Bible is 'lies and spin,' says C4

'Sensationalist' film sparks anger among church groups

It's the season for Channel 4 to cause controversy. Each year the channel strives to whip up a furore surrounding its programming on Christmas Day. If it is not trying to break the record for the most f-words (2002), it's asking Ali G to present an alternative Queen's speech (1999).

Now it has attracted anger from Christian groups over its plans to screen a documentary which dismisses some parts of the Bible as untrue and attacks others as being a 'masterwork of spin'.

Evangelical groups are angry that Who Wrote the Bible?, which will go out at 8.30pm, paints a negative picture of Christian organisations and suggests links between them and the troubles in the Middle East.

They have also expressed concerns about the presenter, Dr Robert Beckford, a reader in theology at Birmingham University. Beckford's critically acclaimed documentary God is Black, which compared white and black people's interpretation of Christianity, angered some in the Anglican church who accused it of 'racialising' religious issues.

'Channel 4 has a record of going for the more controversial take on religion,' said David Hilborn, head of theology at the Evangelical Alliance. 'They want to go down the more sensational route to grab people's attention.'

Beckford defended the provocative timing of the documentary. 'To have faith in the world is to ask dangerous questions. Why not make the question at Christmas when we hear about this son of God who was born in dubious circumstances in a place which was the armpit of the world?'

In the new documentary, Beckford, a committed pentecostal Christian, describes a journey he made to some of Christianity's holiest places to help him uncover the provenance of the Bible. He calls his conclusion an 'earth-shattering experience' and one that made him doubt some of his most basic Christian beliefs.

Of the Old Testament, Beckford declares: 'The so-called law of Moses turns out to be the work of many human hands. What I once thought was the word of God was now beginning to sound like something out of Stalin's Russia.'

He produces archaeological evidence to suggest the Bible's claims that the kingdoms of David and Solomon dominated the 10th century BC were wrong, an error that raises profound claims about the genesis of Christianity.

He declares the New Testament a 'masterwork of spin written by people who were nowhere near the events they describe, all gathered by powerful editors who kept out ideas they did not like'.

The story of the nativity is also doubted. Beckford argues that Matthew added the story to fulfil a prophecy made in the Old Testament.

One of the most revealing moments comes when Beckford visits the US state of Georgia to talk to President Bush's spiritual adviser, baptist minister Richard Land. Land dismisses as 'rubbish' suggestions that the Bible is inaccurate and cannot be the basis for political decisions. 'When you stand in judgment of scripture, that is a theology of death,' says Land, who has called for Iraq to be 'flooded' with US troops.

To Beckford such views are deeply alarming. 'This was what surprised me most about my journey, discovering how dangerous this fundamentalism can be,' he said.

But Hilborn said: 'People have these wrong perceptions. To see evangelicals as literalists is not true. It's a multifarious movement; you have to give a much more nuanced interpretation.'

Channel 4 defended its decision to screen the documentary. 'To just be controversial would neither be interesting nor valid. But when you have someone as intelligent and intelligible as Robert, you will see the programme is extremely valid.'


Jamie Doward, religious affairs correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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