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.
These jokes may tell us these people do not know the love of God through Jesus.
We're in the end days, and whether people know it or not, they're choosing which side they'll be on. Christ's or satan's.
so give me all your money and possessions. The fact is you spew this garbage, but don't actually believe it yourself. That makes you a...hypocrite.
My invisible pink unicorn just can't decide.
Sing songs and play the harp all day, or get down 'n dirty 'n drunk.
Oh, this is a tough one.
if i had a nickel for every time some nutjob invoked the "end of days" over the past 2000 years i would be an incredibly wealthy man.
How long does "end days" last? weeks? months? years? centuries?
So far the end days have lasted for almost 2000 years.
Re: "...How is it that a figure sacred to so many Americans has become the punch line of so many jokes?"
To answer this timely question, I'll include two of 10’s-of-thousands of possible examples:
1.) "JESUS", the name of an alleged human-Deity hybrid, (for which there is little if any verifiable archeologic evidence…), has been invoked hundreds-of-thousands of times, since this alleged ‘person-God’ existed…
All to justify the MOST HORRENDOUS ‘group-on-’ & ‘single-on-single’ violence...
From Scott-‘50-To-Life'-Roeder, (who murdered during a Christian worship service, allegedly demonstrating, [albeit unwittingly], that ‘murder is a sin’!), & G.Bush/A.Blair, (‘pro-life-corporatist-pogromers’), in modern times…
To numerous group-‘N-single executions / other inquisition-style violence...
The list is long enough to ALMOST require a 'Cray-3' (computer) just to ‘attempt’ the data-management’ task!
2.) Then there are the official ‘pronouncements’, of (alleged ‘moral values’), in the name of the Hybrid (allegedly) from Galilee…
The multi-decade profiteering-&-proxy-wars in ‘MESS-‘O-POTAMIA’, (as the Daily show calls it!), the unseemly fact that an abortion will bring out the superficially pious, in dead-baby-pic-demos, but…
The construction of the next Trident-SSBN, equipped with D-5-M.I.R.V.’d – I.C.B.M.’s, (and ALL similar ships / systems!), is treated as an increase in National security’, but routinely fails to be regarded as…
Note: I include all ‘REAL’; as opposed to (corporate-profiteering-related) ‘Imaginary’ W.M.D.’s in this category!
Then there are the ‘religious’ leaders…
Fatwa’s vs. Salman Rushdie;
M. Ahmadinejad & Rev. Richard Williamson referring to WW-2’s Holocaust as ‘imaginary’;
The N.Carolinian pastor, (a Rev. Worley), who sermonizes his desire to see ‘ALL gays corralled n 50×100 mile electric fenced concentration camps, supplied by airdropped rations, allegedly because…
‘they can’t reproduce’…
As if that matters, realistically, with humanity’s 7+ billion examples, and ‘750,000,000+ family free children, age-0-14’, as who.org describes this harrowing, ‘chronic’ statistic!
Of course there’s also the daily human-starvation statistic…
20-40,000 dead on any given DAY;
Decade in/out, at least since the 1940’s-50!
…Talk ‘bout a holocaust! Where are the pro-lifers?
…The following (tasteless) ‘Jesus’ joke requires some visualization, when presented in written form…
Q.): Why did ‘they’ place Jesus on a cross, ‘stead of hanging him via rope?
A.): So (superficially pious) ‘christians’ could g like this, (visualize making the sign ‘o the cross…), instead of like this, (visualize jerking one’s fist upwards, in the vicinity of the neck, as if falling through the gallows trap door….)!
Organized.intolerant.monotheisms is at a distinct risk of proving ‘Darwinian.Extinction’ theory correct via passive attrition…
As older ‘true’ believers die off, failing to instill their rancid, vacuous sanctimonious traditions & hatreds to the upcoming generation…
2 Corinthians 4:4, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
There's a fascinationg book I read years ago- Bible Myths and Their Parallels in Other Religions. It follows the floods myths, dying god-to save mankind, miracles, resurrection myths back through anceint times. Carl Jung wrote a great book on mythology, seeming to say that the myths run through various cultures out of the colective human subconscious need and that the very similarities of the myths suggest an element of truth-at least in terms of what humans need to believe/have faith in psychologically.
