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.
Though I found the article interesting, I feel it is only skin deep (no pun intended). Have you ever heard the phrase "Small leaks sink big ships"? The constant sniping at Christianity is taking its toll, and those snipers are far more sinister then we believe.
Like it or not, for the most part America was a Christian nation. It was a binding factor in many if not most towns/cities throughout the country. This united concept is a threat to government, to big business to other power players, a united people are a dangerous people to an overreaching power grabbing government. The christians being the biggest bloc in America would make the perfect target to slowly and meticulously break down and split apart into smaller and smaller groups, then, turn them against each other.
Look at our country today, it is happening right before our eyes. People vote for an idea, not for the future. Not for a better America. Vote for a canidate because he/she supports gay marriage but disregard the other ideas, or because of abortion, or color, or taxes. The people of United States are divided across the board.
The attack on Christianity is not an attack on a religion, it is an attack on a United People. Plain and Simple.
Or maybe, The free market / capitalism is the ultimate form of freedom. But capitalism without morals turns into something far more sinister. Sell at all costs, regardless of the consequences. Feed people poison food full of pesticides and GMO's, force vaccines on a population filled with chemicals, pollute the rivers, streams and oceans without consequence or shame. All immoral acts. Not saying the Christianity is the moral standard, but it has taught and binded us morally, and today, our morals are fading as Christianity fades.
Or for the socialists, the governments has the right to take from one to give to another. An immoral act.
Maybe we as a people have just become immorral, who have forgotten how to appreciate the things we have. We require more and more to become satisfied. Greed, the sin of all sins. Jealousy, keeping up with the jones's.
Who knows who is really the aggressor, there are probably multiple aggressors against Christianity and for any number of reasons. Fact of the matter is, Christianity has got to go so we can indulge in every last seedy act and become a nation of zombies to our base desires. The rise and fall of Rome. The rise and fall of America.
What can you do about it? Not a thing. :) Christianity has run its course. Either people choose to embrace it, or embrace it half heatedly like we see today and they teach there children that. 20-30 years – Christianity will be an old idea that people look upon as a nice & simple idea from the past.
This is just a quick half baked rant.
Morality and religion is exclusive of each other.
half baked is right.
Oh, you and your "socialism" BS. You are truly a moron. Have you ever driven on a public road? Used the police or fire departments? Gone to a public school? Been defended by a public army? Where do you think those things come from? Here's a hint for your tiny, wee brain: The government takes money from everyone and uses if for the benefit of everyone. Socialism. Idiot.
Couple of things:
1) Believers do a spectacular job of dividing themselves into smaller and smaller groups. Get two believers together and the fur starts to fly.
2) Many religions have player their parts in being the aggressors through the years.
3) Equal rights is not a bad thing.
4) Stop trying to paint everyone as running around naked having s-ex by the second.
5) Biblical morality allows for all kinds of things we find distasteful today, it really shouldn't be used in an argument.
6) Cities, towns, villages, whole civilizations have risen and fallen throughout the ages and they all follow a fairly standard pattern.
Six things, not a couple, but oh well.
What about the other half? Just sit and watch TV, and watch how these little quips against christianity happen. Happens quickly and frequently. So much so, that it breaks down your will to believe. I tell you enough times you like bacon, you might actually start to believe it.
@Attack ... You are 100% spot on!! So nice to see a brilliant mind on these blogs.
Then I would say that your faith in a deity is not as strong as you wish it to be if jokes are a threat to you.
Your bacon an-alogy is no diiferent than believers constantly braying about a hell and punishment.
in response to "Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear". All glorious socialism, it always starts to wonderful and always leads to.... Gulags in Russia, the horrific abuses in China, the theft of personal property (cuba) and the murdering of political dissidents. And then Greece, socialism has served them so well. They are slaves to public money.
Socialism is slavery teaching people to be dependent, scared and insecure.
Regarding military, police, fire rescue, that is not socialism, is the preservation of freedom. But when you take my money so someone else can get a free cell phone? That is the real face of socialism, theft and oppression.
Say it again, Sam.
