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My Take: What all those Jesus jokes tell us
The authors note that Jesus jokes have become popular just since the 1970s.
November 10th, 2012
10:00 PM ET

My Take: What all those Jesus jokes tell us

Editor’s note: Edward J. Blum is a historian of race and religion at San Diego State University. Paul Harvey is a history professor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and runs the blog Religion in AmericanHistory. They co-authored “The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America.”

By Edward J. Blum and Paul Harvey, Special to CNN

Did you ever hear the one about Jesus being Mexican? Well, he was bilingual; he was constantly harassed by the government; and his first name was Jesus.

Or, perhaps Jesus was Irish? He loved a good story; he never kept a steady job; and his last request was for a drink.

Or maybe it’s possible that Jesus was Californian? He never cut his hair; he was always walking around barefoot; and he started a new religion.

You may not have heard these Jesus jokes, but you’ve heard others. They represent a comedic trend that has animated the United States since the 1970s. More and more comedy gimmicks hit on Jesus, his ethnicity and his relationship to politics. Laughing with (and at) the Lord is now fodder for major motion pictures, barroom comedy tours, graphic novels, t-shirts and bumper stickers.

How is it that a figure sacred to so many Americans has become the punch line of so many jokes? And why is it acceptable to poke fun at Jesus when other sacred figures are deemed off limits or there is hell to pay for mocking them?

The explanations are as numerous as the laughs.

Immigration shifts from the 1960s changed the ethnic and religious faces of the country so no tradition dominates today. The Christian right made such a moral spectacle of itself that it practically begged to be mocked. The emergence of “spiritual, but not religious” sensibilities left many Americans willing to denounce or laugh about traditional faith. The public rise of agnosticism, atheism, and secularism led to aggressive mockery as a form of persuasion.

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If we pause to consider why we’re laughing, we find that the comic bits delve into some of our thorniest and unresolved problems. The jokes reveal much more about us than they do Jesus. They speak to how our society has changed, how it hasn’t, and what we’re obsessed with.

The first public jokes about Jesus were heard in the 1970s. There had been religious jokes before this, but none about Jesus had become widely popular because organized Christianity held such authority. As the economic recession and problems of urban decay collided with civil rights exhaustion and new immigration, however, some Jesus jokes emerged.

Archie Bunker on “All in the Family” was the white racist and misogynist you loved to hate and hated to love. On one occasion, his son-in-law challenged Bunker’s rampant anti-Semitism with the claim, "Jesus was Jewish." Archie shot back immediately: "Only on his mother's side."

The “All in the Family” spin off “Good Times” featured a black family that lives in an inner-city housing project, probably Chicago's infamous Cabrini Green. On the show's second episode, the oldest son J. J. astounded everyone by painting Jesus as black. The younger son loves it, and says he learned all about Christ’s blackness from the local Nation of Islam.

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As the family debates whether this black Jesus should be hung on the wall in place of their white Jesus, they “miraculously” receive $140 from the Internal Revenue Service. Feeling blessed, the family placed the painting on its living room wall, and the elated J. J. shouted his tagline, "Dyno-mite!”

From the 1980s to the present, the number of prominent Jesus jokes has multiplied like loaves and fishes:

• In “Talladega Nights,” Ricky Bobby and his family debated which Jesus to pray to (“baby Jesus in golden fleece diapers,” “grown-up Jesus,” “ninja Jesus”). Their overall hope is that Jesus will help them continue their extravagant lifestyle.

• “South Park” featured Jesus as a weak-kneed host of a local talk show who boxes the devil.

• “Family Guy” had Jesus perform magic tricks that wowed his ancient audience.

• “The Colbert Report” placed a gun in Christ’s hand and had him defend conservatives against the liberal “War on Easter.”

• “Saturday Night Live” let Jesus chastise Tim Tebow for using the Lord’s name in vain and ended the bit by declaring that the Mormons have it right.

One unforgettable scene in the rather forgettable recent film “21 Jump Street” may explain why Jesus has become such a joke.

Before Jonah Hill’s character returns to high school as an undercover cop, he prays to a small, crucified “Korean Jesus.” Down on his knees, he says: “Hey Korean Jesus, I don’t know if you only cater to Korean Christians or if you even exist, no offense. I’m just really freaked out about going back to high school. It was just so f***ing hard the first time. … I just really don’t want to f*** this up. Sorry for swearing so much. The end? I don’t really know how to end the prayer.”

The hilarity of the moment only makes sense in our time. Hill's character is unchurched and agnostic, but wants spiritual power to guide him. We can laugh at how agnosticism and being “spiritual, but not religious,” leave him uncertain of what to say, how to say it, and even how to end.