Hmmm. Persecution of believers by non-believers. Well, that's a new one.
When I was a child, learning the story of Christ, I could not believe that people
could have been so cruel and evil as to kill a man who only wanted to do good
and convince the world to treat each other kindness and love. Reading these posts
explains that away. If Jesus returned, he would be killed all over again.
Think about this," IF THERE WERE EVIDENCE, IT WOULDNT BE FAITH. IT WOULD BE SOMETHING ELSE."
Christians have been persecuting people for 2000 years, e.g. crusades, inquisitions, witch burning, cross burnings, etc. etc. etc. At least non-believers don't kill or torture you like Christians did in the past.
Yeah, dumba-ss! If there were evidence, there would be evidence! And you would base your world views on – wait for it! Evidence! I know, i know – crazy talk – using evidence and logic, instead of make-believe. How silly of me.
Luis Wu – So, you're saying we as a people havent evolved since the Dark and Middle Ages?
Why is a difference of opinion called persecution? When I was a kid there was a story I was told about a guy that made toys and gave them to all the kids of the world. Would I sound a bit silly to you if I said I still believed that story?
Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear – Ah, name calling. The last resort of the clueless.
You rock on with that 3rd grade education.
kid – faith in the absence of evidence is not a virtue. it is a delusion.
Damocles – I think if you read the posts you will see that the malice, hostility (and in Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear's instance) name calling is comming from non-believers.
Kid – I thought you believers in ancient mythology didn't believe in evolution.
It's only called "faith" because there's no evidence.
Yeah, that's not persecution, a bit childish to be sure, but not persecution.
Do not be so naive to think that the childishness is one-sided. I see plenty of posts by believers that rage on and on about people going to hell, being judged and so on. I mean, look at the thread we are on... sure, magic called you a name, but what did you do? Turned right around and acted childish yourself.
really? saying that the "christian right" (or christians in general) have never made a spectacle of themselves is, as you say "beyond idiotic". and christians don't go on murderious riots????
i suppose many christians deny the spanish inquisition and crusades like many deny the holocaust and landing on the moon.
We should not mock Jesus who can cure our soul and our body. Let us praise the one who was not greedy for honor, power and riches but came to save the lost people of Israel. It is outrageous to mock the Physician who can really cure us.
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.
Hey, Rainer: Nut, nut, nut – you're a nut, nut, nut!
Christianity, like all religions, is nothing more than ancient mythology and superst!tious nonsense, written thousands of years ago by members of a primitive, tribal culture. Why anyone in their right mind would believe such nonsense is beyond me.
I seriously doubt that Jesus would call the Pope a rat. As for criminals, did you miss the part of the Bible where Jesus said I came for the sick-the healthy have no nead of a physician? You just proved the article's premise- not only our jokes, but our harsh judgements, reveal more about us than Jesus.
Let's see what do my Jesus jokes reveal about me? Answer: I like to make fun of pretend nonsense.
The "good news" is that Jesus has already addressed this issue for us: “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven." Matthew 10:32-33. Either this is true and therefore quite clear – or it doesn't matter what we say and believe.
stop it. stop it with this illogocal nonsense babble. just stop it.
really bob? would you give up on your own son if he didn't believe in you or what you represent? would you send him to the basement to be tortured because he didn't do what you think he should? this is what is so wrong with christianity. i can't believe people like you believe that passage, that book, that belief.
If Yackov Smirnoff were Muslim ...
In your country, people who make religous jokes are cut-ups.
In my country, people who make religous jokes are cut-up.
In another 100 years we'll look back at all this religious stuff and laugh.
In light of the way religion has skewed and corrupted everything that Jesus came for in the first place, which was to build personal, meaningful relationships with sinful human beings and invite them into saving community with him, I understand the sentiment of your statement. But I'm afraid that anyone who misses the point will be doing *anything* but laughing 100 years from now...
