By Mark Pattison, Catholic News Service     1/17/2017

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Despite the seemingly contradictory reports about U.S. church attendance falling across denominations and already low percentages for believers worshipping across the globe, belief in God remains strong, said actor Morgan Freeman, the narrator of a documentary series that bears his name.

The nature of belief is “universal. Wherever you go, there are people believe in a higher power, a divine power. There is nobody who thinks that man is in charge,” said Freeman, who is featured in “The Story of God With Morgan Freeman,” the second season of which was to premier Monday, Jan. 16, 9-10 p.m. EST, on cable’s National Geographic Channel.

“Belief is fundamental, an intuitive state,” said James Younger, one of the executive producers of the series, on a Jan. 12 conference call with Catholic News Service. “When we think about religion, belief gets conflated into laws and doctrine. Belief is an inner feeling you have, an inner peace, an inner connection you have with the divine or the eternal.”

“We often talk about the other levels of faith and religion,” said Lori McCreary, the series’ other executive producer. “I think in this season we’re really looking at how people’s belief turns out in everyday life.”

The debut episode, “The Chosen One,” looks at those believed to be ordained by God to be leaders of their faith and, by extension, their people. Freeman also interviews a Korean Christian missionary who risked his freedom to evangelize in North Korea.

Freeman, who did a memorable star turn playing God in the 2003 comedy “Bruce Almighty,” said the production team’s work in doing more than scratching the surface of religious belief found more similarities than differences.

“There is so much more commonality than difference among the belief systems,” he said. “We all have similar tenets: heaven and hell, the afterlife — a place to go — how to get there. They’re all very, very similar. All pretty much the same thing.”

“They’re linked by passion and commitment that these different faiths have when you’re in a room with people from many different faiths — the way they’re worshipping, commitment with their God,” McCreary said. “The feeling is moving, overwhelming, inspiring. That feeling was the same wherever we went.”

“The Story of God” looked at the issue of violence attributed to religion in the series’ first season, with a direct focus on members of the Islamic State. “It’s a kind of hijacking of the old Islamic prophecy that conflicts would come,” Younger told CNS. “Sometimes, given the opportunity and political and military leanings, they put narrow personal goals behind a religious prophecy.”

Freeman said his own faith has not been changed through his work on the series. “I have not found any alteration in my relationship with God. And I don’t think any of us have altered our relationship with what we have heard. What we have come away with is a head full of knowledge we didn’t have before,” he said.

“However, talking about how ignorance is the catalyst for negativities that surround religion,” he added, “the more you know about peoples and their religious undertakings, the better you feel about all of it.”

Freeman said his own biggest surprise during filming of the second season was the discovery near Nashville, Tennessee, of “10,000-year-old drawings of the afterlife, with images by the ancestors of the Cherokees.” McCreary called the find “a major global religious site — not in India or Israel, but here.”