14/01/2017 3:04 AM IST

Morgan Freeman Explores What Unites The World's Religions In 'The Story Of God'

The actor is back with a second season of National Geographic's most-watched show of all time.

National Geographic/Reza Riazi
Master calligrapher Mohamed Zakariya demonstrates his talents to actor Morgan Freeman in an episode of "The Story of God."

Morgan Freeman has been up close and personal with God as a character in films, but his own experience of the divine is more nuanced than his playful portrayals might suggest.

These days, he’s exploring questions about faith and the Almighty in the National Geographic show “The Story of God With Morgan Freeman.” The show takes Freeman around the world, interacting with people of faith and investigating religious concepts that have intrigued philosophers for centuries.

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.”

National Geographic/Reza Riazi
Morgan Freeman interviews Babalawo Oluwole Ifakunle, professional practitioner of traditional Ifa and Orisa worship, and Funlayo Wood, Harvard Divinity School doctoral candidate in African studies and religion, at the National Black Theatre.

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.

Freeman is an executive producer on the show, along with Lori McCreary and James Younger of Revelations Entertainment, which Freeman and McCreary co-founded. 

“Doing this series makes you realize, whatever your belief is, how important religion is to the structure of our daily lives,” Younger told HuffPost.

In today’s world, religion’s impact on people’s daily lives can be frighteningly stark. But “The Story of God” isn’t a show about religious discrimination or condemning faith’s blind spots. It rarely even pits religions against one another, even when their different beliefs on a topic could fill an entire series. Instead, the show seeks to find common ground among faiths, which the producers acknowledged can be a novel concept in the world today.

“It’s encouraging to see that so many varying belief systems have such a commitment to good deeds and being of service to their communities,” McCreary said. “That’s very different from what we often see in the news.”

National Geographic/Reza Riazi
Freeman interviews Rinpoche Tulku Lobsang, a Tibetan Buddhist Tantryana master, in New York City.

Sharing that message of commonality is exactly what drove them to make the show, Younger said. “The events that happened around the world and here [in the U.S.] in the last few months only make it more important that we do this kind of work, that we look for what we have in common with a person who appears to be different from us,” he told HuffPost.

For Freeman, who takes a philosophical approach to his own spiritual beliefs, “The Story of God” illustrates something essential about religion itself. 

“I believe it was Karl Marx who said, ‘Religion is the opiate of the masses.’ Meaning that if you could get people hooked on religion they’re much easier to control,” the actor said. “I think that’s a complete misreading. Religion is more like the glue that holds societies together I think, and religion in its very nature gives hope. I don’t think it would exist in such a wide aspect if that was not the truth of it.”

Season 1 of “The Story of God with Morgan Freeman” is available on DVD, and Season 2 will premiere on Monday, Jan. 16, at 9/8c on National Geographic. Watch a clip from the first episode, “The Chosen One,” below:

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