Yes, that Morgan Freeman, the celebrity actor, producer, and narrator.
He recently recounted a personal experience he once had many years ago that recalls Joseph Smith’s First Vision. This was part of an episode of National Geographic’s television documentary series The Story of God, which he hosted. This multi-part series is full of intriguing ideas about God, an exploration of various cultures and religions’ understanding of what God is, and topics related to God such as the creation, apocalypse, miracles, and evil. The episodes are available for watching on YouTube.
Here is the video clip where Freeman describes his experience (transcript below):
David’s incredible story reminds me of an experience I had many years ago. I have seen a light, not in a near death experience, I was just passing out. And, what I perceived was the tiniest beam of light that to me was the final form of life. It just occurred to me, “Holy Cow!! There it is! There is the light that everybody talks about!” But it is a common theme among people who say they have had a near-death experience, or an out of body experience. What they see is a light. Some people have seen Jesus in this light. Other people just see a bright light.(Source: “Beyond Death,” The Story of God with Morgan Freeman, Season 1 Episode 1, National Geographic Channel, originally aired 3 April 2016. If you rewind the video above to 2:40 you can also hear the story of David Bennett, who had a near-death experience and also saw a bright light that communicated with him, and which he identified as “God.” None of the “First Vision” accounts that I have recounted thus far have been near-death experiences, NDEs, because I want to show that these experiences are not found only when people are near death (or have “died”), but in many other environments and situations as well, during life. But I do think the classic NDE/OBE is very much a “First Vision” type of experience of God in the very same category of experience as these other “First Vision” accounts. Some have talked about Joseph’s First Vision in terms of an NDE, see Robert Fillerup’s paper, or an OBE, see Robert Bushman’s paper.)
Morgan Freeman was once asked in an interview if he believes in God, and he replied, “It’s a hard question because as I said at the start, I think we invented God. So if I believe in God, and I do, it’s because I think I’m God.”
I think there is a lot of deep wisdom in that statement, and I agree with it. I don’t think we “invented God” in the sense of making God up out of whole cloth, but rather humanity created an intellectual concept and symbolic word-term “God” to attempt to label and categorize a fundamentally human experience and human condition that applies to all human beings and all of life and the universe, but which often transcends our human mind’s intellectual abilities to conceptualize and describe logically (which is why it is often called ineffable). I think this finds harmony with some of the deepest Mormon understandings (“you have got to learn how to be gods yourselves”), and even Christianity at large (see theosis, deification, divinization, divine nature, etc.).
We are all learning what it means to “be gods” ourselves, even that which we already are, but we may struggle to know this in our default mind and typical state of egoic self-aware consciousness. Our typical logical rational left-hemispheric-dominant Westernized mind cannot comprehend God, and so it often rejects God, or it looks for God outside itself. It often takes a radical ordeal that affects one’s mind, strenuous spiritual exercises, an externally provoked change in consciousness, or intensive contemplative practice of some kind that shifts our state of consciousness in order to perceive it with other less dominant parts of our mind/brain—not rationally, but intuitively. Many come to perceive, in that altered state of consciousness, that they are not separate from that being humanity has labelled as God, but are one in God. They are as much a manifestation of God, in God, as God, as anything and everything else in the cosmos. Indeed, they are God, and one with all things.
But this is often not at all acceptable to the rational mind afterwards, nor to the larger society that calls it extreme hubris and utter blasphemy and sacrilege (which is why many prophet-mystics are hunted down and executed), and so it is often softened, watered down, and extracted from one’s own being when one attempts to describe it later, either consciously or unconsciously. A human person logically cannot “be God,” or so we think, and so God becomes an external being in our attempts at rational descriptions, analyses, symbols, stories, allegories, scriptures, etc. We only see hints of its true reality here and there (becoming much more explicit in the mystical religious/spiritual traditions).
And so we return where we began, where rational logical minds cannot comprehend such a being anywhere existent “out there” in the cosmos. It often doesn’t seem to make sense in our logical studies and rational sciences, and so people reject the idea of God altogether (which, if defined as a wholly external being, is actually a correct stance to take), or they continue their search outside themselves with much difficulty finding anything that could receive such a label, and can often leave them wanting at the end of their mortal life. I’ve looked and looked and looked, and “where is God?”
The only God that we can find and perceive and know directly as such, I believe, is the one that can be found in the very center and heart of our own Self and Being and Consciousness. That is where God is. That is where God lives. That is God, in humanity. And when we perceive it fully in our own consciousness, we recognize it as fundamentally at-one with the whole of all Life and the Cosmos as well. We are, in our absolute essence, Life and the Universe.
I perceive that God is not at variance with our scientific studies of the universe. For I believe God is the universe, and we are shockingly part of this universe too, and we can actually come to perceive this truth directly in our own consciousness. The necessity of coming to know God only by perceiving it within consciousness is often where God/religion comes into conflict with science/secular society. Science often requires empirical objective observations, observations that can be viewed by all people everywhere at any time, in consensus, and can be studied entirely outside any subjectivity whatsoever. But God is necessarily and fundamentally a subjective observation within human consciousness itself. That is the only place where God can be known as such.
However, we are quickly getting better at evaluating subjective experiences in human consciousness, and being more accepting of these human experiences as valid in the scientific domain of knowledge, even knowledge of the human experience and human condition, through the interdisciplinary studies of psychology, psychology of religion, transpersonal psychology, neurobiology, neuropsychology, neuroscience, philosophy, psychopharmacology, psychiatry, quantum theory, etc. I think we are coming very quickly to a point of the general merging of scientific and spiritual disciplines, where they are both perceived to be valid and worthwhile, even a merging of the objective and subjective points of view as useful in approaching a better understanding of the world that we live in. We may even come to understand that both are, in fact, perceiving the very same thing, but just calling it by different names. There is an old Hindu saying: “Truth is one, the wise call it by many names.”
Morgan Freeman didn’t go into extensive detail about his experience, but we might still find some similarities to Joseph Smith’s First Vision, including:
- Suddenly seeing a beam of light appear
- This light was very small, perhaps at “a considerable distance”
- Recognizing that this light had to do with profound universals, perhaps Life itself
- Being awestruck by this light, like an epiphany
- Knowing the light was associated with the Divine, even God
- Realizing that others had also seen this light, and associated it with God
- Jesus may be seen in this light