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.
"You know how I know Jesus wasn't married? No wife would every buy the resurrection bit. Think about it. He leaves on a Friday night with 12 guys and doesn't come home for 3 days."
– Sam Kinison.
I'm willing to bet Jesus has a sense of humor.
The world is ending soon...stay tuned
forgive me if i don't hold my breath.
The world ends for everyone eventually. It's called death. Get over it. It happens to every living thing. THE END. So you better get busy living your life.
You could be right. We create what we fear the most. So all of those nutjobs out there, who are ready to prove their religious predictions are correct, are ready to make them happen with the push of a button.
@OE TR....ah, delusion
Is that you Harold, I thought you and the radio crew cashed in enough last time.
There is a basic problem with this article. It asks the question of why it is acceptable to make jokes about Jesus but not about other religious figures–and we all know whom THAT refers to. Then, the issue is never mentioned again in the text. Actually, this is a very GOOD thing. I do NOT think that the ability to make jokes about Jesus is limited to non-Christians and non-believers. There is a difference between humor and disrespect. Many of the "Jesus" jokes are really jokes about particular ethnicities or other issues, and only use Jesus for effect, with no real disrespect intended. This is a sign of maturity, and of the ability to appreciate barbed humor without taking unintended offense. I think that this is a very positive thing, and something that those around the world who commit murder at the slightest "disrespect" of their sacred figures are incapable of understanding.
It's obvious that religion is on the way out as foundational. But what's going to replace it as a way to establish values, morals, and norms that are appropriate for everyone in the USA? We need a rule book of "values" of some sorts, we can't just rely on laws and statutes.
What did Niche say. If man did not have a God he would invent one. Religion the only subject where there is no consensus among people. If God is not the same for any group. There are 7 billion of us here and there are 7 billion ideas about God.
Sure! But the real one looks and thinks just like me. So the choice is obvious. I don't understand why the other 7 billion people can't see and understand that.
rich – pretty much true. hence the reason the church was so adamant about commoners reading scriptures, there are as many interpretations of scripture as there are readers.
The statement that Jesus jokes are popular because in the 70s the Christian Right made a spectacle of themselves is beyond idiotic – Muslims make spectacles of themselves on a regular basis and have been doing so for a while now but, if you so much at touch on Mohammad, people die – and so a stupid movie on youtube garners much attention from the US president and secretary of state. The REAL reason we make Jesus jokes?? Christians don't go on near genocidal murderous riots when you do. So go on you free speechers, free thinkers, athiests, and renegades of truth....tells us a joke about Allah or, better yet, draw us a picture of Mohammad...oh wait, you can't, that's hate speech. HYPOCRITES
Few 100% true Reasons why Atheism is TERRIBLE and unhealthy for our children and living things:
† Atheism is a religion that makes you angry, stupid, brainwashed, ignorant & blind.
† Atheism is a disease that needs to be treated.
† Atheism makes you post stupid things (90% of silly comments here on CNN blogs are posted by closet atheists)
† Atheist are satanic and have gothic lifestyle.
† Atheists are misguided and causes problem in our religious & public society.
† Atheists are mentally ill, that's why they have no faith.
† Atheism won't take you to kingdom of heaven and paradise.
† Atheism making you agree with Mussolini, Stalin, Hitler (denied his faith later), Mao, Pol Pot & other terrible mass murder leaders who killed religious people because of their religious cult!
† No traditional family lifestyle, no holidays, no culture, boring and feeling 'outsider'
† Atheists are angry, drug additcted and committ the most crime.
† Atheist try to convert people over internet because they feel "safer" behind closet.
† Atheists do not really exist, they just pretend that they don't believe in God and argue with religious people.
† Atheists have had terrible life experience, bad childhood and not being loved.
† Most atheists are uneducated... No atheists could run for presidency.
† Atheism brought upon the French Revolution, one of the most evil events of all of history.
† Atheism cannot explain the origins of the universe, therefore God exists.
† All atheists believe in evolution, which means they don't believe in morality and think we should all act like animals.
† The Bible says atheism is wrong, and the Bible is always right (see: Genesis 1:1, Psalms 14:1, Psalms 19:1, Romans 1:19-20)
† Countries where Atheism is prevalent has the highest Suicide rate & Communist countries = Atheism!
**Only 2-3% of the U.S. are atheists/agnostics VS. over 90% who believe in God (80% Christians) in the U.S.**
† † Our Prayers goes to atheists to be mentally healthy and seek their creator † †
PS! the USA is a † nation and will always be. You know it's true and stop being ignorant and arrogant!
(Take a look at our federal/state holidays, 99% of our presidents, blue laws in parts of the nation, name of some cities/counties/streets, the majority of people, some laws, calendar, culture, etc.)
Just read the first line and stopped. Atheism is no more of a religion, than abstenence is a type of s e x act.
Atheism is very rewarding
You are the reason chritianity is dying. Instead of being nice and making a point, you became angry and belligerant. People use Jesus to oppress people and go to war. Jesus, allegedely all powerful, never corrects you or any of your other Christians behavior.
We have high literacy rates. Most agnostics and atheists have actually read the bible and understand its unbelievable. They may not know what is right, but they know what they read isn't. It's why the south has the highes rate of Christianity. They don't actually read the book that guides their entire existence.
This HAS to be a troll post.
"Good Times" was a "Maude" spin-off, which was an "AITF" spin-off.
