National Geographic’s “The Story of God”: back for another season

As I’ve documented repeatedly, since Rupert Murdoch took over National Geographic, the magazine and its spinoffs have become increasingly oriented toward religion—and in a friendly way. Last summer Morgan Freeman hosted a National Geographic series called “The Story of God”; here are its six episodes. screen-shot-2017-01-14-at-4-51-40-pm

Now, according to PuffHo, there’s a second season in the offing, with the first episode airing tomorrow (there will be three). The website for the new season is here, and you can watch two clips here). PuffHo‘s blurb notes that—for crying out loud—it’s going to be about theology (my emphasis):

The first season aired in the spring of 2016 and became National Geographic’s most-watched series of all time. On Monday, Season 2 will premiere with Freeman exploring a fresh set of theological questions.

“We’re dealing with esoterica here, things that are more internal than external. So there are always going to be more questions,” Freeman told The Huffington Post on Wednesday. “It’s one of those situations where the more you delve into it the deeper it gets.” [JAC: sort of like a cesspool.]

The second season features just three episodes exploring three fundamental religious themes. The first episode explores the concept of the “chosen one” ― people who have been singled out throughout history for purportedly having direct access to the divine. Next, the show explores “heaven and hell,” with a look at how people’s beliefs about the afterlife influence their actions in this life. The final episode dives into the age-old question of whether there’s “proof of God,” and the subtle ways people of faith find look for it.

Do you think the last episode will also deal with the “age-old” issue of the evidence against gods, or the lack of evidence for anything divine? I’m betting against it.

Now I’m not going to watch this show, for I don’t have cable; and even if I did, I wouldn’t watch it anyway. But my prediction is that it will involve heavy osculation of the rump of faith.

Now why is Freeman doing this? What are his own beliefs? PuffHo, in an earlier article connected with the first season, first implied that he’s an atheist, but then backpedaled (my emphasis):

Morgan Freeman has played God on the big screen, but in real life he sees the Almighty as an invention of the human mind.

It might seem curious, then, for the 78-year-old actor to star in a National Geographic Channel show all about God and religion. But “The Story of God with Morgan Freeman,” which airs its season finale on Sunday, isn’t so much a celebration of God as it is an exploration of human beings’ unending search for the divine, Freeman says.

. . . “Life is more about what you believe than almost anything else. That’s why God still exists,” he said.

What he should have said is “that’s why the IDEA of God still exists,” but of course he’s walking a fine line here, trying to pretend that the human construction of God is itself evidence for God—something likely to be lost on the viewers.

People spend their lives searching for God, he continued, when true divinity may be in front of us all along. In Hebrew, Freeman recounted, the word for God is derived from the verb “to be,” making it translate roughly as “I am.” He used this example to explain his own beliefs on the subject.

“God is in all things — a sunset, a bloom, a rose,” he said. “The ultimate answer to the question of God’s existence is ‘God is.’”

Well, if you’re a pantheist, as Freeman seems to be in the last sentence, then you can say “God is” if you see God as a rose, a sunset, or even a pancake. But that’s cheating, for Freeman—and National Geographic—know full well that this series will be seen as a vindication of religious belief and of God’s existence. That, of course, explains why it’s been so popular. It also explains the popularity of books like Proof of Heaven and Heaven is for Real. 

What a great shame that National Geographic, which used to educate people about the real world we live in, is now trying to deceive people about a numinous world that doesn’t exist.

28 Comments

  1. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted January 15, 2017 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    “Delve”

    Let’s delve into something.

    Translation: let’s get completely lost.

  2. Ken Kukec
    Posted January 15, 2017 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    C’mon, Rupert, equal time in Nat Geo for casting horoscopes, reading entrails, and tarot-card divination!

    • rickflick
      Posted January 15, 2017 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

      “The Story of Garden Fairies”

    • W.Benson
      Posted January 15, 2017 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

      Irrational Geographic?

  3. Randall Schenck
    Posted January 15, 2017 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    The more you delve into it the deeper it gets. At least with a septic tank, you can pump it out. So tune in with Morgan, instead of driving miss daisy, he’s driving us crazy.

  4. Claudia Baker
    Posted January 15, 2017 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    I will NOT be watching.
    Just like I will NOT be watching on Friday.

    Holy world full of batshit crazy stuff, Batman.

  5. Kiwi Dave
    Posted January 15, 2017 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    “God is in all things – a sunset, a bloom a rose.” Doubtless, in one of the TV episodes he will give a more comprehensive answer including the Indian Ocean tsunami, smallpox and poison ivy.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted January 16, 2017 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

      Or, pain. Now I have to admit pain has its uses, as in reminding us to stop hitting thumb with hammer.

