Monday, April 17, 2006

It's Da Judas, It's Da Vinci, It's D'Authority

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams muses on the understandable suspicion of authority, religious and civil, in the modern age of spin.

One of the ways in which we now celebrate the great Christian festivals in our society is by a little flurry of newspaper articles and television programmes raking over the coals of controversies about the historical basis of faith. So it was no huge surprise to see a fair bit of coverage given a couple of weeks ago to the discovery of a ‘Gospel of Judas’, which was (naturally) going to shake the foundations of traditional belief by giving an alternative version of the story of the passion and resurrection. Never mind that this is a demonstrably late text which simply parallels a large number of quite well-known works from the more eccentric fringes of the early century Church; this is a scoop, the real, ‘now it can be told’ version of the origins of Christian faith.

You’ll recognise the style, of course, from the saturation coverage of the Da Vinci Code literature. We are instantly fascinated by the suggestion of conspiracies and cover-ups; this has become so much the stuff of our imagination these days that it is only natural, it seems, to expect it when we turn to ancient texts, especially biblical texts. We treat them as if they were unconvincing press releases from some official source, whose intention is to conceal the real story; and that real story waits for the intrepid investigator to uncover it and share it with the waiting world. Anything that looks like the official version is automatically suspect. Someone is trying to stop you finding out what really happened, because what really happened could upset or challenge the power of officialdom.

It all makes a good and characteristically ‘modern’ story – about resisting authority, bringing secrets to light, exposing corruption and deception; it evokes Watergate and All the President’s Men. As someone remarked after a television programme about the Da Vinci Code, it’s almost that we’d prefer to believe something like this instead of the prosaic reality. We have become so suspicious of the power of words and the way that power is exercised to defend those who fear to be criticised. The first assumption we make is that we’re faced with spin of some kind, with an agenda being forced on us – like a magician forcing a card on the audience. 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?’
[Emphasis added.]

Discuss ... .

(Hat tip: The Postulant at Ember Days, who writes on a whole number of sometimes surprising things with humor and more; for example, this post, just under the one referencing Rowan's sermon.

You have to like a blogger who can blog with equal aplomb the Daily Office, "American Idol" and the use of philosophers' names on "Lost." At least, I do.)