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.
All good comedians are Jewish in spirit, if not in fact. Jesus was both, and therefore a great comedian. He is laughing at all of us now.
Is Jesus ever depicted as laughing about something, in any part of the New Testament?
So, you think he didn't have a sense of humor? You think he never shared a chuckle with Judas? I think you need to visit a comedy club and lose that stick that you are suffering with.
I don't know people that would stoop so low as to tell these absurd jokes. I know people that have the deepest respect for our Lord and Savior. So to CNN and those that think this is funny, I hope you get what you wish for. The past election is a prime example of the dumbing down of Americans. How low will all of you go? Obviously 47% of you will stoop to the lowest levels for a laugh and a handout.
All religions must be tolerated, for every man must get to heaven in his own way. - Epictetus
Lighten up, dude.
47%..ha ha ha. Good one. :-D.
Obviously though the joke was lost on a couple people.
free people do not need a savior
The past election is proof that people are waking up.
God has a sense of humour, he created Republicans.
To paraphrase the Roman philosopher, Seneca, when you see what has become of the Christian religion, you must either laugh or cry. Can you blame people for laughing.
LOL, delusional much?
"The past election is a prime example of the dumbing down of Americans. How low will all of you go?"
The Republicans went as low as Romney...that certainly made America look stupid!
The real joke and a sads one at that is that shmucks like this poster actually believe i this childish nonsense from 2,000 years ago, when ignorance and intolerance was the rule.
JESUS fairly tale is a myth meant to control people when governmental controls (e.g. police) were not sufficiently in place. The entire story was VOTED UPON (read about the 1st Council of Nicea) as the kind of pablum that the masses MUST adhere to. Read about the true history of your Babble and learn.
There is no god, there was no jesus. You sir are the absurd one. indoctrinated since birth to believe a story that is so ridiculous that no grown man with half a brain would believe. You toe the line just like your controllers want you to and at this point are incapable of thinking for yourself. Scared is what you are....scared of everything.
Totally agree.... after all, how many times does this make it now that a fraudulent person has been "placed" in power?...Obama probably will take the lead in this as the most fraudulent ever, even over Geo. Bush Sr...
What did Jesus say when they pulled the nails out of his hands while he was still on the cross? "da feet! da feet! don't forget about da feet!"
Since there is no way to prove if there is or isn't a God, isn't there less risk in believing there is one? I think atheists are very intelligent people but it is interesting to me they forget to factor in what if they're wrong. It won't matter to believers of God if they're right or wrong when they die, but it will matter a great deal to atheists if they discover God is real at the end.
"There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death."
Jesus answered, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." John 14:6
You are so right. The field of candidates that the GOP offered up was a prime example of the increasingly poorly educated 53% of America. But they were comedy GOLD!.
"The jokes reveal much more about us than they do Jesus." Is this surprising? There is practically nothing to be revealed about Jesus. The extant writings that tell us anything about him are exceedingly limited: basically just four gospels, three of which are derivative on one-another, the Synoptic Gospels. There is no body of lost works out there in the Egyptian sands just waiting to be dug up for the enlightenment of our benighted souls.
In order to make the case look more impressive, the early fathers tossed the writings of Paul and much more obscure nutters to combine with the gospels making a "New Testament"; to which, the Pentateuch, hords of prophets, and odd bits comprising the ponderous bulk of the "Old Testament" with all its viciousness and violence, were thrown on the scales to flesh out the yarn. Very thin fare indeed compared to the writings of the Buddha, say.
Even the image of Jesus depicted in that stained glass art at the top of the article just serves to show the dilemma we are in concerning any knowable Jesus. He looks like someone you'd meet in a Swedish coffee house! If and when Jesus returns to earth, he will not have a rousing welcome. If he even manages to get on a plane for a world tour, he will probably get shot or arrested as a Palestinian terrorist.
So, there isn't really much to do with Jesus anymore than to tell jokes about him.
Jesus did not need to create a new theology because he taught a very well established one, Zoroastrianism. But, Jesus was not a Zoroastrian magi, as some people claim; for one thing, Zoroastrians did not accept converts, believing that people should find God in the religion into which they are born. Jesus, too, put God ahead of religion. Thus, Jesus practised the Jewish rituals but taught a very unJewish theology, which was why he was killed.
"The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life–only to take it up again.No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father." - Jesus
You are begging for the sleeping giant to wake up. Americans are just naive and foolish.
And you are blathering empty proxy threats.
The Second Coming: "Any day now!" for 2000 years!
And here come the threats, right on schedule!
I thought America was the sleeping giant? We really don't need more fairy tales...
Where is he sleeping? Have you seen this giant or even evidence that it exists? What other fairy tales do you believe?
No worries, Jack has a good supplier of magic beans.
CNN's usual Sunday hate and mock Christians story........sad that half of the country agrees. Is there a correlation? The further our country has fallen from God the less we have been blessed?
