THE price of liberty may or may not be eternal vigilance. It is possibly even more expensive than that. But part of the price is certainly an endless asking of awkward questions.
There has been a quiet and moral question put before the public recently to which the right answer is not the obvious one. It was simply that the Prcss Council told the Community Relations Commission to behave itself.
Now the commission deals with the practice of race relations. And such relations are not usually considered as matters for debate in the sort of places frequented by liberals and intellectuals. A sort of party line has been laid down for all of us, and we accept it. The commissign had cornplained to the Royal Commission on the Press that newspapers made race relations worse, that the Press ought to shut up about people's colour and ought to be wary of reporting people like Mr Enoch Powell, and that it tended to concentrate on the negative and evil side of life.
All of which sounds at first tinkle like the most acceptable sort of sophisticated Hampshire cliché.
In fact it is a nasty attempt to sway public opinion, and is that worst sort of intolerant bullying that comes equally cruelly from the extreme Right and the extreme Left. The Press Council replied in a majestic, trenchant and sensible manner.
I especially like one bit that ran as follows: "The plea that newspapers should publish only good news and seldom bad news is almost as old as newspapers themselves. It is quite unreasonable. Bad news has always been a more salutary instructor than good news and its publication is necessary to the efficient functioning of society." If, at this stage, I had a piece of bad and unfashionable news, I would insert it here. But, alas ...
The statement and whose finely cut quill wrote it upon hand-made paper? continued with a rebuttal of the statement that "news is not news simply because a black person is involved."
The Press Commission waves its handkerchief, releasing just a hint of gin. It replies: "This is not true. It is a complete misconception of the function of the Press to imagine that it can or does control what is news. That such control should be exercised is the dream of autocrats.
"Could it be seriously ever suggested that the colour of the first black Prime Minister of the United Kingdom was not in itself news?"
We are not called "hacks" for nothing. In religion, in politics, in polite society one must endlessly refuse to be bullied by the currently fashionable. We have a duty to shout out that the emperor is naked. Better still, insist that he is offensively indecent. Best of all, tell him with eloquent disdain that he is a dull fellow.
Baptism BAPTISM is a most mysterious business. The pouring of water onto a barely conscious infant is clearly something which speaks to men with an el(); quence that is wordless.
There was a Baptism in our parish this week. It is true that the child was of a singular beauty not the usual miniature Churchill, but a creature with a refined, boney and passionate small face and a fury of black hair.
The parents seemed to be of the sort who are gilded by youth and good fortune and yet try continually to be and do good. And the ceremony seemed to be the last, grateful, triumphal
act that is still allowed to us, Yet there is still something secretive about the Sacrament. It tends to happen in the waste places of an empty Sunday afternoon. People huddle like refugees at the back of a terribly deserted church, Voices are stilted. The priest is torn between religious ceremony and social occasion. No one seems to do much praying.
But the Baptism I went to seemed to be at peace with itself. The church was small and elegant. The crucifix and candles were of silver. The altar frontal was ancient and precious.
The windows were secular and looked over a walled rosegarden getting ready to do its annual duty. The font was a great, gleaming punchbowl on a face table cloth, and the water was in the sort of jug you win before great crowds at esoteric sports.
The Baptism was woven into a Mass. I read that this is now the accepted way of doing it, though I confess I have never seen it before. This was a most public act. This was a ceremonial welcoming of life.
Such acts are proper to humanity. The priest, swathed ' in a chasuble, bent to hold the child like a figure from a Zuharan painting. Everyone watched, smiling a little. Something unbelievably ancient and hieratic was happening.
God knows what the child will be. It may even be an Ambassador in Washington. But the friends of its parents had come together in the most solemnly joyous manner that is allowed in life to assert the dignity of its existence and to register their gratitude for the gift of life.
Mercifully, the Church allows for this sort of social gaiety in front of its altars. It is right that friends should smile and wave and talk across the aisle as they wait. It is right that the priest laughs when he calls for the white garment to be put over the miniature human.
Not all prayer is intense and lonely or formal and considered. There must in a healthy society be times when men and women simply celebrate and use the splendours of their religion to make the celebration as joyous as a King dancing before an Ark.
This Baptism in the country was as important as anything that happened in the realm this week. If the sort of life we lead seems dim and grim, occasions like this are resounding assertions to the contrary.
A parish, for such a ceremony, should come together to rejoice and act out its prayer. This is the triumph of man. This is man at peace with his God.
This is a formality that means more than can be put into words. It is a mysterious business and it is the best excuse for a party that God has given to his children. So a long and splendid life for Eleanor.