June 25th, 2010
07:24 PM ET
Roger Nygard was seven years old when he first realized he was going to die.
He had found the entry on tuberculosis inside his family’s medical encyclopedia one day and it appeared that he was exhibiting all the symptoms noted in the book: coughing, fatigue, and sleepiness.
The young Nygard aptly put on his winter suit on that cold Minnesota night and went outside by the lake across from his home to wait for death to come. After twenty minutes though, his feet got cold and he decided to go back inside to have dinner.
You can see a trailer for the documentary here.
He began to ask his friends what was the point of everything and from that his documentary, “The Nature of Existence” came into being.
The documentary is Nygard’s personal journey and inquiry to finding answers to all of life’s biggest questions. But what he found was an existential onion, where every question led to another set of questions.
“We’re searching for answers to explain why we’re here. Sometimes the simple answers are in a fable and much more complex answers are in science,” said Nygard.
170 people were interviewed from around the world spanning across multiple religions, ages, backgrounds, and ethnicities. He asked them eighty-five questions on topics ranging from religion, sex, mortality, existence, science, God, faith, sin, truth, suffering, prayer, free will, afterlife, prayer, the supernatural, soul, life, and doomsday.
The documentary offers a wide range of opinions from the conservative to the controversial.
When asked what the punishment of sin was, Magnus Peter H. Gilmore, a high priest of the Church of Satan in New York City said, “The punishment for sin is enjoyment.”
Contrast that answer to confrontational evangelist Brother Jed Smock, who claimed that the most loving thing God could do to a non-believer was to cast him to hell and you get an idea of the diversity of opinions in this film.
“There’s a whole spectrum of emotions, I guess it has to do with when you tread in these waters, where you’re asking these serious questions anything can happen,” he said.
On the concept of God, Nygard feels that using that as an answer stifles inquiry, much like frustrated parents telling their children because I said so to stop succession of “whys” and “how comes”.
When asked whether he believes in God, Nygard says that before he can answer the definition of God needs to be clearly stated.
“There’s an assumption that everyone believes in the same thing. Seventy percent of people of America believe in God, you see the statistic, except which one? The multiple gods of the various Hindu gods, or the Daoism gods, or the monotheistic god of the Old Testament?” he questioned. “Most of the time people haven’t even thought about it so they can’t even answer that question for themselves.”
At screenings around the country, Nygard is also often asked what the answer actually is.
“The answer is in the search, it’s in the journey because once you stop searching and learning you start dying,” he said.
At the end of the day, the filmmaker hopes the documentary sparks curiosity with audiences.
“If it just makes people curious to learn more about our universe that’s enough,” he said.
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.