More god-osculation from National Geographic

Over the past year, I’ve taken note of (and been appalled by) the tendency of National Geographic to write uncritical articles about religion, miracles, and God. When I was young it was a magazine I’d devour avidly, for it was full of natural history, fantastic photographs, and travel stories.

Now under the aegis of Rupert Murdoch, the magazine and its parent organization are increasingly going the route of writing about religion. You can’t lose with that, right? Far more Americans want reassurance of eternal life than more information about deep-sea fish.

And so, thanks to Entertainment Weekly (EW; see also here), we learn that respected actor Morgan Freeman has descended to participating in a show that appears to be an uncritical look at “evidence” for God and, especially, the afterlife:

Morgan Freeman’s new National Geographic docuseries The Story of God will premiere April 3 at 9 p.m. ET. Each episode will follow the actor as he discovers the religious experiences and rituals in different parts of the world, traveling to places like Vatican City, Jerusalem, Egypt, Guatemala, and Texas.

“I have always been fascinated by God,” Freeman says. “It’s my quest to understand human faith and discover how our beliefs connect us all in one epic story.” The actor previously played God in Bruce Almighty and its sequel, Evan Almighty.

But this seems far more restricted than the story of belief in God: it seems to be more the story of what we think will happen to us when we die.

. . . The breadth of Freeman’s journey is evident from the very beginning of the series. In this exclusive first look at the first five minutes, the 78-year-old recalls the deaths of his grandmother and brother before he was 18. “Everybody grieves,” he says. “But some people have a certainty that helps them cope with grief — they are certain they will see their loved ones again in heaven. For some of us, it’s not quite that simple. In fact, it’s the greatest question we ask ourselves: What happens when we die?”

As images of Freeman visiting the Mayan temples in Guatemala and pyramids of Egypt flash, he explains his “epic journey” as one “to discover what we believe lies beyond death and why.”

The show really needs to absorb Voltaire’s famous dictum: “The interest I have in believing in a thing is no proof that such a thing exists.” In fact, that’s a statement that hasn’t been assimilated by any religion.

Do you think Freeman will interview any atheists who will tell him that beyond death lies the extinction of consciousness and conversion of our bodies into a putrifying mass that then gets nommed by worms and bacteria?

Have a look at the first six minutes, which EW has as a trailer. Click on the screenshot to go to the video page, where you’ll see that part of the show involves seeing “how science is trying to capture the soul”. And, of course, the show concentrates on near-death experiences.

Oh, National Geographic, I beseech you in the bowels of Ceiling Cat, think it possible you may be mistaken.

Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 10.29.54 AM

h/t: Tyler

69 Comments

  1. Somer
    Posted March 23, 2016 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    “I have always been fascinated by God,” Freeman says. “It’s my quest to understand human faith and discover how our beliefs connect us all in one epic story.”
    Yuk. Not for nothing telling stories usually means telling lies.

    • Posted March 23, 2016 at 9:38 am | Permalink

      I was under the impression that Morgan Freeman was not a believer …
      So I checked Wikipedia and found this:

      ‘In a 2012 interview with TheWrap, Freeman was asked if he considered himself atheist or agnostic. He replied, “It’s a hard question because as I said at the start, I think we invented God. So if I believe in God, and I do, it’s because I think I’m God.”‘

      • Posted March 23, 2016 at 9:42 am | Permalink

        A celebrity who thinks he’s god. That’s novel.

        • somer
          Posted March 23, 2016 at 9:46 am | Permalink

          Looks like that completes the story then

        • Starr
          Posted March 23, 2016 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

          Have you heard Morgan Freeman’s voice? If anyone can claim to be God, it’s Morgan Freeman.

          • Filippo
            Posted March 23, 2016 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

            “True facts about Morgan Freeman.”

            Well, certainly to be preferred over untrue facts, eh?

            • Somer
              Posted March 23, 2016 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

              Freeman must be finding this “epic journey” comparing faiths a huge private joke … with pay! which elsewhere (like here and on Mordacious1 link) he invites us to share

          • HaggisForBrains
            Posted March 24, 2016 at 6:13 am | Permalink

            Morgan Freeman does a good job of imitating ZeFrank 😉

      • Diane G.
        Posted March 24, 2016 at 4:34 am | Permalink

        This part of the EW article:

        “But some people have a certainty that helps them cope with grief — they are certain they will see their loved ones again in heaven. For some of us, it’s not quite that simple.

        …makes it sound at least hopeful that he’s agnostic…

        And as an actor, he may have taken on the project just for the exposure and reimbursement.

        One hopes.

