For some reason “Creation” episode is not on National Geographic site but you can still “explore” it’s content. I don’t know if anyone bothers to click on all the sliding tabs that appear there but there are links to full sized articles on each particular topic which sometimes contain more information than was presented in the show itself. “Creation Myths From Around the World”, for example, includes Chinese version that wasn’t mentioned by Morgan Freeman himself. Maybe I should also “explore” each episode but there’s enough material in the videos as it is.
Morgan Freeman begins the episode by dropping some wisdom that we need to know creation stories in order to understand ourselves. Well, he precluded that by saying that we won’t understand who Morgan Freeman is unless we understand Mississippi, his birthplace. It’s natural for him as an actor to assume that everyone wants to understand him but I, honestly, couldn’t care less.
Christian story of Genesis is a well known one but Freeman found a twist – Adam could have been buried underneath Golgotha so that JC’s blood could trickle down and sanctify his body. It seems Christians here want to have their cake and eat it, too, because they didn’t offer any reasonable explanation why Eden would be in Jerusalem and not in Eden itself, which they believe is somewhere in Mesopotamia.
Freeman then got onto his favorite horse of trying to prove that religion is a matter of evolution. He wanted confirmation that believe in God was related to the birth of farming. His trip to one of the oldest discovered settlements, in Turkey, was fruitless, however. The entire segment looked like a giant speculation and trying to see things that might simply not be there.
He put the question interestingly – did religion give rise to communities (and farming) or did farming give rise to religion?It’s not easy to decide which but the question itself is wrong because it takes religion out of hands of God and makes it a product of evolution. It might be helpful in evolution of human species, if it brought us farming, but still it’s a product of evolution, not God.
Islamic story of creation appeared as the most reasonable one – comparing to what we know from our literature. First there was smoke that later formed into the Earth, which was later populated. It would probably make sense from scientific POV as well. We could say that they are talking about Lord’s glance agitating pradhāna which could be described as smoke, if they wish. Still, where did this smoke come from? That remained unasked.
Christian Genesis, btw, is right that everything began with the word. They are talking about Aum, of course, but then it veers off into six days of creation, God needing rest, the story with the snake and the apple and so on, and it all happened five thousand years ago.
Then we had a couple of stories from less developed cultures – Australian aboriginals and American Maya. They can be augmented by the Chinese story of creation that is in the “explore” section of the episode but not in the video itself. All these stories might be interesting as folklore, and there might be some truth behind them, too, but they are clearly talking about local creation, the birth of these particular tribes. I expected better of Chinese but this might be the fault of National Geographic researchers.
They did a terrible job with Hindu creation, for example – because we know how it really happened from our scriptures while the woman they talked to in Varanasi either had no clue or didn’t tell them anything. She gave the age of the universe at 8.6 billion years while first look at wikipedia gives some 150 trillion intstead (51st year of Lord Brahmā).
The website mentions Puruṣa sūkta from Ṛg veda and I wish I listened carefully to its story when I had a chance but I’m pretty sure that we, vaiṣṇavas, have a very different take on what actually described there. In any case, Puruṣa Sūkta is not the story of the primary creation because gods were already there ready to conduct a sacrifice.
Lady from Varanasi did tell Freeman a story of Ganges but she again missed the most important part – that it entered the universe after Lord Vāmana pierced its covering with his toe. In her story Ganges were already flowing through Brahmāloka and then was released down to Earth where she landed on Śiva’s head. Lord Śiva accepted her only because its waters washed the feet of Lord Viṣṇu as Vāmana and this part remained untold. Maybe in māyāvādī circles these facts are not mentioned at all and so we cannot blame the poor woman, but her blunder with the age of the universe is unforgivable, it seems she was woefully unprepared.
Freeman was visibly taken the worship of Ganges, however, and he admitted at the end of the episode that Hindu idea of creation was appealing to him, even if he didn’t get full information about it. He liked that in the beginning there were no gods at all, there was neither existence nor non-existence, as he quoted from Ṛg veda, but most of all he liked that creation is beyond human understanding so we just have to accept it and move on with our duties.
On the science front we were presented with a short discussion on Big Bang with a Catholic scientist in Vatican. I quite like Catholics for their adherence to the tradition but they no longer take Genesis story literally, they believe in evolution, and so there are Christians out there who appear to be more Catholic than the Pope. We call them fundamentalists and it’s hard to take them seriously but they are just stuck between the rock and the hard place – the Bible and modern science. They try to make them compatible even when they are clearly miles apart. Catholics try to make them compatible, too, but they all try to achieve it on the level of sensual perception and it will never work. We can’t see things as they are with our senses, we see according to our conditioning and our karma, but it’s a big topic for another day.