@Sam – only 8% of our budget goes to government "freebie" programs. It's propoganda that a majority of people sit at home and watch TV. I know of very few people who do that. And of those people, most are not mentally capable of working on a team with other people.
I was following you until you started equating morality with religion. Religion creates more immorality than atheism. There is no moral value that religion provides that an atheist doesn't embrace. I can think of many immoral values that religion embraces that an atheist would never consider.
Christianity is so great and loving that the Spanish, English and French used it to annihilate the native Americans on 2 continents. Oh and by the way did you ever hear of the inquisition? Religion is a joke perpetuated by ignorant people.
I guess it depends on what you seek. There is no steady cultural norm in America these days, it will lead to the breakup of this nation. Atheism is the perfect recipe for that. I am not saying that people should be forced into Christianity, I am simply stating that Christianity offered a binding factor culturally for this nation. Take that away, we are loosing the glue that has helped hold us together.
What do we believe today?
Agreed. That was immoral people using religion for power. But that can happen with religion or in the vacuum of it. Hitler wasn't crhistian, the russians are not, the chinese are not. Unfortunately it is human nature to be so inhumane.
Christianity teaches love, respect, giving. People who have committed those crimes were not Christians, just wearing a mask of Christianity. No more then the idiot who straps on explosives and kills 100 kids in the name os Islam, that person is only wearing the mask of islam.
A few important social programs which exist in every civilization from beginning of recorded history, doesn't equate to "socialism" as Sam was implying. Please don't take things out of context, its a sign of weakness and insecurity. You've made some very good points in other blogs but this one was disappointingly juvenile. Socialism invariably becomes a form of totalitarianism, which is as immoral as facism is the cycle we go towards as more of the populous becomes addicted to the heroin of handouts given by our government. A Brave New World, here we come.
I believe in truth and science, not faith. Never self-deception.
"God helps those who help themselves", "God did 'this' for us", "Thank you God" [for helping me win 'x' sports event], "God is the notion of blah blah blah"... religious folk are all over the place, so it seems to me like more of a social club founded by Jesus (whom I believe probably did exist in the form of a philosopher) with the club focus being that of a magical being (God) that does just about everything and anything unprovable that you can think of to set man straight in his ways, otherwise he/she won't make it to elite status in the club (heaven). As Nietzsche said "In heaven, all the interesting people are missing."
Believe it or not, so do I. But it does not mean I do not appreciate the fundamentals of Christianity and the lessons of love and appreciation. And again, the binding factor is has for a society. We are goats to Nike, football teams, the next big drug addict rock star, this is our inspiration today.
I 100% agree with out. I have utter disdain for people who say "I am blessed" because they won a million dollars or got over an illness. "I am blessed" or "someone is blessed" sickens me. I do not believe "God" picks in chooses. We were given free will, it is our descisions our responsibility that directs our lives.
Though I think we are getting of point, I originally addressed the reasons for the attack on Christianity, I really never said I was a believer. I merely said that the attack on Christianity is to divide the nation.
"Please don't take things out of context, its a sign of weakness and insecurity."
Quite the contrary. That gets back to small leaks sink big ships. A few social programs here, a few there, lets do this for safety, lets do this for.... And so on and so on. Unless the people have a system in place to prevent its abuse, money and power will rule the day.
We are on that path, somr 45% of the people recieve public money. When we cross that magic number of say 55% we begin to spiral out of control. You cannot have 45% of a county supporting 55%.
Point being, you say a few here, I say every time you add one, someone is waiting to add 2 more social programs.
Jesus (and Christianity) is a joke, and it's not funny!
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. The popes, Muhammad, Jewish leaders, etc. did not seek the soul's health of the ordinary people but only profit, honor and power. Mock this criminal fools with pleasure.
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.
The mystery of sacramental baptism:
Evangelicals may tell you: "believe in Jesus, and get saved!". This is only mere information which cannot improve your life. If you want to worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth, you have to receive sacramental baptism insti-tuted by Christ himself, not by the lousy sinful pope-rat. The only condition for baptism is repentance. Repentance means that you seriously seek for moral improvement of your life.
I guess now the pope would like to switch off the Internet.
