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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 • My Take • Opinion

soundoff (5,750 Responses)
  1. Jesus the Saviour

    Jesus drinks domestic beer not the imported brands
    Jesus drinks domestic beer not the imported brands
    Jesus drinke domestic beer not the imported brands
    Jesus saves Jesus saves Jesus saves

    Jesus keeps his money in the bank of Omaha
    Jesus keeps his money in the bank of Omaha
    Jesus keeps his money in the bank of Omaha
    Jesus saves Jesus saves Jesus saves

    Jesus walks the water he's the lifeguard at our pool
    Jesus walks the water he's the lifeguard at our pool
    Jesus walks the water he's the lifeguard at our pool
    Jesus saves Jesus saves Jesus saves

    HALLELUJAH

    November 11, 2012 at 9:09 am |
    • Blasphemy

      Praise the Lord!

      November 11, 2012 at 9:10 am |
  2. jon

    gonna die someday…I won't joke about Him…there won't be laughing when we face our private judgements which we will have have to face.

    November 11, 2012 at 9:08 am |
    • Blasphemy

      And they wonder how that terrorist mentality gets started.

      November 11, 2012 at 9:12 am |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      Pascal's Wager, Jon – what if God has a great sense of humour and determines who goes to heaven and who goes to hell by how funny they were? In that scenario, you go to hell.

      November 11, 2012 at 9:13 am |
    • kahn keller

      ..speak for your self...there is no tooth fairy ... there is no easter bunny... there is no santa claus... and there is no god...
      but if it makes you happy to think these exist...go for it....

      November 11, 2012 at 9:14 am |
    • bob

      Must be a thrilling life you live being so scared. I feel bad for you and how the church has you terrified.

      November 11, 2012 at 9:14 am |
    • RW2

      Thanks for the very thinly veiled threat. What evidence do you have that Jesus actually even existed? Josephus? Suetonius? There is no contemporary, extra-biblical accounts of Jesus having existed, let alone being divine. Keep your fantasies and nightmares to yourself, rational folks won't believe you anyway, at least until you have credible evidence.

      November 11, 2012 at 9:14 am |
    • jon

      My we have some sensitive souls on here today. I made no threat, I don't live in fear. I'm aware of earthquakes and the storms around NYC, but I don't threaten, I don't live in fear. But I am intelligent, and I live my life with thoughtful, measured actions.

      November 11, 2012 at 9:23 am |
    • Damocles

      @jon

      You are really going to try and make the subtle threat that Sandy was a deific warning?

      November 11, 2012 at 9:26 am |
  3. 2357

    Father forgive them. For they know not what they do.
    If only you knew who it was that you mock. If only you knew.

    November 11, 2012 at 9:08 am |
    • Lilyq

      Amen.

      November 11, 2012 at 9:11 am |
    • TrollAlert

      "Ronald Regonzo" who degenerates to:
      "Salvatore" degenerates to:
      "Douglas" degenerates to:
      "truth be told" degenerates to:
      "Thinker23" degenerates to:
      "Atheism is not healthy ..." degenerates to:
      "another repentant sinner" degenerates to:
      "Dodney Rangerfield" degenerates to:
      "tina" degenerates to:
      "captain america" degenerates to:
      "Atheist Hunter" degenerates to:
      "Anybody know how to read? " degenerates to:
      "just sayin" degenerates to:
      "ImLook'nUp" degenerates to:
      "Kindness" degenerates to:
      "Chad" degenerates to
      "Bob" degenerates to
      "nope" degenerates to:
      "2357" degenerates to:
      "WOW" degenerates to:
      "fred" degenerates to:
      "!" degenerates to:
      "pervert alert" is the degenerate.

      This troll is not a christian.

      November 11, 2012 at 9:14 am |
    • Damocles

      @2357

      Walk in the Warmth and Furriness of Cat and Proxy Cat, 2357.

      May their Purring always surround you with a joyful sound.

      Cat Rules

      November 11, 2012 at 9:23 am |
    • truth be trolled

      Sorry, TrollAlert. You're wrong. Perhaps you need to realize that there is more than one person out there with this opinion.

      November 11, 2012 at 9:30 am |
  4. Farrok

    Jesus was a man of God and a Prophet and I honor and respect him but it’s his followers I despise...................

    November 11, 2012 at 9:07 am |
    • Tom

      Wow. Nice religion where people are supposed to despise other human beings. Great job Mohammed. Yay ...

