Fearless Questions

Following our Questions to Freedom

Spiritual Conversations and Pancakes on the Ceiling

If you fancy yourself as someone interested in spiritual things (not an expert…just interested), then at some point you probably remember finding yourself in a conversation with someone of a different worldview than you offering a new quote or fact that you feel certain is undermining the validity of your faith and belief system.  It’s a panicky feeling and one that can make anyone feel defensive and a little unsettled to think that something they have believed so strongly may be based on less than a solid foundation.

Photo Cred: Clem Onojeghuo

If that’s you…Good! 

Seriously…it’s a good thing to have your beliefs pushed and prodded at a bit.  Not so that you will always feel uneasy…you won’t…but so that you can find out what you really believe by testing it a little…to discover the weaknesses of your beliefs and the strengths in other people’s convictions.  Better yet…you’ll have a greater chance to build a bigger spiritual house than you’ve ever lived in before.

“A failure to understand something does not mean it is irrational. It may simply mean that it lies on the far side of our limited abilities to take things in and make complete sense of them.”

– Alister McGrath

Did you catch that?  You not being able to immediately refute someone else’s position doesn’t immediately undermine your own.  It’s worth listening to, because we all need to keep learning.  And perhaps there are new ways to understand God that you haven’t experienced before…should you be so arrogant to be immediately dismissive? 

If an atheist challenges you on the idea of God altogether, take a moment and listen to their reasoning.  If you are looking for truth, nothing worthwhile is at risk…so don’t sweat it when you aren’t able to fully articulate the depths and details of your beliefs in God to every argument that comes your way. 

What can we do then?  When someone of a differing worldview…an atheist…a follower of a different religion…a humanist…another Jesus follower with drastically different ideas than you…challenges you to change your beliefs?

How about we start with a little conversation.

We start with a little Namaste.

We take one step at a time with another human being and believe that we are searching for truth together.

Can it be hard?


Can it be lovely?


And sometimes we could use some help 🙂

There are all kinds of resources available to help when you have a question that causes you trepidation. 

Podcasts, books, webinars, personal coaching and scholastic courses can all be helpful…some are more practical than others…and some are more accessible and relevant than others.

As an example, I just recently finished reading ‘The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist: Or the Dreadful Consequences of Bad Arguments’ by Dr. Andy Bannister. 

Andy’s book is designed (in his words) “…to clear away some of the weeds of bad arguments (about God) so that a more sensible dialogue can be had.  Because here’s the thing:  the ‘God Question’ is arguably the most important question that anybody can think about.”

I really appreciate the posture he writes from, because if you are wanting a real conversation and not trying to convert someone, then food for dialogue is a real gift. 

For instance:  If someone emphatically believed that, like Christopher Hitchens says in his book God is Not Great, that “Religion poisons everything”…well we might normally find ourselves saying something profound in return like ‘nuh-uh’!

Not so helpful.

But in his book, Andy shares the story of Sven…who he finds in his kitchen with fresh paint splattered and dripping everywhere and off of everything.  When being asked what happened, Sven responded that all his kitchen appliances had stopped working and he had been trying to fix his refrigerator.  Why would that have caused paint scattered everywhere?…well…the problem, Sven originally determined, was a pancake, stuck on the ceiling from the previous evening.  Oooo…K…

Photo Cred: Gabriel Gurrola

(And I’m seriously abbreviating the story here)…but after peeling the pancake off the ceiling and things still not functioning, Sven observes that all his appliances are white and determines that since they all share the same color and the same current status of dysfunction, that the color of the appliances is the causal reason for everything not working.  Thus…he tries to repaint everything in hope of bringing things back into working order.

Obviously, this is ridiculous…and any sane person would go look at the fuse box.  And in the story, Sven eventually does…but with a bucket of paint to try and fix it 🙂

The satirical story…like a bad dad joke…is actually helpful for conversation, because while a bit goofy, it actually helps introduce an academic truth into everyday common sense:  We should not assume that because we have found a common link between several phenomena, we have thereby explained them.

You see…it’s actually quite overly simplistic to say that religion poisons everything.  Has religion sometimes been the cause of war?  Yes…But less than 7% of wars over the last 10,000 years.

The harder truth is that people poison things. 

“The line between good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through the middle of every human heart and through all human hearts.” – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn 

The point here is not so much to prove an argument wrong (i.e. Hitchens saying that religion poisons everything), but rather to take an argument and by light-hearted illustration invite a deeper conversation between people looking for truth together.

I can use all the help I can get…So Thank You Andy for helping the conversation along…cheesy jokes and all 🙂

About Jeff Blackburn

Jeff Blackburn is a Spiritual Coach and passionate Truth-Seeker. An alumnus of Oxford University, Jeff is someone who advocates for Freedom and Fullness of Life for All. He believes Jesus offers good news for people everywhere today…not just eternity. Jeff is the Executive Director of Fearless Questions, Inc. and has spent the past 20 years working with people searching for God.

9 Replies

  1. Years ago when I was taking classes to become a health coach, I was on a call with a few of my classmates. Most were not Christian, one was a witch (and one of the nicest people I know) and we were having a really great discussion when I said, “Why are we so afraid of rejection or acceptance that we don’t realize others may welcome our differences as an opportunity to learn and grow?”

    I hate how we as Christians have become so judgmental and set in our ways that we forget to actually *hear* what others are saying and where they’re coming from.

    Awesome post, Jeff! And the book sounds really good!

    1. Jeff Blackburn

      Thanks Kathy…and yes…we do so often forget to hear others. I’m reminded of Brian Regan joking about the ‘Me Monster’ 🙂 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vymaDgJ7KLg

  2. Wise words, especially in such tumultuous times. Thanks for the reminder to pause and breathe before responding.

    1. Jeff Blackburn

      You’re welcome Nicole. And yes…a reminder I need all the time 🙂

  3. Dennis

    Thanks for the thought-provoking, encouraging dialogue Jeff!

    1. Jeff Blackburn

      Thank you Dennis 🙂

  4. Thanks, Jeff, glad you loved the book (bad jokes and all!)

    1. Jeff Blackburn

      For sure, Andy…Appreciate you sharing your work with the world!