    • mordacious1
      Posted March 23, 2016 at 10:05 am | Permalink

      Then there’s this:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j0YpI8xvdFM

  2. Les Robertshaw
    Posted March 23, 2016 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    The other day my sixteen year old grandson told me he believed that heaven was a real place. I asked him why he believed that and his reply was , “I just believe it, that’s all” Enough said.

  3. Joseph Stans
    Posted March 23, 2016 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    How dreadful.

    Next will be Nature. And then Scientific American.

    • Posted March 23, 2016 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

      And Archeology, and Discover, and Smithsonian, etc. I think it was a Time magazine I saw recently with the Story of Jesus. Since newspapers and magazines are losing ads and shares to the internet, it’s no wonder some of them are targeting a Fundamentalist Christian audience in the U.S. to perk up readership.

      I hate to have to do it, but will cancel my National Geographic subscription. Then, I will cancel any other magazines I subscribe to that choose this path.

  4. Barry Lyons
    Posted March 23, 2016 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    Your “gets nommed by worms and bacteria” made me think of a line from Louis C.K.: “What happens after you die? Lots of things happen after you die. They just don’t involve you.”

    • Somer
      Posted March 23, 2016 at 11:16 am | Permalink

      Cover of next edition: Schroedinger’s Soul

    • Diane G.
      Posted March 24, 2016 at 4:35 am | Permalink

      LOL!

  5. Posted March 23, 2016 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    It’s disappointing – the show could do a really cool job of studying religious history, comparing and contrasting beliefs and rituals, and looking into the culture behind beliefs. That’s what I thought it would be when I saw “understand human faith and discover how our beliefs connect us all into one epic story.” It could even follow the evolution of religion.
    But discrediting science, or using pseudo science to “prove” blind faith is really off putting and archaic.

    • Posted March 23, 2016 at 11:38 am | Permalink

      Right – I think us secularlists and such should support the scientific study of religion (this is why I took a sociology of religion course as an ugrad, in part). After all, how to “break the spell” except by finding out how it works?

  6. Randall Schenck
    Posted March 23, 2016 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    Pretty soon we can ask, what is geographic about this magazine? And where is science attempting to capture the soul? How would that be done – with a net? Maybe a high speed camera?

  7. Kevin
    Posted March 23, 2016 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    Yuk is right. The story of God:

    Here’s the story of lovely ladies
    who were bringing up our species to survive.

    Here’s the story of a man who was busy trying to control the ladies.

    Till the one day this man told the lady he knew a god that would put them down.

    That’s the way we all became the God bunch.

  8. Angela
    Posted March 23, 2016 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    Morgan Freeman has another show on The Science Channel called Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman. In it, he mentioned that he grew up with a religious background but was also very curious about the natural world. For the first few seasons, Wormhole was one of my favorite shows because it truly was about science. Then, later, it seemed almost like they were running out of subjects and so the episodes started to become more supernatural in nature. This turn to woo was very disappointing and there were some episodes I didn’t even watch or could only get through partially. There hasn’t been any new episodes recently so maybe they brought it to a close since they couldn’t seem to find any more science topics to discuss, which is probably for the best. I won’t be watching his new special.

    • eric
      Posted March 23, 2016 at 10:17 am | Permalink

      Ha! I also commented about that show. Though I only saw the first two seasons, so my impression of it is more positive than yours.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted March 23, 2016 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

      I may be wrong, but I think that the ones that explore woo are at least balanced between pro-woo and anti-woo narratives. It is bad enough, though, that the show balanced those things. Here it is woo all the way down.

  9. eric
    Posted March 23, 2016 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    Do you think Freeman will interview any atheists who will tell him that beyond death lies the extinction of consciousness and conversion of our bodies into a putrifying mass that then gets nommed by worms and bacteria?

    If Freeman has any creative control over the series, then my answer is YES, I think he will try and do that. He did a pretty good job with the first couple of seasons of his Through the Wormhole series, including coverage of somewhat religious topics. And he pulled no punches there; basically saying that all the evidence on the “is there life after death” question is on the atheists’ side.

    However just from the précis you’ve given here I’m not sure this series is a parallel one to that. This one seems more ‘anthropological’ in bent – i.e., talking about the various religious beliefs that different people have, rather than discussing whether those beliefs are empirically supported or not. If this is more like a survey of various cultural religious beliefs, I doubt he’s going to have much in it about atheism – unless he does a show on 21st century changes to the US religious landscape. If he does that, it would be very in theme to do a show or at least a segment on atheism and new atheism.

