filming, what have been some of your most memorable moments?
Believe it or not, I felt more in tune with what I experienced at Joel Osteen’s church than I have felt at any other location. I just think I can see why his message resonates with so many people. And in meeting him, I thought, “this guy’s for real.” But you know, I’ve thought that about a lot of the people we’ve met along this journey — and there have been many visuals and memories from the trip that linger, too. For instance, boating down the Ganges River in Varanasi, India, was fascinating. Seeing the rituals happening up along the shore — the cremations, the faithful bathing, people doing commercial laundry — that was all very interesting to me. And I loved walking down all of the little narrow streets in India, seeing the various merchants and temples and holy men. I also thoroughly enjoyed my time at the Vatican and my conversation with Monsignor Sorondo.
Did you have any expectations going into this experience?
No. Throughout this whole experience, I’ve not walked into any location or conversation with expectations because I think it’s very important for me to remain impartial. I’m not here to impose my thoughts onto the audience — my job is to tell the story well.
Because this documentary is not about me. This is The Story of God. I don’t think I’d be doing my job if I was I constantly interjecting the conversation with my thoughts and opinions and ideas. That’s not what I’m here for. And in the rare moment when I do offer my thoughts, I’ve tried to do so with questions, not conclusive ideas.
Have there been any surprises for you?
I am not sure I would say it was a surprise, but what I have found fascinating through this journey is how many other people have these same questions. We are all in search of our truth. I found that a very unifying and surprising revelation as I was on this journey.
What do you hope the audience will take away from The Story of God?
That’s always a tricky question because I don’t want to expect anything from the audience, especially in terms of what they take away. Expectations always feel a little egotistical. But that said, my hope, I suppose, is that the audience will connect and find value in The Story of God because I connected and found value in making The Story of God. If we’ve done our job, there will be many ways for people to connect to and find value in this documentary. But I hope they will watch. And that the story and film speaks for itself.