We can also laugh at how ethnic factors color his approach. By wondering if Korean Jesus cares only about Korean problems, Hill pokes fun at the issue which was made a media spectacle in 2008, when the Rev. Jeremiah Wright could be heard preaching that “Jesus was a poor black man” as part of his support for Barack Obama. What good is a God who only cares for those who look like him?

The Jesus jokes not only reveal how tangled our religious, racial, economic and political positions have become, but also how many outlets there are for the jokes. In these tense times, when presidential hopefuls point fingers at one another and families unfriend one another over political and cultural differences, laughing may be one way to talk about the problems without killing one another.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Edward J. Blum and Paul Harvey.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Entertainment • Jesus • Opinion

soundoff (5,750 Responses)
  1. Ben

    Maybe Jesus was black he called everybody his brother and he didn't have a fair trial in the end

    November 17, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
  2. kaspersky serial

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  3. Science

    Free speech helps educate the masses................POLITICIANS too !

    Where do morals come from?

    By Kelly Murray, CNN

    http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/04/12/where-do-morals-come-from/#comments

    Gravity is not up for debate !

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    Apr. 25, 2013 — A strange stellar pair nearly 7,000 light-years from Earth has provided physicists with a unique cosmic laboratory for studying the nature of gravity. The extremely strong gravity of a massive neutron star in orbit with a companion white dwarf star puts competing theories of gravity to a test more stringent than any available before

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    Hey James Madison................religion has none it looks like.............with the comments on this blog.

    The Big question is ETHICS ! does religion have any ?

    The Ethics of Resurrecting Extinct Species

    Apr. 8, 2013 — At some point, scientists may be able to bring back extinct animals, and perhaps early humans, raising questions of ethics and environmental disruption.

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    April 30, 2013 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |

    May 1, 2013 at 12:42 pm | Report abuse |

    Dinosaur Egg Study Supports Evolutionary Link Between Birds and Dinosaurs: How Troodon Likely Hatched Its Young

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130418104324.htm

    And NO ANGELS the pope KICKED them OFF the TEAM last year !

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    http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evosite/evo101/IIE2aOriginoflife.shtml

    the wrong path is Adam and Eve !

    Human Y Chromosome Much Older Than Previously Thought

    Mar. 4, 2013 — The discovery and analysis of an extremely rare African American Y chromosome pushes back the time of the most recent common ancestor for the Y chromosome lineage tree to 338,000 years ago. This time predates the age of the oldest known anatomically modern human fossils.

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/03/130305145821.htm

    No god(s) needed or required to graduate from public schools in the US

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    No god(s) needed................... Old. DNA works..................also catches crooks !

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    Apr. 23, 2013 — Ancient DNA recovered from a series of skeletons in central Germany up to 7,500 years old has been used to reconstruct the first detailed genetic history of modern Europe.

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130423134037.htm

    Ca-nabis and Cannabinoids (PDQ®) – National Cancer Insti-tute

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    Mar 21, 2013 – [1,2] These plant-derived compounds may be referred to as phytocannabinoids. ... have a protective effect against the development of certain types of tumors. ... In lung cancer cell lines, CBD upregulated ICAM-1, leading to ...

    Good stuff !

    The fact...............the earth is to old for this nonsemse ! Time to EVOLVE !

    Ancient Earth Crust Stored in Deep Mantle

    Apr. 24, 2013 — Scientists have long believed that lava erupted from certain oceanic volcanoes contains materials from the early Earth's crust. But decisive evidence for this phenomenon has proven elusive. New research from a team including Carnegie's Erik Hauri demonstrates that oceanic volcanic rocks contain samples of recycled crust dating back to the Archean era 2.5 billion years ago. Their work is published in Nature.

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130424132705.htm

    For what...................... ? Make sure to read what the pope said !

    Where do morals come from?

    By Kelly Murray, CNN

    http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/

    Learning is fun with facts.......................... and facts work when teaching children.

    Atheist Prof. Peter Higgs: Stop calling Higgs boson the ‘God particle’

    Professor Peter Higgs said recently that there is no God and so people should stop referring to the theoretical partial that
    bears his name as the “God particle.”

    http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/04/08/atheist-prof-peter-higgs-stop-calling-higgs-bosen-the-god-particle/

    Pope praises science, but insists God created world updated Thur October 28, 2010
    Stephen Hawking is wrong, Pope Benedict XVI said Thursday – God did create the universe. The pope didn't actually mention the world-famous scientist, who argues in a book published last month that the laws of physics show there is no need for a supreme... \

    http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2010/10/28/pope-praises-science-but-insists-god-created-world/

    Science

    Heaven is 'a fairy story,' scientist Stephen Hawking says updated Tue May 17, 2011
    By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor The concept of heaven or any kind of afterlife is a "fairy story," famed British scientist Stephen Hawking said in a newspaper interview this week. "I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when...

