The Story of God, a six-part miniseries starring Morgan Freeman, in collaboration with Revelations Entertainment and the National Geographic Channel premiered its first episode on Sunday, April 3rd with its episode entitled, "Afterlife." The series continued tonight with its episode entitled, "Apocalypse."
This episode's description states, "Violent upheaval and fiery judgment fill popular imagination, but was the lore of apocalypse born out of the strife that plagued the Middle East two millennia ago? The true religious meaning of the apocalypse may not be a global war, but an inner revelation."
Morgan Freeman begins this 2nd episode commenting on the things we see in the news today. "Everyday things seem to get worse- religious conflict, climate change...It all seems so apocalyptic. None of this is new, however. We've been predicting the end of the world for thousands of years, from Nostradamus, all the way back to the book of Revelation. Something about the drama of annihilation seems to grip us. Is it just human nature to worry and wonder about the end of days? Or is it really coming?"
Freeman sets off "on a journey to find out why so many religions predict an apocalypse, to discover the roots of Judgement Day, how ancient prophecies reverberate today, and to ask whether the end is really what we imagined, or if it's all just in our minds.
He travels to Jerusalem, the flashpoint for religious tension between Christians, Muslims and Jews. All three faiths predict Jerusalem to play a part in the end of the world. Freeman meets with an expert on Judaism. They look at the temple mount where in 20 B.C. King Herod the Great built a temple for the Jews to worship God. In 70 A.D. Romans demolished the temple. The Western (or Wailing) Wall is the remains of the temple where Jews come to pray. In 1967, the site returned to direct Jewish control. Freeman asks the expert why 70 years into the New Jerusalem, the temple has not been rebuilt. The answer is two reasons- the Jews aren't ready, and the Muslims aren't ready. The state of Israel militarily and politically controls the area. The top of the temple mount area was given to the Muslims by the state of Israel. Jews are still waiting for the day when they can rebuild the temple. The expert explains that the Jewish Messiah is different from the Christian one. The Messiah Christians think of is divine. For Jews, the Messiah will be a person, a king, who will bring peace to the earth, but he will not be divine. He will do 3 things- reconstitute the Jewish kingdom, bring peace with the neighbors, and rebuild the temple.
Freeman comments that rebuilding the temple would not likely bring peace to the area, where three different religions intersect, but more likely would bring an apocalyptic battle.
He speaks with an archeologist who takes him to the shores of the Dead Sea where a particular Jewish sect, the Essenes, had left their apocalyptic writings over 2,000 years ago in caves surrounding Kumron- the site of the Dead Sea scrolls. They settled there around 100 BC because they believed there would be an epic battle. The War Scroll described a 40 year long apocalyptic war. The Essenes prepared themselves for the end of the world. In 68 A.D., the Romans wiped out the entire area and the Essenes along with it.
He delves into the Mark of the Beast with an expert in early Christianity at the Biblioteca Casanatense in Rome near the Vatican, and the possible relationship to Nero. The letters in his name translate to 666 when his name written in Hebrew is added up. Emperor Nero was known to persecute Christians. In 64 AD, when there was a fire, Nero blamed the Christians and killed them, and it is also believed that he is the one who crucified the apostle Peter, so Christians considered him to be the Anti-Christ.
His next journey brings him to study Islam. ISIS and other extremist religious groups believe the apocalypse has already started. Freeman travels to New York to speak with a man who was a high level recruiter for an apocalyptic Islamic group. He was radicalized as a teenager in the UK. He explains that there is a difference between Islam-ism, and Islam- a religion. Islam-ism is the desire to impose any version of Islam on a society. That ideology was sold to him as if it was the religion of Islam. He grew up in a society where he faced violent racism, and he watched his friends as they were brutally murdered. The extremist group picked him up as an angry teen, and that's how he got his beginnings. He was eventually arrested and tortured, but came out of prison after 4 years, not as a radical, but a liberal Muslim. He saw the other terrorists that he was imprisoned with, and said it would be a hell on earth if they ever came to power and declared a Caliphate.
He talks about the prophecies of Mohammed that most Muslims share in common with each other. The difference is that ISIS has manipulated the prophecies to their political and ideological purposes. ISIS believes that the end of days battle will start in a small village called Dabiq in Syria. The village with no military strategic value and little economic value still has meaning to them, still has ISIS committing resources to fighting for this place- believing this is the place for the final battle. ISIS believes the prophecy that Constantinople will fall, and then Rome will, and since Constantinople has already fallen, then Rome will be next- the idea that America today represents Rome and the continuation of western civilization as the Roman empire.
Morgan Freeman asks why he thinks that the idea of the apocalypse is so appealing- and particularly to young people. His response was that when a person feels powerless, out of control of their own destiny, or that they have no voice, it's tempting (but wrong) to feel like you are becoming an agent of destiny. This man has a foundation that releases counter propaganda videos to prevent young people from being recruited in the west.
Science will be part of the God study, and he talks to a psychologist who is studying how the idea of the apocalypse may be hard-wired into the human brain. They showed a study of a person receiving electric shock at the end of a count-down, and then another time at an unpredictable part of a count-down. Surprisingly, startle reflexes are higher during the unpredictable condition. There was a greater heart rate, pupil dilation and activity in their brain.
There was travel to the Mayan civilization, and the prediction by the Mayan calendar that the world would end in 2012. But they studied a Mayan monument that showed that there wasn't really an apocalypse, but the end of a Baktun cycle within a series of larger cycles.
The next trip was to India to find out what an apocalypse would mean to a religion where there is no end. He talked to the 17th Buddhist Gyalwang Karmapa, the person who teaches others about enlightment. He teaches Freeman how to meditate, and then Morgan asked him a question about Westerners view of the end times- if there was such an idea in Buddhism. He replied that there no absolutes or ending or a judgement day.
Finally, a trip to New Orleans brings him to talk to Hurricane Katrina survivors. He speaks with a couple who survived and how they got so close to the end and close to God that they started their own church. The preacher had said that some people had told him that it was God's punishment on New Orleans, but that something good came out of the bad that happened.
Freeman concludes that the apocalypse is something that people yearn for to be free of injustice, to escape suffering, and to have a better world. Apocalypse is a Greek word that means "lifting the veil." Apocalypse is not about war, it's about enlightment. He says, "It's not some far off day of judgment. It's here. It's now."
The next episode will air on April 17th at 9/8 central on the National Geographic Channel, and the title is "Who is God?" The description of the show asks, "How has the perception of God evolved over human history? Is God just an idea, and if so, can we find evidence of a divine presence in our brains?"
The full first episode "Beyond Death" is available to watch on the National Geographic Channel site. If you have a participating cable provider, you may watch these episodes the next day, or else wait a few days, and the new episode may show up for free.
Let us know what you think of the show!