      November 11, 2012 at 10:27 am |
  5. Blasphemy

    They ask: "where are the Mohammad jokes." Mohammad is not in my face.

    However Joseph Smith tried to climb up in my face. Then the "People" booted his rear end back out of my face restoring my faith (in humanity).

    November 11, 2012 at 9:07 am |
    • Lori

      hinking about rioting, raping, and pillaging over this article.

      YOU HURT MY FEELINGS, THEREFORE I WILL SODOMIZE YOUR AMBASSODOR'S CORPSE AND YOU WILL TELL THE PEOPLE OF THE UNITED STATES, ALL THE FREE WORLD, TO STOP PRINTING THIS FILTH REGARDLESS OF FREE SPEECH, because my feelings are hurting.

      9/11/2012 official statement from our embassy in Cairo, Egypt.

      November 11, 2012 at 9:13 am |
    • Lori

      9.11

      two months later, today 11.11 Veteran's Day, and the free world has forgotten, already.

      November 11, 2012 at 9:48 am |
  6. dtaylor

    Jesus walks into a hotel and slaps 3 nails down on the desk.
    The manager looks at him and says "What is this all about?"
    Jesus replies, "Can you put me up for the night?"

    November 11, 2012 at 9:07 am |
  7. Jesus Christ Son of God

    I've heard all the jokes...I'm listen to all my sheeple...you want a joke?...look at anyone who believes in god!

    November 11, 2012 at 9:07 am |
  8. Rainer Braendlein

    Mock people which use religion as a smokescreen for their malice: pope, Muhammad, Jewish leaders, but don't mock the holy Jesus who died for the sake of your soul's health.

    I guess when people mock Jesus today they actually only mock a distorted image of Jesus they have. Probably this image rather resembles people like the pope, Muhammad, Jewish Scribes and Pharisees, etc. than Jesus. I guess no reasonable man would mock the real Jesus because the real Jesus was the most loveable man which has ever lived on earth.

    If you would meet Jesus today, I guess that you would love him. Only criminals would not love him because he could get in their way when they want to implement their evil plans.

    Hence, let us mock the pope, Muhammad, people who behave like Scribes and Pharisees, etc. but don't mock the real Jesus who is indeed sacred, and can make you new through the rebirth out of Water and Spirit (sacramental baptism).

    I am a Protestant.

    Enter God's kingdom through the marvellous gate: sacramental baptism which was insti-tuted by Christ himself, not by the pope-rat. Repent and get baptized, this was the first sermon of Peter after Pentecost.

    November 11, 2012 at 9:06 am |
    • Jesus Christ Son of God

      I didn't die for your sins. I died because they nailed me to a cross and I bled to death. FY sins sheeple.

      November 11, 2012 at 9:08 am |
    • Ray Gunn

      And you wonder why people mock religion?

      November 11, 2012 at 9:23 am |
    • Blasphemy

      A distorted image? A protestant?

      What was in the Bible that your King James did not like?

      November 11, 2012 at 9:35 am |
  9. Javita Verve

    'laughing may be one way to talk about the problems without killing one another'. ... Which would be that other hilariously murderous religion called ISLAM

    November 11, 2012 at 9:06 am |
  10. Catholic Soldier

    Way to go CNN– another lousy sunday morning anti-religious article when I'm just returning from church after committing to buy christmas presents for an indigent family of 8 people. WHose taking the higher road??????? HOpefully someday, even if your not faithful, you'll take the higher road and help people rather than posting articles that ridicule people of faith who try to help others. Shame on you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    November 11, 2012 at 9:06 am |
    • rad666

      "committing to buy christmas presents for an indigent family of 8 people" --- XMAS. A good time to make yourself feel better.

      November 11, 2012 at 9:07 am |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      Is it a tenet of Catholicism to overuse exclamation points and question marks????????????????????????????????????????

      November 11, 2012 at 9:07 am |
    • Damocles

      @CS

      And yet not only did you take time to read the article, but comment on it as well. Strange.

      November 11, 2012 at 9:13 am |
    • truth be trolled

      What about those of us that don't want to hear constant babble about how God is great and be angrily told they are going to hell if they don't want to join in your holiday?

      Try thinking about someone other than yourself (even though I'm sure you think you are right now).

