Church of England clergy have become so blasé about the Bible that they need "remedial" lessons in its meaning, says Dr Tom Wright, the Bishop of Durham and the third most senior figure in the Anglican hierarchy.
In an Easter message he complains about the lack of "biblical literacy" even in established congregations. Speaking to The Independent on Sunday, he also attacked the view of the afterlife held by many worshippers.
"The great majority of people think that 'going to Heaven when you die' is the name of the game. Yet it ignores the real message of Christianity. This is about commitment to equality, justice, working in the world in the present, which the old platonic dream really doesn't give you.
"The Bible story is about resurrection and new creation, not about abandoning this world and going off to some disembodied, platonic place called Heaven. Most people in the church have only a sketchy idea of what the biblical world is like."
The bishop has already courted controversy by attacking the war on Iraq, comparing Tony Blair and George Bush to "white vigilantes going into Brixton to stop drug-dealing". His predecessor at Durham, Dr David Jenkins, caused a storm by denying the literal facts of the Virgin birth and the Resurrection.
Today the head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales joins criticism of Muslims for not doing enough to denounce terrorism. The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, caused anger when he said that too few moderates condemned attacks "in the name of Allah". Now Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor says he sympathises with those remarks.
"He had highlighted something that needed to be highlighted," he tells the Easter edition of GMTV's Sunday Programme. "I think what he said was fundamentally true."
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