The object of sacramental baptism: Jesus died and resurrected FOR us. Through baptism we get metaphysically connected with the releasing power of Jesus' death and resurrection. Through this power we can overcome the sinfulness of our body day by day, and become righteous step by step. If we appreciate Jesus' sacrifice in this way, it is also an atonement for our sins: we are forgiven.
My invisible pink unicorn thinks Rainer is a god.
I was just telling my daughter the other day, " you will have people that will not except who you believe in.. tell them it's your choice and move on". It's all about respect.
My invisible pink unicorn was just explaining to me the difference between except and accept.
ill – who does your daughter believe in? have you brainwashed her into some church?
So if your daughter says that she worships Justin Bieber as the second coming of Christ, and that she's prepared to lay down her life and defend to the death her belief that Bieber is divine, you're okay with that?
It's not what she blieves but what you forced her to believe as you brainwashed and indoctrinated her into your and your own parent's beliefs from birth. You should be ashamed for not allowing her to be a free thinker but pushing mythology onto her as if it were fact.
You can't see it, touch it, smell it or hear it.
What is it?
Why, it's god of course.
Oh wait, it was really my invisible pink unicorn.
As a Muslim I take offend to making jokes to any Prophet. To Muslims he is a Prophet and the funny thing is Christians who believe in him as the son of GOD or even GOD just laugh it away, there should be no place for such. Why would you
the difference between a prophet and a mental patient is simply the gullibility of those who surround them.
My invisible pink unicorn takes offense at your offense.
Today when someone says that they hear the voice of god they are usually diagnosed as schizophrenic.
Could it be possible that America is turning more atheist? Yes, but for good reason. The days where knowing science and individuals sounding intelligent was considered “geeky” are long gone, but in fact, being intelligent simply gathers respect. I could never explicitly make a joke about someone’s religion, but I’ll be the first guy to laugh at such a joke.
The evidence we have today in regards to the Universe and how the Universe works, did you really expect anything different from intelligent creatures? I think it’s an awesome concept that despite our small size and insignificance in the Universe, we are able to understand low-mass and high-mass stars, galaxies, black holes, neutron stars, the power of gravity, dark energy, and etc.
Oh, he left off the punch line in the opening story! It ends with the idea that Jesus was a woman, because
1. He had to feed a crowd at a moment's notice when there was no food. 2 . He kept trying to get a message across to a bunch of men who just didn't get it. 3. Even when he was dead, He had to get up because there was more work for him to do.
Here's one about my mom....
President Clinton and the Pope died on the same day, and due to an administrative foul up, Clinton was sent to heaven and the Pope gets sent to hell. The Pope explained the situation to the devil, he checked out all of the paperwork, and the error was acknowledged. The Pope was told, however, that it would take about 24 hours to fix the problem and correct the error. The next day, the Pope was called in and the devil said his good-bye as he went off to heaven. On his way up, he met Clinton who was on his way down, and they stopped to chat.
Pope: "Sorry about the mix up."
President Clinton: "No problem."
Pope: "Well, I'm really excited about going to heaven."
President Clinton: "Why's that? It's not that great."
Pope: "All my life I've wanted to meet the Virgin Mary."
President Clinton: "Sorry, Your Holiness, You're a day late."
Okay, let's joke about Muslims as well. Overheard at a Muslim suicide bombing class: Instructor: Okay, class, I'm only going to show you this once!
what did the one muslim mother say to the other muslim mother? "kids, they blow up so fast these days"
Religion is for the weak minded.
Just remember folks...you WILL die one day and you WILL be judged. Jesus is the only way! I'm sorry for Edward J. Blum and Paul Harvey for helping to spread the filth that is waaaaay to evident in our world.
Keith – what if "god" has a great sense of humour, and judges people based on their sense of humour? What if that is how god decides who goes to heaven and who goes to hell?
My invisible pink unicorn has judged you, and found you wanting. So sorry.
keith – no you won't. both heaven and hell are imaginary places.
in my opinion, if jesus did exist, he was an ordinary jewish man who was spiritually lost until he was convinced otherwise...paul was the ad man for the campaign to start a new religion to get away from the jews. Jesus could have been nothing but a hippee
Check your facts! Good times was not a spin off of All in the family! The Jefferson's and Maude were spin offs.