Get over yourself. The universe is indifferent and uncaring about the affairs of man. Only an extreme ego allows for such unmitigated self importance.
Not much of a correlation, since many of the happiest and healthiest countries in the world are the least religious, while Latine America and much of Sub-Saharan Africa are more Christian than ever. Also, take a look at the Deep South here in the US of A.
"CNN's usual Sunday hate and mock Christians story......."
Another believer's "woe us poor, poor, persecuted Christians" comment
Or, is it that the less the nation has been blessed, the more it has moved away from God? then again, maybe there's no connection whatsoever.
austin: i don't think they are unhappy because they are religious. i think they are religious because they are unhappy
Really, this was mocking? It looked more like a historical account of jesus jokes in modern media. Did you even read it? Or do you just like being persecuted so much like that's a knee jerk reaction now?
God is a concept made up by people who were/are fearful of their own mortality and a long time ago had no other way to explain the nonsensicalness of life. Nowadays, some of us are willing to admit the truth of the human condition and leave Religion out of it.
Notice that no one ever makes fun of the Boss. The Boss's assistant, or even relative as some believe is fair game. Note however, that Islam views the assistant, as they see it, as more sacrosanct than the Boss himself.
How many people have died throughout history as a direct result of this battle of the assistants?
So, are you so afraid of god or Muhammad that you can't even spell out their names? I lost you train of thought pretty much after it left the station...
The Boss = Bruce Springsteen. And Sabapete is right... no one ever makes fun of Bruce Springsteen.
I live in The Netherlands, and nobody here tells Jesus jokes. You know why not? Because religious nuts don't have any power here. These jokes only exist because of the power deranged religious fanatics have in some parts of your country. We don't have to make Jesus-jokes, for the simple reason that we realize that the Jesus-freaks themselves are the jokes.
Spot on. It takes recognition of fundiot extremism to highlight the absurdity of the Jesus myth.
The Netherlands should elect someone other than yourself to be its spokesman. Jesus had a better sense of humor than you.
I elect Caspar Mulders to be Netherlands' spokesman.
Jesus is an atheist.
YOU, ARE AN IDIOT !!
Regina, Jesus told me he doesn't believe in god, honest. It came to me in a vision.
Jesus is a Jew, as are the best comedians.
"Jesus is a Jew, as are the best comedians." No, Leif, the Indians are the best comedians, because they have more gods.
The fact that we see nothing wrong with using Jesus as the object of gutter humour, shows how low we've stooped to as a society, and the fact that CNN would allow the kind of disgusting jokes seen here to be posted, shows how low CNN has becomes when it comes to being a news network.
Jesus has a sense of humor. It's too bad that many overly-serious "Christians" lack one.
lighten up, sammy
CNN reflects the direction of the country that is waking up tot he FACTS that the bible is a 2000 year old book of myths and legends written by man, some of it edited in 500AD – even the founding books of the new testament was written long after Jesus and his apostles died – so religion and belief in a god is disappearing fast – read your bible closely – it is not even a good attempt a recording the life of an intersting man who probably existed but no proof.
@Ian – not to mention that the bible today has been re-written so many times to reflect the society that reads it, it's hardly the same as what was complied in the 5th century by the early christians.
Pretty sandy down there where you have your head?
Jesus has been ridiculed and made fun off since he walked the earth. That people still engage in that today is not surprising. Man hates the truth and righteousness which is what He stands for. The scriptures are quite clear. Jesus is not going to force anyone to accept or love Him, despite the fact He died for us all. God has given us a choice, Its left for us to make that choice wisely, because whatever choice we make whether we believe it or not, its consequence will be eternal. At the end of time every knee will have to bow before His name. So continue the swearing the jesting and the jokes He is not bothered only He desires that you come to a saving knowledge of Him.
Superstitious nonsense merits ridicule as do those who proclaim their belief in it as the truth. The only truth involved is the unwavering gullibility of its sheep. Jesus was as much a divine miracle worker as Abraham Lincoln was a vampire killer.
"Man hates the truth and righteousness which is what He stands for"
No, man hates the pompous jacka$$es who purport to speak for him.
in addition, your empty proxy threats are meaningless. enjoy eternity on your knees
Please read what you just wrote and realize why an increasing number of people ridicule these types of statements – are you not embarrassed by your gullibility ad blind faith (total disregard for facts and logic)? Let's go your way for a moment – God gave you critical thinking skills – put on your thinking cap and ask yourself some tough questions about your beliefs – they make no sense – there is no god, never was, even the founding fathers knew this ... Hundreds of years ago man needed a god to explain all the unknowns – we now have a pretty good handle on the origin of our universe – as Hawking said – we no longer need a god to explain the creation of the universe or man – we now know the general outline of how it all happened and we are filling in any gaps daily with sound data open to rational critique by all.
Easter Bunny much?
Truth is what can be verified with evidence. You have no truth.