    • EvolvedDutchie
      Posted March 23, 2016 at 10:30 am | Permalink

      The series will show how existential questions (why are we here, where do we come from, etc.) will be answered from different perspectives. It will involve five religions – hinduism, judaism, islam, christianity and buddhism – and science. Because science is just a belief system and a philosophy, like religion – according to the producers. Never mind the fact that the scientific method is the only ‘belief system’ that employs investigation and thus has actually succeeded in answering some of these questions.

      • eric
        Posted March 23, 2016 at 10:58 am | Permalink

        I have no problem with a show like you describe. Though I would consider it incomplete if it didn’t have an episode on how the same existential questions are viewed/answered by nonbelievers.

        • EvolvedDutchie
          Posted March 23, 2016 at 11:08 am | Permalink

          I agree with you. I’d like to know how the scientists will be represented in the series. The religious affiliation of the producers makes me a bit wary though.

          • eric
            Posted March 23, 2016 at 11:36 am | Permalink

            Yep, jury is still out. As I said above, I would have confidence in a reasonable presentation if Freeman himself has some creative control. However if he doesn’t, my confidence goes down.

      • darrelle
        Posted March 23, 2016 at 11:00 am | Permalink

        Religion tests things. There’s the classic tie a heavy object to a subject then throw them in water. If they float they’re a witch, if not they are normal.

        Then there is the more sophisticated prayer tests. If what you pray for comes to pass it proves that god loves you and therefore has granted your wish. If what you pray for does not come to pass it proves that god loves you and therefore is protecting you from you own ignorance cause he knows what you really need. Usually seems to involve pain, suffering and death.

        Religion does investigate. It just uses very poor methods for doing so.

        • jeffery
          Posted March 23, 2016 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

          I tried to paste an image, but couldn’t do it: it shows a smiling Christ saying, “I already know what you want; I just want to hear you BEG for it”.

          • darrelle
            Posted March 24, 2016 at 6:59 am | Permalink

            Sounds perfectly accurate to me!

      • Michael 2
        Posted March 23, 2016 at 11:28 am | Permalink

        “Because science is just a belief system and a philosophy, like religion – according to the producers”

        That is precisely what it is to the masses that don’t each have their own gas chromatographs, spectrum analyzers, digital this that and the other.

        How many right here think a mole is an animal?

        • Diane G.
          Posted March 24, 2016 at 4:43 am | Permalink

          It is a mole named Avogadro. 😉

          (It may also be an embedded spy.)

          • Diane G.
            Posted March 24, 2016 at 4:50 am | Permalink

            Or a pigmented nevus.

            And would you believe, a member of the Eulipotyphla?:

            Eulipotyphla (“truly fat and blind”[1]) is an order of mammals suggested by molecular methods of phylogenetic reconstruction, and includes the laurasiatherian members of the now-invalid polyphyletic order Lipotyphla, but not the afrotherian members (tenrecs and golden moles, now in their own order Afrosoricida). Lipotyphla in turn had been derived by removing a number of groups from the previously used wastebasket taxon Insectivora.

            Thank you, Wikipedia. Posted mainly for the “truly fat and blind” etymology! 😀

    • Posted March 23, 2016 at 11:31 am | Permalink

      Perhaps, but he’s at least responsible for giving scientific rather than religious explanations for things like “near-death experiences,” as well as being skeptical of any belief suggested.

  10. EvolvedDutchie
    Posted March 23, 2016 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    There is more information here. According to the article, Morgan Freeman will talk with people from Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Islam and Judaism. No humanists will appear. However, Freeman will talk to scientists, because science is a belief system too, according to James Younger of co-producer Revelations Entertainment.

    Personally, I’m not entertained by revelation. Quite the opposite.

  11. Posted March 23, 2016 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    I definitely like Morgan Freeman, but something that bugs me concerns the character he played, President Beck, in Deep Impact. After the comet that threatened to destroy the Earth was blown up by astronauts, he gave a speech to the world that included the solemn words, “I believe in God.”

    I wondered what the story writers were thinking. How could anyone say something like that right after their God supposedly tried to kill us all and failed?

    • eric
      Posted March 23, 2016 at 11:07 am | Permalink

      I think they were trying to emulate what an US President might say. And pretty much all of them in the last 40 years would’ve said something like that. You don’t have to like the fact that our politicians make statements of religious faith to acknowledge that having a fictional President make a statement of faith is fairly realistic.

    • Michael 2
      Posted March 23, 2016 at 11:32 am | Permalink

      “right after their God supposedly tried to kill us all and failed?”

      Relax. It’s a movie. If the producers had wanted a god to throw an asteroid it would look a lot more like a Marvel comic adapted to motion picture.