    http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/05/17/heaven-is-a-fairy-story-scientist-stephen-hawking-says/

    April 7th, 2012

    08:32 PM ET

    The Jesus debate: Man vs. myth

    http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/04/07/the-jesus-debate-man-vs-myth/comment-page-137/#comment-2281915

    Make sure to read comments

    April 18, 2013 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |

    Breaking News

    NASA: Three planets found are some of best candidates so far for habitable worlds outside our solar system.

    http://www.cnn.com/2013/04/18/us/planet-discovery/index.html

    NASA: Mars could have supported life

    Star Dust we are

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aWdU_px9ApE&w=640&h=390]

    Holy Hallucinations 35

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3XTCRdC8Dlo&w=640&h=390]

    The ORIGIN story is bullsh-it...............so is the bible............... nasty !

    From Soup to Cells—the Origin of Life

    http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evosite/evo101/IIE2aOriginoflife.shtml

    Scientists have unearthed the first direct signs of cheesemaking, at a site in Poland that dates back 7,500 years.

    Human Evolution

    http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evosite/evo101/IIE2cHumanevo.shtml

    BBC. Planet of the Apemen. Battle for Earth 1. Ho-mo Erectus

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TUliLKSJ4bQ&w=640&h=390]

    BACKFILL on E =mc2.....

    Einstein letter, set for auction, shows scientist challenging idea of God, being 'chosen'

    By Jessica Ravitz, CNN

    Decades before atheist scientist and author Richard Dawkins called God a "delusion," one world-renowned physicist – Albert Einstein – was weighing in on faith matters with his own strong words.

    “The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive legends,” Einstein wrote in German in a 1954 letter that will be auctioned on eBay later this month. "No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this.”

    http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/category/culture-science/

    May 4, 2013 at 6:47 am | Report abuse |

    Cheech & Chong's History of 420

    http://www.funnyordie.com/embed/3b1508d1f0Cheech & Chong's History of 420 from CheechAndChong http://www.facebook.com/plugins/like.php?app_id=138711277798&href=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.funnyordie.com%2Fvideos%2F3b1508d1f0%2Fcheech-chong-s-history-of-420&send=false&layout=button_count&width=150&show_faces=false&action=like&height=21

    All cults...........creationists, ID believers and devil cults.................

    The fact...............the earth is to old ...........time to EVOLVE !.

    Ancient Earth Crust Stored in Deep Mantle

    Apr. 24, 2013 — Scientists have long believed that lava erupted from certain oceanic volcanoes contains materials from the early Earth's crust. But decisive evidence for this phenomenon has proven elusive. New research from a team including Carnegie's Erik Hauri demonstrates that oceanic volcanic rocks contain samples of recycled crust dating back to the Archean era 2.5 billion years ago. Their work is published in Nature.

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130424132705.htm

    Dover Trial Transcripts............................................. FACTS.

    Below are the complete transcripts from the Dover Trial. Thanks to our friends at the National Center for Science Education for helping us fill in the missing transcripts.

    http://www.aclupa.org/legal/legaldocket/intelligentdesigncase/dovertrialtranscripts.htm

    Peace

    May 4, 2013 at 4:07 pm |
  4. orienrac

    Jesus is my God :))

    April 15, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
  5. Mariusolar1986

    Bravo, excellent idea

    February 21, 2013 at 1:31 am |
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    Zuluf Christian holy gifts & holy crafts from holy land stores, Zuluf holy land gift shop are crafted by Christian artisans who live and work in the holy land gifts for gold jewelry, small token,anointing oil etc.

    February 12, 2013 at 8:18 am |
  7. Leftcoastrocky

    "The Christian right made such a moral spectacle of itself that it practically begged to be mocked."

    January 11, 2013 at 2:00 pm |
  8. cleareye1

    The historical Jesus would be telling these jokes too, and he would find words like "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him." ridiculous and threats ;ole "Laugh all you want, come judgement day I can assure you that you won't be laughing!" unChristian.

