What happens when we die is the greatest question we ask ourselves, according to Morgan Freeman, Academy Award-winning actor. As a result, he decided to go on a global adventure to determine the answer for himself. That journey comprises the first episode of “The Story of God with Morgan Freeman,” airing Sunday night on the National Geographic Channel (9P/8C). His discoveries are intriguing and will give the viewer something to consider after the show has ended.
(It’s important to keep in mind that the series covers multiple religions and their similarities, so if you come in expecting to hear from one viewpoint only, you’ll be disappointed.)
The show begins with Freeman and David Bennett in a church, staring at a stained glass window of Jesus calming the storm in Matthew 8. Bennett recounts an experience of falling off a ship and somehow surviving under the water for 15-18 minutes. As many people have shared who have undergone near-death experiences, he saw a light (or fragments of a light) before coming back to life. He agrees the light was God, but admits that he doesn’t “subscribe to just one religious belief anymore.” Freeman then starts his journey, visiting Egypt and the pyramids, Mexico City and the Aztec ruins, Jerusalem and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and India’s Ganges River before returning to the States.
Are there similarities? Yes—people experience grief, want to remember their dead ancestors and, at the same time, want to be remembered for generations. Consider why we put names on tombstones and visit them with our living relatives. Are there differences? Of course—everything from spells (Egypt) to ritualistic sacrifice (Aztecs) to getting out of the circle of reincarnation (Hindu).
Freeman adds a scientific element to the discussion when the concept of a soul is brought up—can such a thing be replicated? He goes to New York and visits Bina 48, an animatronic head (think of Richard Nixon’s Head in the TV series “Futurama”) that is being programmed with the feelings, memories, and emotions of a living person so future relatives can interact and communicate with it. This, to me, was intriguing—who wouldn’t want to share their life experiences in ways other than letters, pictures, and Facebook posts?
The visit to Jerusalem was fascinating—especially the burial tombs—and if you listen closely, Freeman’s guide Jodi Magness shares the entire Gospel for viewers to contemplate. Christianity differs from the other faiths mentioned because Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection brings people not only hope, but eternal life if they ask him to forgive their sins and claim him as forgiver and leader (see Romans 10:9-10).
I thought the episode, co-produced by James Younger and Lori McCready, was well-executed, with excellent production values and interesting content. Striking visuals, acceptable CGI, and an “Amazing Race”-ish feel served to help the cause. In addition, there was time to contemplate what was being shown with pauses between sections.
Freeman is searching for what he believes and concludes the episode with his thinking at the moment—in this case, regardless of belief, we can all become eternal. The point, regardless of whether the viewer believes his conclusion or not, is that death is something we’re going to have to deal with at some point. After Adam and Eve’s lapse of good judgement in the Garden of Eve, dying is a 100% certainty in this life (with Enoch, Elijah, and Jesus as exceptions). The question for us is simply how we treat it—as a scary proposition that could bring eternal destruction or a portal to joy and eternal life.