For over a year, Morgan Freeman has been traveling the world in search of God. And not just to find a man in white–or in his case, a man in white who changes light bulbs—but to illuminate the different ways people think about and worship God all over the world.
We spoke to Freeman at the beginning of his quest. Now his series, Story of God, continues the search in its second season–first in Minnesota, and then in London and Thailand. National Geographic caught up with Freeman to find out what he’s learned.
You’ve now been looking for God and spirituality for a year. What have you found? Well I’ve found that God is pretty universal wherever we go. It’s like–how do I say this–lots of us have different approaches to the same idea. There is heaven and hell. There is God. And there is a way to realize them. That’s universal. You find commonality in that sense everywhere.
You’re more than a reporter. How does your celebrity affect your quest? That’s hard to say. In a few locations, I’ve been aware that the interviewee was a bit, you know, charged up by the idea that it was me. But after a few minutes of talking, that went away. And it gets us into more places and gets more people to say yes to us. Most people are just happy and honored that we care about their religion enough to look outside the mainstream of religions.
You went looking for God in Minnesota. Why? In the first episode, it was the fact that there is a reincarnated lama in Minnesota. We have a major religious figure on our doorstep. He was a delightful young man.
Tell me about the Mah Song in Thailand, the men who pierce their faces with swords. These people are part of the Taoist tradition. They have the feeling that they are called to do this. They go into a trance state. The piercings–one guy put an umbrella through his lip. It looks like unimaginable pain, but it heals in a few days, and they carry on. They’re kind of supercharged by this divine power.
In the past year, we’ve seen what President Obama called a “clash of cultures,” or ways that globalization, social media, and pop culture are changing how cultures interact. Based on your travels and interviews, have you seen this on display? Well, I don’t want you to be disappointed, but I didn’t find any appreciable difference at all, not in terms of new technology and the fact that we’re connected. It still seems to be the same order of merit in terms of religion. I think that’s why it continues to be important to make these films.
A year ago, you said that when you see God, it’s light coming down from the clouds. Has that changed? No, it hasn’t changed at all.
Really? Yes. I’ve been talking to people about what they think and they feel and how they’ve experienced God and religion. But I have not been tempted to join anything new or change my way of thinking. I think I’m like everybody else. I’m set.
The first season of Story of God is now available on DVD. The second season begins Monday night at 9/8c on National Geographic.
Daniel Stone is an editor for National Geographic magazine, where he covers environmental science and agriculture. His book, on the life and adventures of food spy David Fairchild, will be published by New American Library (Penguin Random House) in 2018.