Premiering Sunday, April 3, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on National Geographic Channel, “The Story of God” features host, narrator and executive producer Morgan Freeman crisscrossing the world to talk about how different faiths — primarily, but not exclusively, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam — deal with some of the biggest questions of life.
The six episodes are “Beyond Death” (April 3), “Apocalypse” (April 10), “Creation” (April 17) — which are the three sent out to the press — “Who Is God?” (April 24), “Evil” (May 1) and “Miracles” (May 8).
The answer to the question in the post title is “Yes,” but with a qualification: Catholic parents are going to want to watch with their children. It’s probably above the heads of elementary-school kids, but preteens and up should find it fascinating. But, it goes to great effort to give all the faiths discussed (and that includes some ancient pagan ones) equal time and equal weight. While we do respect people of other faiths, we don’t consider their belief systems to be the equal of Christianity, so that may take some explaining.
I went into more detail in a story for The Tidings, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Here’s a look:
In the three episodes provided (which are not final air versions), Freeman goes to clergy and/or believers to talk about every faith except Christianity, which gets discussed primarily by academics in the first two episodes. There’s not a sense that the show is anti-Christian — Freeman appears to be a former Christian with more universalist or pantheistic leanings now — but there is a distinguishable effort to give all the faiths discussed equal consideration (with maybe a soft spot toward Islam, without entirely shying away from its problems).
Freeman seems most personally engaged when he’s talking about Buddhism, particularly when he responds to a Christian couple’s tale of using faith to endure Hurricane Katrina by comparing their belief to Buddhism (which the couple ignores, plowing on to talk about Jesus). Discussions of Christian doctrine are essentially accurate, but those involving professors lack the warmth evident when someone is relating their own deeply held beliefs.
But, according to press materials, a later episode involves a visit to Joel Osteen’s megachurch, so there’s that.
In episode one, on the afterlife and the fear of death, Freeman speaks of Christianity, saying: “For Christians, Jesus’ blood sacrifice was the last that needed to be made. From then onward, all you had to sacrifice for eternal life were your selfish desires. In this way, the death of Jesus was transformed, for Christians, into the ultimate victory over death.”
Then he skips straight to India, to talk about how Hinduism uses reincarnation to overcome the fear of death.
Click here to read the whole thing.
Sister Rose Pacatte was very positive about the show, writing at the National Catholic Reporter (which, as a whole, is often not especially Catholic):
The series is beautiful, like a lustrous film version of an issue of the glossy National Geographic magazine. It is reverent, informative, interesting, and reflective whether talking about Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism or the Mayan faith.
A case could be made that “The Story of God” makes all religions equal. Yet I don’t think this is where the series leads audiences at all. It promotes understanding. It does ask and explore what came first: did people create religion or did religion find people — and halfway through the series the answer is not so clear.
Thanks to National Geographic, I’m going to have the chance to preview the final three installments and write about them for my Pax Culturati blog at Patheos — and I’ll be sure to post links to that here.
Here’s a peek:
Image: Courtesy National Geographic Channel