He will "not force us"? He gives us a "choice"? "Believe or Burn" is NOT a choice.
Your "God" is a back-alley mugger-thug - "give me your wallet or I will kill you - your 'choice'"!
Very well said brother, It is always good to hear the truth, but for some it is a reminder of what they can't accept. Most posting here have no idea of the complexity and beauty contained in the scriptures yet they criticize and characterize it as if they themselves are all knowing. God is real whether you believe it not the arrogance of todays society is only further proof of their despair. Seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you. I am the truth the way and the life! How can people mock a 2000 year old savior that is as beautiful now as he was than. What horror they will experience when he returns! Its not too late read the bible ask Jesus to help you understand what it all means. I pray even one would find their way because of the words of my post. Amen!
"God is real whether you believe it not the arrogance of todays society is only further proof of their despair."
God is not real whether you believe it, not the delusion of the faithful which is only further proof of their desperation
just because you don't want Him to be real, doesn't mean that He is not.
"just because you don't want Him to be real, doesn't mean that He is not."
just because you want him to be real, doesn't mean he is
As to the presidential race, do you think the left prayed harder than the evangelicals, the fundamentalists and the mormons or do you think God just listens to the left better?
It means we can turn our cheeks and forgive. We have a reverence for life and don't kill or threaten to kill other human beings that happen to have faiths that are different from ours.
History says otherwise, both recent and ancient.
I've never heard a Jesus joke. Seriously.
jesus on the cross....
a kid comes up and says "jesus, can i help you?"
jesus says "yes, pull the nail out of my left hand"
the kid pulls and pulls, and finally pulls nail out
the kid says "anything else?"
jesus says "pull the nail out of my right hand"
the kid pulls and pulls and finally pulls the nail out
the kid says "anything else jesus?"
jesus says "the feet,the feet, the feet......"
Slayer said it best: God Hates Us All.
GOD HATES ALL THE HATE SPEWING OUT OF ONES MOUTH
speaking for god, are ya, regina?
God hates CAPS.
What a great world it would be if Muslims could laff at Muhammad as readily as Christians can laff at Jesus.
What a great world this would be if everyone learned how to write (and use their spellchecker).
The greatest joke however is the one where a political "Christian" party called the Republicans, chose a Mormon for their leader, knowing that Mormons consider Jesus to be the brother of Satan.
The GOP is not a Christian party. It is a party that exploits the uneducated pseudo-Christians in the Biible-belt.
Amen to StayinAlive and Leif – or should I say VERILY
Leif, well said!
Now, now, now, let us be fair as we bring equal time to Mohammed at the risk of having CNN's headquarters blown up:
"Yo Mohammed so stupid, I told him to makeup his mind and he put lipstick on his forehead.
Yo Mohammed so cross-eyed he threw a bolt of lightning at the Earth and missed.
Yo Mohammed so poor he eats cereal with a fork to save milk.
Yo Mohammed so ugly cartoonists are afraid to draw him."
A terrorist blows himself up and goes up to Heaven where he sees St. Peter at the Pearly Gates and says, “Are you Mohammed?”
St. Peter says. “No, he’s further up.”
He walks up further and sees Jesus. “Are you Mohammed?”
Jesus says, “No, he’s further up…”
Walks on further and sees God with a big beard. “You must be Mohammed!”
“No,” says God, “I’m God, take a seat. Would you like tea?”
The terrorist sits down and says, “Yes, please, I’d love some tea.”
God calls out loudly “Mohammed! Two teas now and make it quick!”
The jokes mean a number of things, one of which is it's open season for mocking The Son of God while walking on eggshells around other religions, fadish scientific conclusions, academia and the entertainment industry.
So what? I'm a Christian and find all these jokes funny. The more funny the better and I don't doubt that God, if there is a God, has a sense of humor.
Jesus IS a joke.
His followers also. They are very funny right up until the point they become very dangerous.
True that HS
How can you be a Christian if you just questioned God's existence?
Does your belief disallow questioning?
He must have a sense of humour. He made us (funny enough) and gave people humour.
He also gives AIDS to babies. Funny guy.
And cancer. Deities are a laugh riot.
Ha Ha. Calling oneself a Christian and then adding "if there is a God" is the best joke yet!
HeavenSense. I am an atheist, and I disagree with you. You are the joke, and a pretty pathetic one at that.
courtney: you can be a christian and question many gods' existence
God does have a sense of humor. He is hiding behind a curtain waiting for you to walk by.
Well, I like to laugh, a lot. I have a joke, I will tell it to you. Whats white, sticky and moves, across the sky, at a thousand miles an hour? The coming of the Lord. Now, it is a bit offensive, but I have to say, I smile at it a little bit.
Sweet dreams C.W. sweet,, :-)
It seems that I have become inured to the 'Jesus' jokes but still find the religious motif in advertising offensive in many cases.
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