Good times was a spin off of Maude. BTW do you think the Greeks made jokes about Zeus? It might be a sign that this nonsense is ending!
I think the whole purpose of this series is to drive traffic to the cnn.com site. Every article is designed to offend just enough to get rabid folks from both sides to comment again and again.
You will be dead much, much, longer than you'll be alive. Let's say you live to be 100 years old, how many years will you be dead?
Julius Caesar lived to the ripe old age of 56 and has been dead for over 2000 years; is he living eternity in torment or at peace? Seriously reflect on that thought, consider the consequences if you are wrong about your views versus if you are right and then latter we'll see who the joke is on.
Pascal's wager, Mike – maybe he's just dead. Maybe god has a sense of humour, and only sends people whose name is Julius to heaven? There are infinite possibilities
Yep. It's a only a wager until you take the time to search within your heart for the real answer; it may take years as it did for me. Today, I'll pray that you have the time as God afforded me. See you on the other side.
eternal life in heaven or hell is the product of the human imagination.
I reckon I'll be dead after I live about as long as I was dead before I was born. I'm guessing the two deaths will look about the same, but I won't remember.
I'm not only an atheist, but I firmly believe that religion's true purpose is malicious. We don't require religion for morality, morality has evolved as a way of navigating the in-and-outs of collective living. Religion is contrived of men for the purpose of imposing will on other men. It's surrounded itself in a veil of inscrutability protected by the righteous indignation of the pious. Perched high above question or reproach the masses must toss aside all reason and just blindly accept the doctrine or be damned. Ridiculous...I mean just read the the downright nastiness with which many of the religious defend their faith. Wishing eternal damnation or worse on those that don't believe. Why do they need to fight so ferociously for an all-powerful god, can't he defend himself? Why does someone not believing invoke such rage in them? Religion gives humans this un-shakable sense of absolute correctness (righteousness) and we use this as a platform to outcast or destroy anyone who may think differently...with no fear of reproach, in complete moral isolation as god has already made that moral judgement for us. But what about free-will? Oh that's right we just use that to explain away things that don't gel with the doctrine.
snowboarder, so what happens when you die? will you be boarding down the eternal pipe? I pray for you that you'll be afforded the years to grow up and be able to make more mature decisions.
mike – i imagine the same thing happens after you die as did before you lived. nothing.
why do you need some fantasy of eternity? is it simply fear of death?
Pascal's Wager again: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pascal%27s_Wager
Jesus is dying on the cross, and Peter is down the hill comforting Mary Magdalene when he hears Jesus' faint voice, "Peter. . . Peter. . ."
"I must go and help my Savior," he said and went up the hill, only to be beaten and kicked back down by the Roman centurions guarding the cross. But soon he hears, "Peter. . . Peter," in even fainter tones but he cannot ignore the call. Peter limps up the hill, leans a ladder against the cross, and gets halfway up when the centurions knock over the ladder, beats him brutally, and tosses him back down the hill.
Again he hears, "Peter. . . Peter. . ." ever fainter, and again, he cannot refuse his Lord. In pain, he slowly staggers up the hill, drags himself up the ladder, and finally gets even with Christ's face. Just as the centurions are reaching for the ladder, Jesus says, "Peter. . . Peter. . . look, I can see your house from here."
jesus jokes have been popular since the 1970s? They've probably been popular since the 70s AD.
Since 1970? Really? How about a counter culture revolution that brought such jokes into the mainstream. We could thank George Carlin for his extensive work in that realm. I agree with Martin here, jokes about Jesus have probably been around since long before his extistence, considering his 'miracles' had been performed by numerous people in history before his supposed existence. The fact is if you had a joke about Jesus, but wanted to keep your head attached to your body, you kept quiet about it.
if you can't take a joke about a fictional figure, you need to explore exactly why you believe what you do
jesus was not a fictional person he was a real being ,,the son of joseph and maqry ..not a god ..the fictional figure is god
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