    January 10, 2013 at 6:21 pm |
  9. LUKE150

    JESUS IS A KIND COMPASSIONATE GOD, WHY WOULD YOU MAKE FUN OF HIM, DIDN'T HE SUFFER ENOUGH FO'R YOUR SINS. HOW COULD YOU PEOPLE BE SO CRUEL TO JESUS, AND LAUGH AT HIM, WHEN ALL HE DID WAS SHOW COMPASSION AND LOVE FOR ALL OF YOU. I'D LOVE TO SEE YOUR FACIAL EXPRESSION ON JUDGEMENT DAY WHEN THE RAPTURE TAKES PLACE, I'M SURE YOU ALL WON'T BE LAUGHING AND MAKING FUN OF JESUS THEN. I'D HATE TO BE IN YOUR SHOES THEN. GUESS WHAT, YOU STILL HAVE TIME TO REPENT AND TELL JESUS YOUR SORRY FOR ALL THE JOKES THAT YOU MADE UP ABOUT HIM. JESUS IS A COMPASSIONATE GOD AND IS WILLING TO FORGIVE ALL OF YOU THAT MADE FUN OF HIM. DO YOU THINK THAT CARRYING A HEAVY CROSS WITH ALL OF YOUR SINS ATTACHED TO IT WAS EASY, WAS IT A LOAD OF LAUGHS? DO YOU THINK ALL THE PAIN OF HAVING NAILS DRIVEN INTO HIS HANDS AND FEET WAS FUNNY? DO YOU THINK A CROWN OF THORNS DUG INTO HIS FLESH ON HIS HEAD WAS FUNNY? DO YOU THINK A SWORD DRIVEN INTO HIS SIDE WAS FUNNY? HOW COULD YOU PEOPLE BE SO INSENSITIVE AND SO CRUEL? REMEMBER JUDGEMENT DAY IS COMING SOON. REPENT!!!!!

    January 9, 2013 at 8:46 am |
    • Dennis

      Luke, turn off the all caps key and google Pascal's Wager, stupid.

      January 10, 2013 at 6:28 pm |
    • cleareye1

      I have a simpler answer.
      The idea that a Jewish zombie, who was his own father, can grant you eternal life if you telepathically accept him as your savior and symbolically eat his flesh, allowing you to be forgiven for the inherent evil that is in all of us because a rib-woman ate an apple at the behest of a talking snake doesn't make any sense.

      January 10, 2013 at 6:47 pm |
    • IHAVESEENT THELIGHT

      cleareye1, your simple uneducated mind is fascinating and funny all at the same time. i love the arrogance of atheism. What pill do you take to know all the secrets of the Universe, why don't atheist share it with us ignorant believers? SHARE!!! Selfish Atheist!!

      January 11, 2013 at 1:06 pm |
  10. joseph graves

    Yea it will be funny at the judgement time when you are standing in front of him and he wont's to here your jokes the laugh will be on you then even the Jew's didn't except the miracle put forth in front of there eye's and you as humans will not on his return of his kingdom so just keep watching the devastation's and lose of lives for people don't know his teaching's and the wrath he can pit out so i guess to each his own I put my faith in him and his teaching's for my on soul people say why would he allow this It is simple he is a jealous GOD and say's serve no other GOD'S or IDOLS SO WHY IS THERE DEVASTATION AND DESTRUCTION SO MANY ARE LOST AND FOOLISH FOR THE SAKE OF MAN AND HIS OWN CORRUPTION OF HUMAN LIVE UNDER FLESH TEACHING'S AND TEACHING'S OF WOLFS IN SHEEP CLOTHING GOD BLESS ME AND ALL THE LOST OF THIS CRUEL WORLD IT'S A NARROW PATH TO THE KINGDOM OF GOD AND ABROAD PATH FOR THE SATAN GOD AND HIS KINGDOM !

    January 3, 2013 at 10:59 am |
    • Dennis

      Pascal's Wager. And stop changing your name.

      January 10, 2013 at 6:29 pm |
  11. Joshua

    Astute observation without a bias...finally a column everybody can read without getting infuriated.

    January 1, 2013 at 2:44 am |
  12. kenny

    jesus jokes mean most people aren't afraid of god and the people who want us to be afraid of god because HE'S NOT REAL and its funny to laugh at people who think he is real... religion was invented by men in power to control the masses. its that simple. people who say they are xtian are mostly homer simpsons xtians and would toss it in favor of something better. there are only about 30% of people who take xtianity seriously. they do this by trying to impose their bs beliefs on everyone else. so we laugh at them, make fun of them, ridicule them because for a long time they had the power and imposed their bs will on the rest of us... guess what xties... payback's a biotch...

    December 31, 2012 at 12:10 am |
    • simmy

      Laugh all you want, come judgement day I can assure you that you won't be laughing !

      January 2, 2013 at 11:21 pm |
    • orienrac

      John 3:36

      He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.

      January 10, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
      • UncleBenny

        Wow, somehow I'm not feeling the love here.

        December 13, 2013 at 6:19 pm |
    • Dennis

      simmy: Pascal's Wager. Google it and learn.

      orienac, that's some vicious god you've made there. You can keep it.

      January 10, 2013 at 6:30 pm |
    • IHAVESEENT THELIGHT

      Kenny, please reference your source for the 30% comment, please.

      January 11, 2013 at 1:09 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.