      • Posted March 23, 2016 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

        Why are any of us so surprised and put off by Morgan Freeman fronting such a program? Morgan Freeman is an actor who accepts job offers for money. That doesn’t mean that he endorses or believes any of what is being presented or portrayed. Most actors have no control over the
        content of the movies or programs they perform in. If that became a requirement for accepting employment, a great many actors would not work.
        Isn’t it obvious by now that many in politics, business and the entertainment industry are performing for the public and don’t believe what they say?

        • Larry
          Posted March 23, 2016 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

          But do you really believe this “pay and say what we tell you” is acceptable? So, if Profs. Coyne or Dawkins did this – that is, accepted money for this very show, and parroted what the directors and writers told them to say, then it is alright and we shouldn’t be concerned?

          • Michael 2
            Posted March 23, 2016 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

            Larry asks “But do you really believe this pay and say what we tell you is acceptable?”

            What a silly question. Acceptability is not a property of the behavior; it is a judgment made by a beholder of the behavior. YMMV.

            Actors are paid precisely to do what they are asked to do. It is a contract. The actor is free to refuse for any reason or no reason; and to accept for any reason or no reason.

            “So, if Profs. Coyne or Dawkins did this – that is, accepted money… we shouldn’t be concerned?”

            Why do you look to others for moral guidance on what you should and should not be concerned about? Join a church and find out 🙂

            I have no idea whether Dawkins believes his own words and neither do you; and, does it matter? Ultimately you decide what you are going to believe. Then again, maybe you look to others for that sort of counsel.

        • Diane G.
          Posted March 24, 2016 at 4:55 am | Permalink

          Morgan Freeman is an actor who accepts job offers for money. That doesn’t mean that he endorses or believes any of what is being presented or portrayed.

          …Isn’t it obvious by now that many in politics, business and the entertainment industry are performing for the public and don’t believe what they say?

          Exactly!

    • Posted March 23, 2016 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

      That’s just part of the trope that American screenwriters have used for at least a half century. In movies, ‘Belief’ is always more important than ‘Reason’ or ‘Knowledge’.

      ‘Ya gotta believe’
      ‘Just believe in yourself and you can accomplish anything!’
      ‘Use the Force…’

      Sound familiar?

      You’ll find evidence of that trope in nearly half the output of the American cinema (not to mention television). I predict that it will be a century at least before they throw off the yoke of religion and spirituality’s hold on them (and by that time, movies will have morphed into something we have no idea of today).

      • Michael 2
        Posted March 23, 2016 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

        ddrucker “I predict that it will be a century at least before they throw off the yoke of religion and spirituality’s hold on them.”

        Always forecast into the future long past your lifetime so that if you are wrong, well it won’t matter to you.

        Right now the yoke is “science” and a hundred trillion dollar scheme to stop climate change. That dwarfs any religious yoke.

        • duncan
          Posted March 24, 2016 at 4:10 am | Permalink

          So we’re not allowed to make predictions about anything that might happen after we die? Any other arbitrary rules while you’re at it?

          • Michael 2
            Posted March 24, 2016 at 10:53 am | Permalink

            duncan asks: “Any other arbitrary rules while you’re at it?”

            Yes, but they’re a bit off topic so I won’t bother you with them (neither are you likely to obey).

            I would probably start with never ending a sentence with a preposition but that rule seems to be disputed.

      • Diane G.
        Posted March 24, 2016 at 4:58 am | Permalink

        And then there’s always the “everything happens for a reason” banality.

  12. Posted March 23, 2016 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    Yeah, the cover story on “Mary” right after Murdoch took over made me no longer want to look at the magazine.

    And that’s a real shame. Early and frequent exposure to NG was one of the things that inspired me to study photography seriously.

    • Posted March 23, 2016 at 11:32 am | Permalink

      This month it has a credulous story about after death experience including Heaven is for Real. I guess they hsven’t heard it is an admitted hoax.

  13. Michael 2
    Posted March 23, 2016 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    I regretted renewing my subscription to National Geographic when they simply republished an article from Pravda on the Potomac titled “The War on Science”. Where is the geography in that? Gone!

    It has ceased being National, it is barely Geographic. I hope with new management it returns to its roots and explores the world without making unnecessary value judgments on those observations.

    I have a similar complaint about Scientific American which is actually neither. It’s German and filled with opinion. I used to regard it highly.

    Having complained about National Geographic I also have some praise. The online version on my iPad is amazing, mostly because of the incredible retina display combined with Nat Geo’s famous photography and skillful use of interactive features and multimedia.