Got to love when someone is so pissed off they are loosing an argument they have to steal other peoples handles. Oh...poor baby your ego is bruised do you feel better now about yourself loser? LMAO! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL!
When you separate your faith from your earthly loyalties then I might take your faith serous.
But then you would not need me to.
The atheists seem to expend a lot of energy "dissing" Jesus and Christianity. If it's so obviously wrong why are they
wasting so much of their time on it?
Because ignorance and stupidity should be opposed at every opportunity.
I've never understood why Mary wasn't stoned to death for being an adulterer?
christians are so easy to rile! Honestly, if you Xians didn't behave like 5 year old being called a "baby", I might take your comment seriously. It's a shame that a religion that has such social clout wastes its time on stupid things like "Merry Christmas" as opposed to "Happy Holidays." FORGET that millions of people are homeless, hungry and hopeless (ie without hope), and the most you people care about is a GREETING? Yep, it's fun and easy to jab at you with your own beliefs that you consistently fail to ackowledge, much less live up to.
where do these writers come from. hes very detached from the majority culture thought. the fact that he called 21 jump street forgettable – and its not a good movie – bemoans the fact it made 200 million at the box office and has an 85% like on R.R. if you want to talk about what you think you know based on the pulse of the nation, at least know your subject matter.
We should not mock Jesus who can cure our soul and our body. Let us praise the one who was not greedy for honor, power and riches but came to save the lost people of Israel.
Posting the same thing over and over doesn't make it any more believable. It just makes you look stupid.
@rainer: Delusional, completely delusional.
Rainier~ If Jesus were to be amongst us today, the Southern Baptists would be the first to denounce him for being a communist, a socialist, an agitator, anti-American, a trouble-maker, pro-immigration, pro-gay, and a liberal! The Pharisees of old reside amongst us today and it is now called the Southern Baptist Convention!
This article and many of the following comments are glaring examples of our being ready for destruction. Don't be surprised if it comes soon. History repeats itself. Again and again! How sad that the human race can descend to such depravity.
You are correct, destruction is coming to you and your kind. Religious nonsense will be drowned in the light of knowledge.
Ignorance and indiscriminate breeding like the sort encouraged by religion are the biggest threats facing our continued existence. That and greed. Frankly, I think the most glaring example of greed in the world is the catholic church. They have millions, if not billions of dollars worth of treasure, their leader lives a luxurious life in a palace, yet among their "flock" are some of the poorest people in the world. That's some scam they have going.
Now that the libs have won, they are targeting conservative values such as Christianity. Have already targeted the family, marriage, and anything that has anything to do with morality is now a target for the moral relativist.
Yes. It's called opposing ignorance and stupidity.
it's called progress.
Poor Hmmm. I can see that you are terrified of things like progress and human rights. It must be difficult for you to feel special if you no longer have permission to hate people who are different than you.
How have liberals "targeted the family," Hmmmmmm? What exactly have they done to undermine it?
While jokes about Jesus are very offensive, the reality is that they are a reflection of the condition of mankind rather than Jesus. God's love and His desire to have a relationship with us, in spite of our fallen condition, is fully expressed in the sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ, which makes a way for mankind to return to what God originally intended for us.
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
His "only" son????? Why couldn't an all-powerful, all-knowing deity have as many sons – in fact an infinite number of sons – as he wanted? Simply another example of how half-baked the entire Jesus died for your sins concept is.
Is the story of Adam and Eve true/literal/real?
Would you please explain to me how torturing and killing your own son shows love for everybody?
