Narrated by Oprah Winfrey, the globetrotting miniseries “Belief” profiles people of varying spiritual outlooks as they search for purpose and meaning in their lives.
The seven-part presentation premieres on the OWN cable channel Sunday, Oct. 18, 8-9 p.m. and continues nightly through Saturday, Oct. 24, 8-9 p.m. each night.
In an era when atheism appears to be on the march, the program’s celebration of faith in its broadest sense is to be commended. All the more so, since it’s beautifully produced, giving viewers a visually interesting look at a range of personal odysseys and the many ways in which belief can be translated into positive concrete action.
But the need to approach the series with a note of caution, taking care not to be misguided by a spirit of indifferentism that would view all forms of religion as equally valid, suggests that it is best suited for a discerning adult audience.
So too does the mature material some of the featured life stories include. Thus the pilot introduces us to 19-year-old Cha Cha, a devout evangelical trying to reconnect with God after enduring the faith-shaking trauma of being raped.
While similarly substantive, the other three narratives incorporated into this first episode are, not surprisingly, more lighthearted in tone.
Reshma Thakkar, for instance, is a single, financially successful young Indian-American from Chicago who leaves her lucrative job in an effort to rededicate herself to her wavering Hindu faith. With that goal in mind, she goes on pilgrimage to the banks of India’s Ganges River to participate in the world’s most populous spiritual gathering, the Kumbh Mela.
Thousands of miles away in Budapest, Hungary, Mendel Hurwitz, a 13-year-old Jewish boy, is preparing for a celebration of a different sort: the bar mitzvah ceremony that will ritually mark his transition to adulthood.
On the other side of the world, and the other end of the age spectrum, Australian aboriginal elder Terry Gandadila is preoccupied by the need to keep his culture alive by passing on inherited tribal wisdom to his grandson.
At least two subsequent episodes include stories that Catholic viewers will find of particular interest. The first concerns the remarkable fidelity that has marked both the courtship and the union of Ian and Larissa Murphy.
The marriage bond shared by these dedicated young Christians is a living and moving illustration of the familiar phrase by which spouses pledge to be true to each other “in sickness and in health.”
The other segment follows 65-year-old Australian physician John Davie, an inactive Catholic reconsidering his relationship with the faith, as he makes the traditional 500-mile pilgrimage known as the “Way of St. James.”
By following the ancient “Camino” through France and Spain to the latter country’s shrine of Santiago de Compostela, Davie, whose youthful fervor led him to consider the priesthood, hopes for a fresh encounter with God and the church after four decades of separation and spiritual emptiness.
As spoken by Winfrey, the introductory words that accompany each installment’s opening credits sum up both the strengths and the weaknesses of this documentary’s wide-ranging but undiscriminating view of the world’s religions: “My confidence comes from knowing there is a force, a power, greater than myself that I’m a part of and is also a part of me.”
By Maria Macina
Macina is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.