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Please don't repeat that question

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Not counting the title, there are 21 questions on the first page of "Does God Exist?" by Hans Kung. Nobody should be too surprised. The distinguished Swiss theologian, in asking, and asking ("Has religion any future? . . . Is not science sufficient?"), is taking the standard approach to his subject, or almost any subject these days.

The question mark has become our most valued piece of punctuation. More than mere punctuation, its wavering, convoluting shape seems to symbolize a mood of final uncertainty that pervades most discussions about anything more serious than who's going to win the Academy Awards.

We tend to pride ourselves, in fact, on our questions. The questioner, we tell ourselves, is a searcher, a cultural hero who does not settle for second-hand dogmas, old shibboleths, or stale conventions.

In higher education the goal is assumed to be to teach the student to think for himself or herself, even if it means questioning one's very education.

It is as if we have given up all faiths except the faith that if we ask enough questions we will arrive at The Answer.

The question mark, of course, lies at the heart of our personal relationships as well. We ask ourselves endlessly: Do I love this person? Do I love anybody? How much?

Whatever question obsesses us, we tend to take it for everybody's question -- for The Question -- just as people used to take their answer for The Answer. In "The Present Age" Kierkegaard, 135 years ago, could have been describing 1981: "More and more people think over the relationships of life in a higher relationship till, in the end, the whole generation has become a representation, who represent . . . it is difficult to say whom ; and who think about their relationships . . . for whosem sake it is not easy to discover."


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