Archbishop smites Da Vinci Code 'cynicism'

In his Easter sermon, Dr Williams will decry a thirst for sensationalism
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The Independent Online

In his Easter sermon, Dr Rowan Williams will also criticise the recently unearthed "Gospel of Judas", which claims that, in betraying Jesus, Judas was acting on Christ's orders. The ancient text says Judas Iscariot was asked by Christ to help him fulfil his divine mission to be crucified and rise again. Judas was Jesus's favoured disciple, it says, and quotes him as saying to Judas: "You will exceed all of them [the disciples] for you will sacrifice the man who clothes me."

But Dr Williams, clearly uneasy about the uncritical coverage of the disputed gospel and the popularity of the novel and its forthcoming film, will today go on the offensive. He will say: "The Bible is not the authorised code of a society managed by priests and preachers for their private purposes but the set of human words through which the call of God is still uniquely immediate to human beings today; human words with divine energy behind them."

The Archbishop said he knew that conspiracies have their appeal. "We have become so suspicious ... the first assumption we make is that ... we're faced with spin of some kind. So that the modern response to the proclamation 'Christ is Risen!' is likely to be, 'Ah, but you would say that, wouldn't you? Now what's the real agenda?'"

But the New Testament does not fit this model, Dr Williams says. In fact, he argues, it was revolutionary for its time. "It was written by people who, by writing what they did made themselves less powerful, not more ... it was written by people who were trying to find a language that would catch up with a reality bigger than they had expected."

The world is now full of Christians following the same risky and radical traditions - such as Abdul Rahman, the Christian convert threatened with death in Afghanistan, he adds. "If we want to know what it is about today, we need to turn to the people who are taking the same risks, struggling with the same mystery. We need to look at the martyrs and the mystics.

"There are places in our world where conversion to Christianity is literally a matter of putting your life on the line. We have all been following the story of Abdul Rahman in Afghanistan and we know that his story is not unique. We can say with absolute certainty that whatever the gospel means in circumstances like that, it isn't a cover-up for the sake of the powerful."

Last week, Pope Benedict, who celebrates his 79th birthday today, also poured scorn on the Judas text by insisting on the traditional view that the apostle was a greedy traitor for whom "money was more important than communion with Jesus, more important than God and his love".