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
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.