How to Argue Like a Christian: On Laughing at Ourselves

argueI spent this last weekend in Nashville attending the wedding of my sort-of son Kyle. Kyle grew up in my house, and he had my wife and me sit on the front row as co-father or associate father or Godfather or something like that. I had to wear a tux, which tells you the depth of my feelings for Kyle, as I hate tuxedos. I really, really hate tuxedos.

Anyway, on Friday night we had a grand time at the rehearsal dinner. You see, we have great Kyle stories, and his friends and family — surrogate and otherwise — had great fun at his expense. My daughter-in-law, who went through Harding with Kyle, took particular delight in poking fun at Kyle, especially so given how much fun he’d had at her expense at her wedding.

Toward the end of the evening, Kyle pulled out his guitar and sang a song about his pre-engagement days, called something like “I’m So Lonely and Bitter,” which was hilarious — and which poked fun back at my daughter-in-law. Well, she sidled up to me and asked me to please help her respond in kind. I said (and it’s very true), “It’s impossible to one up Kyle, because Kyle cannot be embarrassed. There’s nothing you can say about him, no matter how true, that will get him back.” His mother was part of the conversation, and readily conceded the point. You can’t embarrass someone who laughs at himself more quickly than he’ll laugh at others. He’s immune.

Which brings me to my post of a few days ago where I link to a hilarious article by a Calvinist gently mocking us Arminians (people who aren’t Calvinists), called “For Arminians Who Can Laugh at Themselves.” When I finally got home, I saw where my spam filter had caught three comments in which Arminians declare how very unfunny the article is. You see, these comments were by Arminians who can’t laugh at themselves, meaning, of course, that the post wasn’t for them. Hence, the comments remain trapped amongst the rest of the spam. Sorry. But the caption was really quite clear. If you can’t laugh at yourself, the post wasn’t for you.

Which is a longwinded way of getting to the next point. If you’re too serious about a subject to see the humor in it, you’re too serious. If you can’t laugh at yourself or your Church of Christ-ness or how you argue or the positions you take, well, you are betraying a certain insecurity that is very unattractive. If you doubt me, I’ll mail you the comments in the spam filter.

I mean, there is nothing so unattractive as the condescendingly sneered, “That’s not funny,” or worse yet, “How dare you laugh at …” Get over yourself. If you have to act that way to be taken seriously, you won’t be taken seriously. People will just laugh behind your back instead. I mean, we all get laughed at, because we all do ridiculous, embarrassing things. So either laugh along with the rest and let them laugh with you or else sneer and force them to laugh behind your back.

This is why I so much appreciate the recent “Jesus of Nazareth” TV series, which shows a joyful Jesus who delights in people. It’s a sign of good mental health, you know, and I can’t bear the though of a maladjusted Jesus — even though we often picture him that way, as though he spent his entire ministry dreading the crucifixion and saying everything with the utmost seriousness. Why would people have adored such a man? (And the gospels often make better sense if read while picturing Jesus speaking with a twinkle in his eye — but that’s a lesson for another day).

And so, while we argue our cases, it’s critical that we not take ourselves too seriously. After all, if we are the first to laugh at our own mistakes and peculiarities — and we are indeed a peculiar people — no one can one up us. Our slips and messes will be the occasion of good natured fun rather than cruel mockery.

More importantly, we’ll be more credible. People instinctively realize that those who are too serious are covering up a secret insecurity, and no one believes an advocate riddled with insecurities.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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2 Responses to How to Argue Like a Christian: On Laughing at Ourselves

  1. nick gill says:

    This is the brilliance of GK Chesterton — his debates with atheists and skeptics, especially George Bernard Shaw, are famous for it! He was this fat dude with little slips of paper that he'd write ideas on and he always argued with that twinkle in his eye.

  2. Pat says:

    Right on, Jay! I loved this post. Your self-deprecating humor is one of the things that attracted me to your writing ~ way back in HS&RG.

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