Are we alone in the world? Is there a creator who made us? Do we have a greater purpose? These are just some of the questions mankind has pondered over for thousands of years. When the human race was in a very primitive age, the phenomena of wind, rain, snow, water, and other matters of great wonders/perplexities made them fear as well as respect Mother Nature. However, it also led them to believe that a higher power controlled all these aspects. The fact that religion has been a subject of fascination for numerous filmmakers over the decades comes as no surprise. Its complex concept has been explored in countless ways over the years. Only a few documentary movies/shows have managed to capture the subject’s true essence, and Netflix houses quite a few of them.
10. Stories of a Generation – with Pope Francis (2021)
Religion has always been about growth, acceptance, love, and appreciation, so looking back at the pivotal moments in one’s life to mature from the same is almost essential. That’s kind of what ‘Stories of a Generation – with Pope Francis’ does while also providing us with the opportunity to grasp poignant life lessons from those older than us. After all, it includes a myriad of conversations from individuals over 70 (including Pope Francis, Martin Scorsese, and Jane Goodall) as they reveal the positive influence of faith, truth, and passion in their life journeys. Honestly, it is a candid and heartwarming production that teaches us a lot about what being a good human means. You can watch the series here.
9. One of Us (2017)
What happens when you denounce one of the most orthodox religions in the world and decide to live a life of your own? Torment, humiliation, and ostracization, as evidenced by the subjects of this fascinating documentary. Ari Hershkowitz, Luzer Twersky, and Etty Ausch were once members of a highly orthodox Jewish sect known as the Hasidics, residing in the Brooklyn community of the same. However, when the men wanted to leave because of their growing doubts over their extremely conservative practices, they were ousted, banned from ever meeting their families, and thus forced to face the difficulties of the outside world on their own. The interesting aspect of the documentary is that besides showing the lives of these three people in question, it also portrays a society located in probably the cosmopolitan heartland of the Western world, Manhattan, and yet is still steeped in ancient practices and beliefs. You can watch the film here.
8. The Keepers (2017)
‘The Keepers’ is not exactly a religious documentary but a documentary on the homicide of a nun who was a teacher at a Catholic school. Her name was Sister Cathy Cesnik, and her brutal murder remains unsolved even today. Divided into seven parts, this documentary lays bare the corrupt priests of the church who repeatedly sexually abused young female students of the school. The director later pointed out that the archdiocese was extremely powerful, and they allegedly covered up numerous cases regarding the priests not only assaulting the children but also sending them to other men. Women who were students of Cesnik and victims of such sexual abuse came forward and spoke about it in detail in the production. One even claimed that Father Maskell, the priest in question, had gone as far as to take her to show Cesnik’s remains. The details are thus horrifying, but what’s more deplorable is how the church reportedly continued to cover up such incidents, meaning that Maskell remained a free man throughout his life. You may watch the docu-series here.
7. Wild Wild Country (2018)
‘Wild Wild Country’ is undoubtedly one of Netflix’s most popular documentaries on religion. It is the story of an Indian cult that migrated to the United States and decided to make their own city. The land they’d settled upon for their purpose was in a small town mainly comprising elderly individuals who did not take too kindly to such a large number of people suddenly in their locality. The followers of monk Rajneesh, aka the cult leader, especially his secretary Sheela, decided to eliminate all competition by attempting to poison around 700 people so that nobody could vote against them in a local election. Things quickly escalated, and the dream of their city ended with Sheela’s arrest for attempted murders. Feel free to check out the series here.
6. Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator (2019)
The 2019 documentary ‘Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator’ centers around Bikram Choudhury, an American Indian who created his own form of yoga called Bikram Yoga. However, the guru has also gained notoriety after accusations of multiple counts of sexual assault, harassment, and much more were levied against him. A man who claimed to have taught yoga to even presidents like Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton, Bikram continues to be a subject of much contention for the public. You may watch the documentary here.
5. The Family (2019)
Given that the separation of state and church has been a long-standing principle in America, the whispers of The Family, AKA The Fellowship, wielding considerable influence in the country’s politics did not sit well with many. The aptly named miniseries ‘The Family’ explores not only the influence of the conservative Christian group when it came to matters of the country but also delves into the origins of just how the organization came to be. Feel free to check out the series here.
4. Sins of Our Mother (2022)
‘Sins of Our Mother’ provides a haunting insight into the actions of Lori Vallow, a mother of three children. Due to her belief in a doomsday prophecy and her own divinity, Vallow becomes directly responsible not only for the disappearance of two of her children but also for the death of various others connected to her. Believing her to be connected to the Church of the Firstborn, the show explores how and why Vallow must have done the things she did and then remained secretive about it all. You can check out the show here.
3. How to Become a Cult Leader (2023)
A dark take on the idea of cults, Peter Dinklage‘s narration takes viewers on an informative journey through ‘How to Become a Cult Leader.’ Through various real-life cases, the ‘Game of Thrones‘ star explains the tactics often employed by cult leaders to increase their following, wealth, and power. Disguised as a guide for aspiring cult leaders, the show points analytically points out how certain groups across the world have gained not only fame but also a form of influence that few can hope to wield. You can watch ‘How to Become a Cult Leader’ here.
2. Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey (2022)
The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and its leader, Warren S. Jeffs, are the primary subjects explored in ‘Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey.’ The title of the movie is a play on the quote made by previous leader Rulon Jeffs when he talked about a wife’s perceived role. Featuring various former members of the group, the show sheds light on all that happens behind closed doors, especially when the organization is being led by a man convicted of various sex crimes. You may stream the docu-series here.
1. In the Name of God: A Holy Betrayal (2023)
Based in South Korea, ‘In the Name of God: A Holy Betrayal’ delves into the stories of four different cults within the country whose leaders claimed to work for a divine power. However, there is a darkness lurking behind the actions of these leaders, whose actions have seemingly directly and directly harmed many. Some former members of these organizations share why they became cult members and what prompted them to leave. The harrowing accounts shared by these individuals paint a grim picture of how faith is often manipulated by those who might have the best intentions. You may watch ‘In the Name of God: A Holy Betrayal’ here.
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