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Williams' New Year plug for the Authorized Version

The meaning of life can be deciphered by flicking through the pages of a 400-year-old book, the Archbishop of Canterbury says.

In his annual New Year message for 2011, which has been pre-recorded for the BBC, Archbishop Dr Rowan Williams urges people from all faiths, along with those who do not identify with any particular religion, to take a close look at the King James Bible.

First published as a standard English Bible in 1611, the 400-year-old story of the universe "can still move and even shock us", Dr Williams says.

"Things move on but it's good for us to have some long-lasting furniture in our minds, words and images that have something a bit mysterious about them and that carry important experiences for us that we can't find words of our own for," he says.

To help make sense of their lives, the Archbishop urges people to ensure that some kind of "big picture" matters for them, regardless of their beliefs.

He says: "When we try to make sense of our lives and of who we really are, it helps to have a strongly defined story, a big picture of some kind in the background.

"As the King James Bible took hold of the imaginations of millions of people in the English-speaking world, it gave them just that - a big picture, a story in which their lives made sense.

"Whether you're a Christian or belong to another religion or whether you have nothing you'd want to call a religion at all, some sort of big picture matters.

"If we are going to talk about a 'big society' that will need a big picture, a picture of what human beings are really like and why they're so unique and precious.

"This year's anniversary is a chance to stop and think about the big picture - and to celebrate the astonishing contribution made by that book 400 years ago."

The Archbishop of Canterbury's New Year Message 2011 airs at 12.35pm today on BBC One, and at 5.10pm on BBC Two.