      But – why does it have to hurt so fucking much? For every twinge that is useful, there are a hundred twinges that are gratuitous.

      I suppose the evolutionary answer is that it’s an unavoidable side-effect of nerves that are overstressed. The ‘Goddidit’ answer is – what? That Big Brother loves making people suffer? I can’t imagine any other.

      (This rumination inspired – if that’s the word – by the back pain I’ve been experiencing for the last couple of weeks, which seems to have no cause and sure as hell has no useful function).

      cr

  6. Sastra
    Posted January 15, 2017 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    This series looks like its primary goal is to reinforce the idea that “faith” is a respectable and praiseworthy aspect of what it means to be human. It requires subtle yet deep habits of understanding, no matter which religion or god is credited.

    On the other hand, any exploration of all the variations of supernatural belief driven more by faith in faith than faith in God will encourage ecumenism and — if someone will but think deeply and subtly enough — doubt.

  7. Mark R.
    Posted January 15, 2017 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    People spend their lives searching for God…

    I haven’t met people like this. The only religious people I know never searched, they were told and just started believing. Has anyone met anyone who has spent their life searching for God?

    • Mark R.
      Posted January 15, 2017 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

      oops…forgot to turn the italics off.

      • ploubere
        Posted January 15, 2017 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

        Good point. If you’re searching you presumably haven’t found him yet.

        I’ve written off NG. It’s a shame, they still employ some of the best nature photographers and do some worthwhile stories, I suppose, but I cancelled my subscription as soon as Rupert acquired it.

        • Posted January 15, 2017 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

          I also cancelled my subscription. I take the time to write on cards I receive from them requesting that I re-subscribe that I won’t do so until they stop promoting Christianity.

          I did not watch the previous NG series on God, and will not watch this one either.

    • Posted January 15, 2017 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

      Yes — people spend their lives claiming to have already found god.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted January 16, 2017 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

      “People spend their lives searching for God…”

      Reminds me of my automatic (and sarcastic) response to those signs that say “Look for trains” – “Why, have you lost one?”

      cr

  8. Ronald Wall
    Posted January 15, 2017 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    National Geographic has become a joke along with most of commercial TV. The fact that the host of “Through The Wormhole” has lent his considerable charm to this blatant religious series is a huge disappointment for me.

    • eric
      Posted January 16, 2017 at 6:56 am | Permalink

      I take the opposite tack – his treatment of the ‘life after death’ issue in Through The Wormhole makes me optimistic that his treatment of ‘life after death’ in this series will be just as reasonable.

      Having said that, I’m not really motivated to watch it because even Through The Wormhole got a bit repetitive and boring after a while.

  9. Digital Canary
    Posted January 15, 2017 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    So a charitable interpretation might be that Freeman is pointing out that “God(s)” do exist not simply as something numinous or pantheistic, but rather as the actual effects of people’s beliefs. That is, independent of whether the God(s) in question actually exists, the fact that people believe in it/them certainly does exist, as do real effects of those beliefs.

    That’s certainly my POV on the question, perhaps better formulated as “Does God/do Gods and/or the idea of such have an effect in reality?” To my mind, and I suspect to most here and most religious, the answer is clearly YES.

    Where things get complicated is on what basis I or others assess what effects actually exist (e.g., I’m a no for “miraculous” claims, and a yes for both enhanced compassion [sometimes, sometimes reduced] and reduced acceptance of the scientific method as the only reliable of knowing), and what those objectively present or absent effects might say about the proposition of the reality of God(s) vs simply the reality of the idea of God(s).

    I myself take a very Laplacian view, seeing no need for the hypothesis of God’s or Gods’ actual existence based upon the reliable evidence in front of us.
    Having watched a bit of Freeman in this series, my sense is he’s either far more open to the non-Laplacian viewpoint, or okay with acting as though he is (financial reward can be a strong incentive). But while I’m not sure I can say which it is for him, I can say that I don’t personally think either is great 🙂
    That said, as I agree wholeheartedly with PCC’s POV on free will (I.e., the utter lack thereof and absurdity of the idea based on what we know through careful application of the scientific mehod), I don’t have any choice but to feel the way I feel about Freeman’s personal “choices”, but also believe (based on the same evidence re free will) that Freeman doesn’t actually have a “choice” on how he feels, what he thinks, or taking the job for money 🙂

