The National Geographic series, “The Story of God,” hosted by the famous actor Morgan Freeman, is a whirlwind tour of various aspects of the world’s religions. Episode 1 follows the life of a soon-to-be-initiated Tibetan Buddhist lama. Episode 2 follows the life of a brave South Korean Christian missionary who went through hell (so to speak) in his attempt to bring the Gospel to that very isolated country. Episode 3 explores the lives and work of various prophets and other religious leaders, past and present and tackles the question of the religious concept of “chosenness.” Episode 4 tackles the question of the afterlife. Episode 5 discusses how various religions attempt to prove the existence of God.
I must say that while I am no fan of---and, indeed, am extremely suspicious of the real motives behind---a lot of Christian missionary work, I actually admire this particular man. Unlike other missionary groups who, ever since Europeans began to colonize various parts of the world, have used Christianity in order to justify imposing not just their religion, but their entire culture, on a particular group of people, this man’s attempts to Christianize North Korea is an extremely brave move. I also enjoyed that little section on the “Taziya” (the passion play in which Shi’ite Muslims commemorating the Battle of Karbala, which took place in 682 CE between the Sunni forces of the caliph Mu’awiya ibn Abu Sufyan ibn Harb (the founder of the Umayyad Dynasty), and the Shi’ite forces led by Husain ibn Ali, the grandson of the prophet Muhammad and Husain’s subsequent martyrdom), which is commemorated on the Islamic holiday of Ashura (the tenth day of the Islamic month of Muharram). I particularly enjoyed that segment about the Pentecostal service. I am not a Christian, but it was very moving and inspiring nonetheless. Counter to Morgan Freeman’s claims, the Hindu concept of “Moksha” is NOT “a version of Heaven.” While some Hindus do believe in Heaven, the concept of “Moksha” refers to liberation from what is known as “Samsara” (reincarnation). Furthermore, while I, as a spiritual person, refuse to deny the claims of those who have near-death experiences, I am nonetheless very skeptical of them because I suspect that the same thing that happens in our brains when we dream is exactly what happens when people have near-death experiences. At the same time, as a person of faith, I refuse to deny that it was a supernatural experience. It very well may be that their God is trying to tell them something. You never know. Of all of the episodes, I would have to say that my favorite segments were the ones about the Shi’ite Islamic ritual of the Taziya (since I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Islamic World Studies), and the segment on the Sikh religion (since I have relatives who are Sikhs). While I am a deeply spiritual person and will never question whether or not there is a higher power, I am simultaneously fascinated by, and extremely skeptical of, any attempt to either prove OR disprove the existence of a higher power because objectively, faith---or lack thereof---is, for all intents and purposes, a choice. On one level, I reject the notion promoted by many secularists that there supposedly is evidence to disprove the existence of either a higher power or an afterlife, but at the same time, I also am skeptical of the claims of those who claim to be able to prove the existence of God because, regardless of whether one believes in God or not, one’s belief in God (or lack thereof) forever will remain, I suspect, a choice.
All in all, I would highly recommend this documentary series to anyone interested in world religion.