June 25th, 2010
07:24 PM ET

Documentary attempts to answer life’s biggest questions

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.

Six years later the death of his father from multiple sclerosis would impact him profoundly by reawakening his questions about mortality. But it wasn’t until the events of September 11 where Nygard was propelled into action.

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.

- CNN Video Assistant

Filed under: Atheism • Buddhism • Christianity • Confucianism • Culture & Science • Faith • Interfaith issues • Traditions

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soundoff (48 Responses)
  1. goandseek

    Dont spend your life doing things for a god you will never meet do things for others and yourself because without you you would not be able to help others and so forth. We should all do ourselves a favor and help one anther stop listening to others tell us to fight wars and kill kiil kill that is not living life humans are easily brain washed and talked into things that end up hurting them I have seen this happen all the time he hurt our own loved ones sometimes because someone told us its what we have to do that is not living life dont let someone tell you that you mean nothing because you mean a whole lot to someone but mostly you should mean a whole lot to yourself most of all that is the only way that you can take how you feel about yourself and pass that amazing feeling onto others and that is really all you need to know about life its there to enjoy treat yourself and others well live life live it well

    July 19, 2010 at 7:38 pm |
  2. Peace2all

    I think this is a great thing...... It gets us all thinking(hopefully), and....maybe it will lead us to a more deeper, and more fuller understanding of ourselves and the nature of our existence.

    July 2, 2010 at 3:25 am |
  3. Raina

    This man seems like a very smart one... i don't think there is a specific reason why we are all here i think we where put here to make our own way in life, i don't see why people ask that question or bother to question our existence, we will never find out... just left hanging in the dark. 🙂

    June 30, 2010 at 4:19 am |
  4. Luke Myintthu

    If you are able to rise to this challenge, you can unravel the mystery of your purpose and actually live it. You cease being a victim of fate or circumstances and become empowered – life no longer just happens to you. When you are working toward fulfilling your true purpose, you discover astonishing gifts within yourself that you may have never known you have. This process may not be easy, but the rewards are well worth the struggle.

    Last post.

    June 28, 2010 at 11:44 pm |
  5. Luke Myintthu

    I have been trying to post this. My previous comments are from the book – if life is a game, these are the rules, by author – Cherie Carter-Scott. thanks,

    June 28, 2010 at 11:40 pm |
    • illlisten

      what makes you think life is a game?

      June 28, 2010 at 11:41 pm |
  6. Luke Myintthu

    The previous posts are from the book" If life is a game, these are the rules" by Cherie Carter-Scott.

    Why are we looking for the nature of existence that we, humans, can not have complete understanding by our own humans' abilities?

    Instead of looking for the purpose of existence, why don't we live for the purpose of existence?

    I believe that every human in the world has a unique talent or gift that s/he can contribute of the world to be a better place.

    Yup, you can say, we don't know what the purpose of existence of a human is, how can we live for it?

    All humans in the documentary trailer: scientists experimenting and forming theories of existence; humans meditating and analyzing the nature of existence; humans sacrificing and practicing to gain some unusual abilities; humans exploring so many ways to find the nature of existence is; All of them have one thing is common.

    Where am I? For me, as Luke Myintthu, I am sitting on the chair typing words on the keyboard of a computer. It is my present now. Then, I still need to do assignments for my class tomorrow evening before I go to bed tonight. Tomorrow morning, I might go to gym, then to work, and then directly to college, and attend the evening class. that's near future.

    I know that I, Luke Myintthu, exist. What is my purpose of existence? Why worry? Just live the present, learn from the past, and for future: hope for the best & prepare for the worst. Why?

    The empoweredment for all humans lies at present moment and the future starts now.

    We will find our purpose of existence by living in it. Is it difficult to find the purpose by living in it? I don't think so. If there is a will, there is a way. But, if someone has started to discover to live in the purpose of his/her life, don't be afraid to sail in the storms of life for we all are learning how to sail in the ocean of life.

    There is no box made by God nor by humans for the top can be blown off, the sides can be flattened out; by making a dance floor to celebrate life with purpose. The only thing is we must have the will to improve for to improve is to change and to be perfect is to change often for the betterment, morality, and ethical acts.

    June 28, 2010 at 11:30 pm |
  7. Luke Myintthu

    The challenge of Life, therefore, is to align yourself with your own unique path by learning your individual lessons. This is one of the most difficult challenges you will be faced with in your lifetime, as sometimes your path will lead you into a life that is radically different from others’. Don’t compare your path to those of the people around you and focus on the disparity between their lessons and yours. You need to remember that you will only be faced with lessons that you are
    capable of learning and are specific to your own growth.

    June 28, 2010 at 11:08 pm |
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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.