  10. John Kiefer, PsyD
    Posted January 15, 2017 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

    Dr. Coyne,
    You sound remarkably similar to the “Christians” who picketed outside theatres showing “The Temptation of Christ.” Asked if they had seen the movie, they of course replied “Of course not. We would never watch a movie we were told we shouldn’t watch.” I have watched the first season and have set my DVR for the second. As a clinical psychologist with an interest in social psychology and anthropology, I have found the series quite informative. Do you not realize that it is of course not about god, but very much about people? I assure you none of the people find god in any way that will contradict your atheism. And Morgan Freeman doesn’t try to convince anyone that any gods have been objectively found. But the diversity and creativity they display are fascinating. Like yours, my brain does not function in any way that is compatible with a religious or deistic worldview. But I can certainly appreciate how other people’s brains work.
    John Kiefer, PsyD

    • Posted January 16, 2017 at 8:28 am | Permalink

      What I object to is National Geographic’s incessant concentration on relgion and God–and not just in this movie but in its magazines. I believe they do that for one reason: most Americans are religious and it’s a way to confirm their faith and sell magazines. It’s just sad. You may be right about the series, but I just don’t like article after article, movie after movie, about religion. After all, even in humans (and Nat. Geo. used to not just be about humans), it’s only one aspect of their behavior. And, as noted by commenters above, it’s extolling “faith” (belief without evidence) as a praiseworthy aspect of our species. In fact, it’s worthy of denigration and mockery.

      I bow to your avowed superiority in appreciating how other peoples’ brains work.

  11. AntonChekhov
    Posted January 16, 2017 at 12:19 am | Permalink

    A definite victory for those pedaling the enigmatic doctrines of theology… Sympathetic audiences watching this show will all assume the truth of what Freeman preaches given the weight his name carries and credibility Nat Geo once had.

    The real problem here is how powerful the pro religion lobby is. In my college there were seminars galore where famous proponents of Christianity shamelessly sought to influence young undergrads who had no access to the other side of the story…

    In my third year, i remember one friend telling me of an event hosted by an MIT professor who told a group of 300 or so students that consciousness had no ‘physical’ explanations (…and therefore god). Funnily enough though, when i did end up studying philosophy of the mind, a class few of those who attended the event would end up taking, i learned that none of the serious theories of the mind had anything to do with the supernatural…. at all.

  12. johzek
    Posted January 16, 2017 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    Instead of being a situation “where the more you delve into it the deeper it gets” as Freeman says, the God idea might be better characterized as simply a muddying of the waters to make them appear to be deep.

  13. Bob
    Posted January 16, 2017 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    Why and how would Morgan Freeman take this NatGeo gig? May I suggest that he did so because he is an actor and narrating this series paid well.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted January 16, 2017 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

      That is a totally cynical and unworthy thought. And exactly what leapt to my mind too.

      😉

      cr

  14. Mike
    Posted January 16, 2017 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    Why is he doing it ? well, I expect it is very well paid.

  15. reasonshark
    Posted January 16, 2017 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    isn’t so much a celebration of God as it is an exploration of human beings’ unending search for the divine, Freeman says.

    “Life is more about what you believe than almost anything else. That’s why God still exists,” he said.

    Surely the more obvious conclusion from all that talk about unending searches is that humans kinda suck at fact-finding. It’d be like celebrating a history of innumeracy and statistical errors an undergraduate would laugh at. Besides, the sentence is a cheat: the part about human beings searching for the divine PRESUMES there’s such a thing as divinity to begin with.

    Also, I really, really can’t tolerate the pretentious nonsense of pantheism. Nothing is better calculated to turn water into mud than treating “God” – a word people fall over themselves to redefine as and when it suits them – as a synonym for “everything”. Even if the deceptive ploy wasn’t obvious enough, why do people seem to think they’re being profound or heartwarmingly awestruck when they make this move? Everything includes every single complication, every single case of disease and death and torture and famine and plague and distress and pain and confusion and depression and war, most of which have been going on in the natural world for hundreds of millions of years, and at a rate we would deem obscene if we could only comprehend numbers of that magnitude.

    But no, it’s always sweet and cuddly things like sunsets and butterflies and flowers. It is confirmation bias with a vengeance. It’s Pollyanna at her most disturbingly censorious. And that’s even ignoring the questionable equivocation going on between “God”, “everything”, and “goodness”.

    I’d utter a profanity, but I don’t think I can find one to do justice to this scale of utter outrage.

  16. Posted January 16, 2017 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    I’d have to see the show before i could comment, really. But taking a clinical look at why people believe is not really selling religion.

  17. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted January 16, 2017 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

    Well I, in my more mystical moments, could maybe countenance pantheism. I think Thomas Hardy was maybe a bit pantheistic. (Cue violins and soothing heavenly music). But as soon as somebody tries saying ‘G*d commands you to do such-and-such’ that’s when the needle jumps out of the groove with a graunch.

    cr


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