Beliefnet
Faith, Media & Culture

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

The six-part event series The Story of God with Morgan Freeman premieres Sunday, April 3 @ 9:00 PM ET on National Geographic Channel.

NatGeo’s ambitious series will look at such perpetual questions as Who is God? Where did we come from? Why does evil happen? What happens when we die? The show, produced by Freeman, Lori McCreary and James Younger, seeks to provide understanding and context regarding how religion has evolved throughout the course of civilization and, in turn, how religion has shaped the evolution of society.

I asked producer James Younger about the mission of the series.

JWK: What do you hope people take away from viewing The Story of God?JAMES YOUNGER: I hope people take away that the various beliefs that exist around the world are less different than they appear. And I hope that people who have their own faith will learn something new about other faiths – most people know so little about them. Do you know more than two things about Islam or Buddhism? Most people don’t. In learning more about other religions, we hope that people will find that they are less different from their personal beliefs than they think.

JWK: What questions do you tackle in the series?

JY: The series has 6 episodes that will discuss life beyond death, the apocalypse, creation, evil – the big mystery of why does evil exist, miracles – the idea that someone is watching over us and does God intervene in the world and control our lives, who is god – this addresses the question if there is one god, many gods, gods that are invisible, gods that have a human face – how are all these gods connected.

JWK: What did you personally learn from making The Story of God?

JY: I gained a greater understanding of why people need faith in their lives. I think that I have always been a very spiritual person but I didn’t really gravitate towards ritual – I didn’t go to church; I didn’t perform or participate in ritual ceremonies. My personal feeling was that faith is a completely internal, spiritual, meditative practice and watching all of these amazing religious ceremonies and festivals around the world – going to the Aarti in India, experiencing Buddhist chants, going to Joel Osteen’s mega church in Texas, seeing all those people worshiping together – I realized that there is power that comes out of these group religious moments. And I felt it myself both in India and in Texas and I realized how good that is for people.

JWK: What faith ideas tend to be common across religious lines?

JY: Almost every faith has this idea that God is this energy that infuses the world. Even if you’re Hindu and there are many gods that you may see statues of, or if you’re a Buddhist where there is no actual physical god, and obviously for Christians, Jews, and Muslims, there is one God – god is this omnipresent force that we can tap into.

Most religions have an idea of the after life in some form. And almost all religions deal with the idea of good and evil.

The one thing that’s very different is this idea of the apocalypse. The apocalypse is very specific to Abrahamic religions, and there are ideas of endings in Buddhism and Hinduism – but they don’t have an idea of judgment day.

JWK: How has the perception of God changed over the centuries?

JY: I think about the earliest idea of God – it might be a mountain or an ancestry or a force of nature. Religious scholars say that the God of the Hebrews, Yahweh, was the god of the wind. A long time ago, there were many gods and most cultures, I think, had many gods – because they looked at the various forces they encountered in their world – the sun, water, plants growing, the animals. I think at some point in history this idea of one God emerged and it emerged suddenly with Moses, but also it probably happened in places like Stonehenge – people started to focus on one force which was the sun. Pharaoh Akhenaten in Egypt around the time of Moses declared that there was one god and it was the sun. So there was a historical shift from many gods to just one-ism

Christianity added this other aspect of God, Jesus, as a person – God becoming more powerful and in the same ways more distant, perhaps could be thought of as being harder to connect to. But Christianity has this unique approach to God and that God is also a person you can really talk to – another human.

JWK: In your view, do science and faith support or contradict one another?

JY: I’d say that they really support one another. There’s a long held idea that they are in opposition, but look at how the Vatican has adapted to science with what we’ve learned from the Monsignor Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, the Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences there at the Vatican. The Bible is not a scientific view of creation, it’s a theological view. If you focus on the details on the Bible – like the 6 days of creation – if you’re a literalist, then you might see science and faith being in conflict. But if you understand the Bible as a philosophical view – a book of ideas, of the mysteries of existence – then science and faith are not in contradiction. Science shares many of the same questions that faith does – why are we here? What does it all mean? Those are questions we try to answer with science too and you might say, “Oh eventually science will try and answer everything,” but I think that’s impossible – that science may discover there was a big bang, but then you have to say, what caused the big bang? There’s always going to be another question you can’t answer. A great expression I once heard is, “There’s always going to be gaps in what we know and God can always live in the gaps.”

The Story of God with Morgan Freeman Season 1 on DVD January 10, 2017 and Season 2 premiers on National Geographic, January 16th.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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