James Younger has an impressive series of credentials to his credit. He’s earned a Ph.D. in biophysics from UC Berkeley, published several academic papers, and written for The Economist. In addition, he’s the Executive VP of Factual Productions at Revelations Entertainment and a documentary filmmaker who’s enjoyed success with the series “Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman,” earning seven Emmy nominations in the process. His latest endeavor is his most ambitious yet—a worldwide journey to see how faith has shaped our lives. It’s a six part series called “The Story of God with Morgan Freeman” and will debut on the National Geographic Channel this Sunday (I’ll have a review of the first episode Saturday).
I recently had the opportunity to talk with him about the new series and faith in general. When asked about the genesis of the series, Younger said the process started about 6-7 years ago when he, Morgan Freeman, and co-producer Lori McCreary visited the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey. It’s a museum today, but has a unique history—it was a cathedral for nearly 1,000 years and then an Islamic mosque for another five hundred. The mosque maintained the pictures of Christian faith on its walls, which encouraged them to “show people the connections between faith.” In “The Story of God with Morgan Freeman,” the focus is of God in the most general sense.
Younger noted that the main world religions have some main similarities—mainly the basic human need to wonder. Three big questions come from this: “Why am I here?” “How does life work?” and “What will happen after I die?” The latter is the biggest one (and is covered in the first episode). He adds that everyone has their own way of communicating with God, but one specific way isn’t necessarily right or wrong.
A unique aspect of the show, for those that have seen “Through the Wormhole,” is the use of science in the faith discussion. People get scared to talk about the two in the same sentence, but Younger says, “Science and faith don’t have to be in opposition.” However, science won’t always get there. Younger added the main focus of science will be for the people who are left behind after a person passes away. Folks can have conversations with their recently departed that are indistinguishable from a live one-on-one talk with the person (think of the heads preserved in jars in the TV series “Futurama”). The key issue, however, is the soul—and that hasn’t been figured out yet.
Of course, working on the series with Morgan Freeman (who is also the narrator, in case you were interested) was exciting for Younger. Movie stars tend to be found immediately by the general public, but not in Northern India. It was surreal to not have to deal with that. He also learned more about how people connect to God as a result of the experience.
It’s going to be an interesting journey that you’ll want to take a look at in the upcoming weeks.
(thanks to Lori Heiselman at Different Drummer for securing the interview)