Morgan Freeman

Morgan-FreemanIn 2009, Morgan Freeman and Lori McCreary, co-founders and partners in Revelations Entertainment, were in Istanbul visiting the Hagia Sophia, a former Christian basilica, later a mosque and today a museum. As they marveled at the beauty of the mosaics, they noticed scenes from the life of Christ and were surprised to learn from their guide that during the years that the Hagia Sophia was a mosque, the depictions of Christ were not covered or destroyed because Islam recognizes him as a prophet. This sparked their curiosity about religion, faith and big questions such as, Who is God? Where do we come from? The result is the six-part series The Story of God with Morgan Freeman, produced by Revelations Entertainment and National Geographic Channel, in which Freeman visits some 20 cities in seven countries to understand how faith shapes our lives. Academy Award-winning Freeman talks to TV Real about the series.

TV REAL: What did you find most surprising or unexpected in your travels for the show?
FREEMAN: There were a couple things. Hindus, for instance, are not all that enamored with reincarnation [as I had previously believed]. It’s not something to look forward to, it’s something almost to dread, because a guy has to go through the whole thing again trying to reach some sort of perfection. So every time you are here on Earth, you have to go through this chore. They would rather not; they would rather just be here once and get it right and then be able to not have to come back. Because if you don’t have to come back, it means that you’ve become pure energy; you’ve done it right and you’ve moved on, you’ve been liberated. You’ve become godlike. I found that surprising because I had been going through the whole of my questionable, questioning life thinking that [reincarnation] was something to look forward to.

Then there was the whole idea that the Catholic Church established a Pontifical Academy of Sciences to look into questions of science. I don’t know if they were looking to see if there was something counter to God and religion, but I think what they found is that science and religion—it all works together. For example, Georges Lemaître, the guy who came up with the theory of the Big Bang, was a priest.

TV REAL: Religion is often seen today as more of a divisive force than a unifying force. Did you find that there is more that we as a people have in common or is there more that divides us?
FREEMAN: I think there is much more that we have in common. You only have to go to Jerusalem and see the numbers of people there who share the same belief system. Go to India. There are two main religious groups that exist side by side in India without any apparent strife at all: the Hindus and the Muslims. I think the strife that we see today is more political than religious.

TV REAL: You host the Revelations Entertainment science series Through the Wormhole. In one episode, a scientist simulates impulses in a girl’s brain that could simulate the presence of a godlike force. Now I am confused: do I imagine God or does he exist?
FREEMAN: [Laughs] There is no answer to that one! There was a neurologist in Philadelphia who had done hundreds of brain scans of people of different religions to see if it was possible to see the presence of God—their belief in God—in a brain scan. Of course, he is still working on that idea. He took a scan of my brain while I was just lying there, and took another one while I was meditating. And the answer, for all intents and purposes, is yes you can see it, you can find God in the brain scans. [In the brain scans of believers, a certain part of the brain lights up. The neurologist did the same experiment with atheists; he asked them to meditate while he scanned their brains, and the same area of the brain did not light up.]

TV REAL: Has this journey changed your beliefs?
FREEMAN: No, no. When I went to the Zoroastrian temple in Los Angeles I discovered that I, along with many, many, many, many people who don’t realize it, am a Zoroastrian. My beliefs line up with Zoroastrianism back to the days, 3,000 years ago, of Zarathustra.

TV REAL: While filming, what was it like to be able to be yourself instead of playing a character? And how did people relate to you in the many places you visited? I believe it’s 20 cities you visited
FREEMAN: I have no ideas how many cities; it seems to have gone on forever! I found no difference between playing a character and being myself. Playing a character is pretty much doing that—it’s inculcating the character into yourself. In this series I’m just the interlocutor.