Are we alone in the world? Or is there someone who is keeping a constant vigil upon us? Is there a creator who made us? Or do we not 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, eventually giving birth to the concept of offerings and worships.
Slowly and steadily, man also created myths and stories about natural marvels, even going as far as to give them human forms, meaning that when we evolved, these pagan religions grew into new forms of faiths. Hence, the fact that religion has been a subject of fascination for numerous filmmakers over the decades comes as no surprise, meaning that its complex concept has been explored in countless ways until now. With that said, since there are only a few documentary movies/shows that have managed to capture the subject’s true essence, we’ve made a list of those that are available to stream on Netflix right now.
7. Witches: A Century of Murder (2015)
It is true that belief and faith help a man through troubled times, but when taken to the extreme, faith turns to blind faith, which causes all sorts of problems. This documentary explores that side of the human psyche. Around 400 years ago, a kind of mania swept across Britain. It was widely believed that hundreds of people, primarily women, were indulging in witchcraft. Though there was no material proof found, just the belief held by many was enough to prosecute them, meaning that most of these women were hunted and needlessly given death sentences.
The series is divided into two parts — the first part talks about these witch-hunts across Britain, Denmark, and Scotland. Presenter Suzannah Lipscomb shares the brutal Pendle witch trials where many women were given death sentences. This happened during the rule of King James I. The second part is more interesting. Here we come to know about a character called Matthew Hopkins. Hopkins saw that this mass hysteria regarding witches and witchcraft was an opportune moment for him to make some money. Thus, he decided to serve as a killer of witches and named himself Witchfinder General. He traveled throughout the British Empire, killing numerous women and then asking for payment for his services. Later, we come to know how this hysteria slowly began to take over America on the other side of the Atlantic.
6. 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 really means.
5. The Secret (2006)
This is a documentary about a newly established faith. This faith or the people associated with it has been called the New Thought Movement. They have a set of beliefs based on things, like, God is everywhere and in each human being, and the best thing God wants us to do is love each other and so on. Their most intriguing belief is that if you want something, just thinking about it and wishing for it with a positive mind will help you achieve it. ‘The Secret’ is made by Drew Heriot, a practitioner of New Thought beliefs.
The documentary talks about this New Thought concept called ‘Laws of Attraction,’ which means that our thoughts have an effect on our reality. However, it has hardly been taken seriously by critics. Most people have dismissed the production and the book that it was adapted from as self-help guides. In fact, since they have both become matters of public interest, their concepts have unfortunately also been mocked and ridiculed through other shows.
4. Islands of Faith (2018)
Directed by Chairun Nissa, ‘Islands of Faith’ is an incredibly unique documentary that looks at the critical problem of climate change through the lens of faith, religion, and cultures of seven different provinces in Indonesia. This movie actually manages to intersect beliefs with conservation within 90 minutes to showcase precisely how one can focus upon both aspects without ever compromising on their commitment to either. Originally titled ‘Semesta,’ it is a bit slow going, yet that’s deliberate as it allows us to think about our own actions without directly pointing any fingers — it is everyone’s responsibility to protect the planet we call home.
3. 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 actually 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 are still steeped in ancient practices and beliefs.
2. The Keepers (2017)
‘The Keepers’ is not exactly a religious documentary, but a film 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.
1. 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 thus 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.
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