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A question answered is a revelation aborted

02 November 2006


WHEN is a question not a question? That is the question. And the Government needs an answer. Because there is naughtiness in the air.

You will have heard the naughty at work. A radio or TV programme will offer a large prize if you phone in and answer one simple question, which might sound something like this:
Q: Did the rain in Spain fall mainly (a) in the plain? (b) through the train? or (c) down the drain? Get the answer right, and you have a chance of winning a Spanish villa.

Stunts like this are based on the fact that everyone will know the answer and phone up in large numbers. It is the phone money that pays for the big prizes. For this reason, a challenging question wouldn't work at all, because only three people would know the answer, and there wouldn't be any revenue in that. Pose hard questions and instead of a nice villa, the prize would have to be something like a job lot of old Alternative Service Books.

So when is a question not a question? Perhaps when it is an answer impersonating a question.

The answer dressed as a question is not a new phenomenon. Some of the finest exponents of this sly art down the years have been a particular type of preacher. They are those who delight in posing rhetorical questions one after the other as if involved in a genuine search for truth. There is a thin veneer of intelligence here. But do not break sweat pondering. The questions are froth and puff. Simply remember that, whatever the question, the answer is always "Jesus".

The Government understandably feels that a question must possess a certain exclusivity. It must harshly expose some people as ignorant. Otherwise, it is just another name for a lottery, and that is naughty, a loophole exploited, because lotteries are illegal unless you are Camelot or a charity.

A true question, of course, is not meant to have an answer, any more than a journey is meant to have an ending. Questions create enquiring vastness in our cathedral souls - that is their purpose. A question answered is a revelation aborted, a box tediously ticked to no great purpose. Which is why when someone asked him who his neighbour was, Jesus respected the question by not answering it. Instead, he told a story - a mere meditation on the question.

I'm all for exclusive questions myself, and the more exclusive the better, which is why I'm a commercial nightmare, offering no prizes anyone wants. But I like questions that expose all people as entirely ignorant. Questions like "Who am I?" for instance.

Don't phone.

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