No way....Good Times was about a poor family in Chicago...it had nothing to do w/ Archie or Maude...Maude was Edith's cousin, so you are right on that one
Prayer changes things... just trying to beat "prayer bot" to that post folks! Ignore this post and prayerbot's as well.
A. the Irish joke is fairly offensive if you happen to be Irish
B. "Good Times" was not a spin off of "All in the Family", "The Jeffersons" was
C. Jesus is dead, he's not coming back, and he doesn't matter
you sure? Because he seems to matter to an awful lot of people there sunshine.
satan – in general i am against discrimination except when it comes to the irish. i have a relative that married into an all irish family and they are literally the first generation to walk upright.
@ snowboarder – a joke, if I may: Two Irishmen walk out or a bar . . . . . . .no, really.
D'oh – out "of" a bar
Huh wow? what are you saying? Snowboarder man..that's rough man
and you capitailze the "h" is he, so 10 demerit points
Why wouldn't Jesus be good on a hockey team? He'll get nailed to the boards
Jesus Christ walks into a hotel. He hands the innkeeper three nails and says, "Can you put me up for the night"?
Now that's creative! Man...would Xtians find that offensive.
How people can believe a book that wasn't even written down until hundreds of years after Jesus supposedly died is just beyond me.
the same people that believe that elect clowns like george bush and obama into office instead of ron paul. who by the way believes this nonsense but wouldnt dare shove it down our throats
Actually, that is inaccurate. The Old Testament or the Pentateuch was written over many years and is the back bone of the Jewish faith. The New Testament was written in a much shorter period duing the second half of the 1st Century A.D. There is a writer who looks at the history of the Bible, Josh McDowell. If you don't want to read one of his more thorough books, start with a book called "More than a Carpenter." It is a short quick read. I think I finished it in a day. By the way, I have heard many people say, "We don't know who wrote what and we can't check the history." There is more accuracy in attributing who wrote what in the Bible than there is to who wrote the Illiad. The earliest manuscripts are quite close to the beginning of the writing.
The Bible talks about the end times in the book of Acts, chapter 4. The exhaustive list of traits in people in that time fits perfectly with our times. Self worship and a lack of love for our neighbors and most importantly a lack of love for God permeate societies across the world.
I became a Christian at the age of 42. Nothing about my life is the same. I still sin as do we all. But my sin is forgiven because of what Jesus did for me and for you. The vitriol with which Jesus is attacked is what strikes me the most. It's not enough to accept some have had a spiritual awakening, the source of their hope has to be maligned viciously. There will be a reckoning one day. I pray there are none left to judgement because they rejected the truth of God. I still shudder when I think of people spending eternity in hell. I was almost one of them.
Sorry, if you believe in Jesus, your life should improve. You need the sacramental baptism, insti-tuted by Christ himself, not by the pope-rat. Are you ready to repent? Yes? Then get baptized or remember your infant baptism.
So, Hope, you're okay with a god who will condemn someone to infinite torture simply because of the way they think? You're okay with that? A religion that terrifies children into submission? What a horribly immoral concept – disgusting!
Eternity in hell?? So you were "threatened" into submission? It's not unusual for a victim to defend their perpetrator.
hope – hell is an imaginary place with which to scare the children.
Hey, Rainer: Nut, nut, nut – you're a nut, nut, nut!
So jesus/Xtianity gives you a excuse to sin. Great! Guess I will get back in.
Actually considering the locality where he was he would be dark skinned.
Hope, you do realize that quoting or referencing your bible book accomplishes absolutely nothing. It's not like we're all going to say, "Aw crap, Hope quoted the Bible, we should all be christians."
What you're doing is using circular logic to try and prove something.
"It's true because it says it is, because it says it is, because it says it is,,,,,,,"
Never mind the jokes, etc – that article went no where...had exactly zero insight into anything relevant. Another sign of, "If you Write IT the Internet sites will print it."
Geesus, that was a waste of time.
My thoughts exactly. I thought this would be a good article until the end when all they did was justify and condone joking about one religion's deity but respecting another. What else do you expect on CNN?
You can't read these comments without concluding that religious people do have a sense of humor.
You are excluding Rainer (below), please say you are excluding Rainer or your post is not credible.
The worst hypocrites of all times: the popes and Muhammad. Mock them, but don't mock God's Son.
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.
Nut, nut, nut – you're a nut, nut, nut!
Good grief... you're drowning in your own kool-aid.
Obviously, you are not able to process higher information. Hence, you perceive wisdom as nonsense; but it is your problem.
Tee hee – you call that "higher information"? Really? What about stories about Santa? The Easter Bunny? I reiterate: nut, nut, nut – you're a nut, nut, nut!
The statement that Jesus jokes are popular because in the 70s the Christian Right made a spectacle of themselves is beyond idiotic – Muslims make spectacles of themselves on a regular basis and have been doing so for a regular basis but, if you so much at touch on Mohammad, people die – and so a stupid movie on youtube garners much attention from the US president and secretary of state. The REAL reason we make Jesus jokes?? Christians don't go on near genocidal murderous riots when you do. So go on you free speechers, free thinkers, athiests, and renegades of truth....tells us a joke about Allah or, better yet, draw us a picture of Mohammad...oh wait, you can't, that's hate speech. HYPOCRITES
Amen. You're exactly right.
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.