    Their television unit has never been, nor intended to be, like the magazine. The National Geographic channel is entertainment.

    • Mark R.
      Posted March 23, 2016 at 11:58 am | Permalink

      You can easily cancel your subscription. I did, and they even refunded the balance.

    • Posted March 23, 2016 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

      “The National Geographic channel is entertainment.”

      I gave up watching this channel long ago. The History channel and certain others are similarly oriented. I seldom watch television any more due to the overt religious orientation.

    • eric
      Posted March 23, 2016 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

      If you’re in DC, you can use part of that savings to visit the Nat Geo headquarters. Its much smaller than the Smithsonian museums but they’ve had some decent displays rotate through there in the past couple of years. The terracotta army, a Spinosaurus display (big hit with my kid), and one about giant river fish. They also had a display contrasting the Indiana Jones movies to the real archeological finds they were based on. That one could have been better as it was about 90% movie-related stuff and 10% archaeology-related stuff. But it was an interesting idea. Sort of a parallel to what the spy museum does (i.e. comparing and contrasting fictional spy stuff with real spy stuff in an interesting way), though the spy museum does it much much better.

    • Posted March 23, 2016 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

      I hope with new management it returns to its roots and explores the world without making unnecessary value judgments on those observations.

      Fat chance of that with Murdoch in charge.

  14. Mark R.
    Posted March 23, 2016 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    I was a Nat. Geo. subscriber for almost 10 years. Even before the odious Murdoch bought them, they were slipping into the nebulous. I was getting tired of the religious articles, many featured on the front cover. Murdoch’s takeover was the last straw; I cancelled my subscription and sent along a heated note describing my disillusionment of their publication. They wrote back that Murdoch’s ownership would not alter the trajectory of National Geographic. Yeah, right! Proofs in the pudding. I’m very happy that I don’t support them anymore.

  15. Posted March 23, 2016 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    And National Geographic’s journey toward becoming a pro-religion propaganda outlet with pretty photographs and precious self-serving narration continues.

    I can’t say I’m surprised they would air such pious rubbish, but I hope some day they’ll be replaced by a different organization. I’m done with them.

  16. ploubere
    Posted March 23, 2016 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    I had already, sadly, decided not to renew my NG subscription. I cannot in good conscience support a Murdoch publication.

  17. Barbara Radcliffe
    Posted March 23, 2016 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    Despite having been a subscriber for >60 years since given my first subscription by an uncle when I was a child, I too am allowing my subscription to lapse. I cannot support a Rupert Murdoch publication either.

    • Diane G.
      Posted March 24, 2016 at 5:03 am | Permalink

      That’s quite the statement!

      And what a wonderful uncle!

  18. JohnW
    Posted March 23, 2016 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    I think there’s zero chance I’ll watch the show, but I definitely would if he interviewed Jonathan Miller. That would be entertaining to watch.

  19. Taz
    Posted March 23, 2016 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    “It’s my quest to understand human faith and discover how our beliefs connect us all in one epic story.”

    How many episodes will focus on warfare?

  20. Ken Kukec
    Posted March 23, 2016 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

    From the screen-capture on the video, I’m guessing Miss Daisy’s driver gets into Doc Carson’s biblical grain silos?

    • HaggisForBrains
      Posted March 24, 2016 at 6:24 am | Permalink

      From the video, someone needs to teach the young man on the bridge how to play Pooh Sticks

  21. Lurker111
    Posted March 24, 2016 at 7:02 am | Permalink

    “When I was young it was a magazine I’d devour avidly, for it was full of natural history, fantastic photographs, and travel stories.”

    Fixed it for ya:

    “When I was young it was a magazine I’d devour avidly, for it was full of natural history, fantastic photographs, topless natives and travel stories.”

  22. jeffery
    Posted March 25, 2016 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

    Recently I was waiting for the elevator at the nursing home where I visit an old friend weekly; also waiting was a man apparently picking up something substantial, as he was rolling a pallet jack around (I’m familiar with all the maintenance men, and haven’t ever seen this guy)- he was deep in conversation with an old lady with no legs in a wheelchair and, as I walked up, I heard him say something about how confused this world is and how it would all be better soon when Jesus returns, throwing out some Babble quote. The woman nodded and said, “Yes, I’ll be SO happy when our Lord comes back.” I got on the elevator with him and he turned his attentions to me, going on about how Adam and Eve “disobeyed”, and thus brought misfortune on themselves. I had two thoughts: (1) “Damn- I’m trapped in an elevator, being ‘witnessed'” and (2) “You’re lucky I’m running late this morning, buddy- I could really mess up your day!”


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