“Today, for better or worse, the power of religion touches all of our lives, no matter what our faith. This is Morgan Freeman’s journey to discover how our beliefs connect us all. This is the quest of our generation. This is the Story of God.” This is how the National Geographic channel introduced the American actor’s six part documentary series “The Story of God” that has received a mix of praise and criticism from around the world.
Since the beginning of time, people have wondered about god, spirituality, heaven and hell, life after death, and many other concepts that are mentioned throughout history. In this series, Morgan Freeman decides to look at these questions and pursue answers by interviewing believers of various faiths.
The series starts with an episode called “Beyond Death” in which Morgan Freeman journeys to religious sites around the world and asks people of different religions and cultures about their beliefs in life after death. The episode raises important questions, such as what happens when we die and does science support the existence of a soul. Great attention is paid to the ancient Egyptians’ beliefs, including the sacred spells on the walls of tombs that act as a survival guide for souls while passing through the underworld. Freeman also listens to the stories of people who have been in near-death experiences.
In the following episode, Freeman discusses why so many religions predict an apocalypse. The journey this time starts in Jerusalem, the place where the world’s three main religions meet. With the help of experts, Freeman tries to decode the symbolism of some old books that discuss the battles at the end of times. Freeman goes on to explain that the real meaning of Islam is to surrender to god’s will and live in peace, and suggests that many people do not recognise this because of religious extremist groups like Islamic State.
Titled “Who Is God”, the third episode explains how people have believed in the presence of a creator throughout history, despite worshipping different gods. Freeman discusses god’s existence in the polytheistic religions of Buddhism and Hinduism as well as in the monotheistic Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Finally, Freeman interviews clerics and experts and tries to prove scientifically that meditating on god changes the activity of the brain.
The next two episodes discuss the controversial topics of creation, Adam and Eve, and the Garden of Eden. Here Freeman seeks truths about the stories of our ancestors. “Why Does Evil Exist”, the fifth episode in the series, features both an attempt to prove the existence of evil through logical analysis as well as a discussion on how different religions train followers to fight evil. In this episode, Freeman recounts personal stories of racial prejudice he has experienced. He also visits prisons and meets murderers and, with the help of a psychiatrist, tries to discover where evil might lie in the brain of a killer.
The last episode of the series, “The Power of Miracles”, focuses on the stories of people who believe that god saved them from horrible accidents in a life changing miracle. Freeman looks for the origins of miracles in religion. He visits the Qalawun Complex, one of the oldest hospitals in Egypt, and is astonished to discover how Egyptian heritage combines medicine and faith in a way that medicine is seen as the conduit of the will of god.
In the premiere screening at the Frederick P. Rose Hall of Jazz at Lincoln Center, Freeman asserted that he is a lifelong student of religion. “But I haven’t landed on any conclusions yet,” he concluded.
Although the series was criticised on social media and accused of promoting atheism, a large number of people considered it a good step towards bridging the gap between different religions and cultures.