To Jorge, thank you for injecting some much-needed clarity and civility into this snake pit of hostility. To Professors Blum and Harvey: Sirs, you dropped the ball rather badly. I read your blog with some interest, expecting to find a substantive, thought-provoking conclusion: perhaps observing that deprecating humor is a classic opening ploy in the process of first desensitizing, then accepting, then condoning, and finally condemning a target–especially an "easy" target like Christianity. That process is a cherished tool in what I will charitably call the "marketing" tool kit. You might have commented on many Americans' increasing and self-serving need for relativism, and the growing herd mentality that thrives on bullying and trashing anything or anyone perceived as different or threatening. You might have called attention to the oft-ignored contradiction of Christian intolerance becoming prevalent, even fashionable, while intolerance toward any other philosophy or lifestyle has become verbotten. Christians are "haters" because we hold to our faith, but those who trash Christianity are simply exercising freedom of speech? Those who value logic, please ponder that for a moment. Professors, you might even have suggested that beneath this trend of turning Christianity, the sacred faith of millions, into fodder for cheap laughs, there might lie a core that has nothing to do with humor. Rather, it is about anger and fear. Anger and fear of Jesus's simple and unequivocal declaration, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6). These words enraged his persecutors then, and they enrage His persecutors now. So all you haters and atheists, bring on your tirades and slanders. We can take it; in fact, we expect it. Jesus predicted you would and you have–for centuries. Here's another truth: There is no short cut, folks; no politically correct, "design it yourself" theology that ruffles no feathers, requires only good intentions, and banishes accountability."If it feels good, do it," was a handy '60s permit for self-indulgence, but it is a devastating theology. Professors, whatever your intention, it died on the keyboard. Readers, you can foment more hate, or you can open your hearts and minds. If anyone reading this (though it is unlikely to be posted) is in despair, doubting, lost, frightened, in pain, alone, and needs a friend, the ultimate Friend is as near as a prayer. He will give you rest, peace, and a love that passes understanding. Most of all, he will give you not the grave, but eternal life. No formalities needed. Just "draw near to Him and He will draw near to you."
Poor jorge. It must hurt to realize that there are quite a few people who don't believe exactly what you do. It must hurt to have your beliefs mocked, just because there isn't a shred of evidence to indicate those beliefs have any basis in reality. It must confuse you that the power of the church has been broken, and it can no longer be used to arbitrarily destroy lives for fun and profit.
The thing is, you're lucky. If non-believers wanted to treat you as your church has historically treated non-believers, they'd be burning you with real fire, not just words.
Charles Darwin is the real joke! Evolution is a myth that the government forces on the masses. Hitler was Catholic, Osama bin laden was Muslim and Joseph Stalin was an Atheist. The Atheist are just as crazy as these crazy religious. Evolution is a cult and a faith, it is faith when you believe that living matter came from non-living matter all by chance. The second law of thermo-dynamics that all things decay proves that we don't evolve we just get more stupid killing each other. And these Atheist give money to their cult leader Dawkins for his stupid books no different then the churches passing a collection plate around
Please don't give Pedro anything sharp to play with – he may hurt himself.
The stupidity shines through in your post.
There are mountains upon mountains of scientific EVIDENCE for evolution. The only evidence for Christianity is a 2000 year old book of myths and ignorant superst!tions.
Pedro or Poe-dro?
None related, but its important that people realize that this image that the world has been presented as that of the true Christ is in error. It might actually be that of the antichrist as he will appear to deceive the people in the last days. There is no place in scripture that suggests this image and it is an idol which you are worshiping. The Catholic church is a part of this conspiracy and has not corrected its followers.
Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth Exodus 20: 4-6
How stupid is this guy? Biased as all hell, clearly, but just down right stupid. We do hear jokes about another religious icon, maybe you have heard of him, his name is Mohammed. The reason you hear more Jesus jokes, you one sided tool, is because he is the most well known religious figure that has ever lived. Can you tell me what Mohammed was doing during any of his life? Can you tell me a good Shiva joke? No Christians and in particular Jesus and the Pope are too well known and as such they get made fun of cause they do some funny stuff when you think of Irvine a humorous context. Up tight religious right needs to go, period.
The article was about Jesus jokes, not Mohammed jokes. Seriously, did you actually read the article or is this just a knee-jerk reaction?
Whoa there Mark. Relax buddy. I think you missed his whole point.
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