WASHINGTON — Although mankind may be divided by location, language and culture, one common thread knits the races together: a belief in God.
That's the premise of the upcoming six-part NatGeo docu-series "The Story of God," hosted and produced in-part by Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman, which attempts to shed light on how cultures around the world view the Divine.
Freeman says he had preconceived notions about the world's religions before beginning the documentary.
"Of course … I had preconceived ideas [about religion]," the actor told The Christian Post at a preview screening for the documentary earlier this month. "I didn't change them … I just learned a lot about different cultural approaches [to religion]."
The series will carry viewers to 20 different cities across seven countries, including Egypt, Mexico, Israel, India and the United States.
Freeman, whose admitted fascination with God led him to portray Him in movies like the 2003 hit "Bruce Almighty" and its sequel "Evan Almighty," told CP that he hopes audiences will see "the positive aspects of religion. How much [similarity] there is, as opposed to difference[s]."
One such similarity that's highlighted early in the documentary is a belief in the afterlife, which is seen as a universal concept spanning many of the major religions.
A fisherman at sea who goes overboard and loses consciousness while submerged claims to glimpse the afterlife, and recalls seeing "millions of fragments of light." Light is a common theme in near-death experiences. He also hears a voice tell him, "This is not your time."
While the fisherman remained in the land of the living, in Egypt, where Freeman makes his first stop, the living and the dead coexist — separated only by the Nile River.
Accompanied by a guide, the 78-year-old actor tunnels through the ancient tomb of Egyptian Pharaoh Rameses III. As was the tradition of the pharaohs, they documented their actions and achievements through deep carvings in stone — the deeper the carvings the greater likelihood that future generations could read them and speak a pharaoh's name, adding to his sense of immortality.
Freeman touches these ancient incriptions, likening them to how information seemingly lasts forever on the Internet. The walls of royal pyramids and tombs were also inscribed with spells meant to enable a king to join gods like Ra, the sun god, among others, in the afterlife.
A trip to India broadens Freeman's understanding of Hinduism, which offers its devotees a belief in the universal spirit, Brahman, represented by Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.
Hindus, who comprise 80.5 percent of India's population, according to 2011 stats from the CIA World Factbook, believe in the life, death and rebirth, or reincarnation, of the soul. Freeman experiences a lightbulb moment when he learns that reincarnation is not a process that one hopes to constantly repeat, but that the objective is "to get it right," as the actor says, in order to reach "moksha," or salvation.
Freeman makes a stop in Mexico where he observes festivities celebrating Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, a colorful and lively tradition that's a mashup between acient Aztec rituals and Catholicism. The Aztecs worshipped the sun and believed that without daily sacrifices, it would not rise.
A visit to Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre enables the actor to delve into the traditions of Christianity, the world's largest religion. The church is identified as the site of both of the crucifixion and the tomb of Jesus Christ of Nazareth before his resurrection three days later, and Freeman examines its scared spaces with awe.
In the documentary the actor also explores the practices of Christian megachurches. In early December of last year, as part of his research for the series, Freeman traveled to Houston, Texas, to visit Pastor Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church, but not before his plane made an emergency landing after a freak accident, as previously reported by The Christian Post. The actor eventually arrived to the church where he met with Osteen. Details of that visit are expected to be revealed in the upcoming series.
"The Story of God" will premiere at 9 p.m. ET April 3 on National Geographic Channel and Nat Geo Mundo.