      November 11, 2012 at 9:19 am |
    • In reply

      People are not making fun of you or your charity work, Catholic Soldier. We are in here making fun of what we percieve to be fictional characters and discrepancy in religion. I'll share some words from my best friend who is also retired soldier from a different faith..."If you don't laugh about it..you'll cry till it kills you."

      November 11, 2012 at 10:41 am |
    • Huh?

      So CS you felt in necessary to actually take the time to write on this blog and brag about your charity work, that is so prideful of you...oops...that's a sin in the bible. By the way, I've done far more than that and I do it through out the year, I don't need to use a holiday to make it justified like you. Time to look at your sorry azz in the mirror and reflect on why you need a god to help your fellow man.

      November 11, 2012 at 10:45 am |
  11. Tony

    Any Christian understands that "poking fun at God"–be it Jesus, Jehovah, Xenu, Mohammad, or whoever–is essentially the work of the devil . The devil is *always* about laughter at the cost of others, deceit, and making people think that God either does NOT exist, does NOT deserve attention, and that evil isn't there either. In so doing, the devil masks himself in the illusion that he does not exist, allowing people to do WHATEVER they want to eachother–especially cruelty, war, and forced poverty.

    November 11, 2012 at 9:04 am |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      The devil? Really, Tony – grow up and use your brian. You sound like a four year old. Ooooh – there's a monster under my bed!

      November 11, 2012 at 9:06 am |
    • bob

      Well have fun worshiping something with no sense of humor. Sounds like an exciting life you must live.

      November 11, 2012 at 9:10 am |
    • Damocles

      @tony

      Ok so laughter is gone in your Special Little World because 99% of jokes are at the expense of another person, even if it's yourself. I think most of us are aware that bad people exist on this planet so your argument about disguised evil is ridiculous.

      November 11, 2012 at 9:12 am |
  12. scott

    All in the Family was a great show. It was funny and it confronted issues of the day is light, comedic way. It is a much better alternative than what we have today... you can't talk about sensitive issues cause you might hurt someone's feelings and then you end up getting fired, etc.

    November 11, 2012 at 9:04 am |
  13. Blasphemy

    Christians are still struggling with the "earth is round" concept.

    We need to give them a little more time to digest the evidence that the universe in much older than 5,000 years.

    November 11, 2012 at 9:04 am |
  14. Mr Mel

    Lenny Bruce had it right. He said that we Jews must first admit that we killed him. However when he comes back (not if) we'll have to kill him again.

    November 11, 2012 at 9:03 am |
  15. Angela Ayaz

    I knew somehow somebody would relate this to Islam and Muslims. Good job Lori on your narrow-mindedness.

    November 11, 2012 at 9:02 am |
  16. Rob

    If we are created in the image of God then God has a sense of humor. Remember this the next time you stumble in life. and remember to laugh.

    November 11, 2012 at 9:00 am |
  17. Fk Jesus

    I agree with Lou...can we just start calling them retards? I have a huge problem with people who try to claim that all of the worlds animals and people were put in one freaking boat! If thats the case, where did black people come from? Also, any religion who's museum puts a fking penguin in a tropical forest display is certifiable! Seriously people! The Creationist Museum is indoctrinating our youth with ludicrous ideas that slow the progress of science! The fact that they can openly lie to our children scares the hell out of me...#retards

    November 11, 2012 at 8:59 am |
    • Shlebs

      Please stop; you're making atheists like me look dumber than we really are. Or is your point to sound as dumb and poorly spoken as the people you're criticizing? Because if that's your goal – by all means, carry on.

      November 11, 2012 at 9:02 am |
    • Kim Edwards

      Jesus loves you, be blessed.

      November 11, 2012 at 9:08 am |
  18. Black Seven

    Ummmm Question......... If I am unhappy with one or more of my virgins allaaalala gives me upon death, are they tradeable? Can I give one or two of them to a friend and trade for his? Hopefully alllaaalalala does not stick me with ugly virgins in the afterlife Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha

    November 11, 2012 at 8:58 am |
  19. If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

    Shouldn't religious followers abstain from the religion blog on Sunday .. since it causes someone to work on the Sabbath? Seems both hypocritical and blasphemous at the same time.

    November 11, 2012 at 8:58 am |
  20. Blasphemy

    Some speak of their personal relationship with Christ.

    According to the story Christ went home. If you are having a personal relationship with something you might look to an older testament and story for clues as to who that might be.

    Or you could just go see psychiatrist. They have made great strides in treating schizophrenia.

    November 11, 2012 at 8:58 am |
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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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.