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.
I think Ed Blum and Paul Harvey got it wrong. For two hundred years the universal church did everything they could to reinforce the "godliness" of Jesus. In the 60's and 70's the faithful wanted to take stock in the humanity of Jesus. Aside from believing that Jesus was the "son of God", a unit of the trinity, men and women wanted to pronounce and celebrate his human-ness; Jesus has a sense of humor – he walked, he talked, he was a social creature of his time. As a boy He played with his friends, He drank wine, went to weddings, and travelled city to city with a group of friends. His divinity is only known to us through His expression of manhood. He joins us in laughter when we joke about him – we laugh not out of malevolence but because we share in his humanity. The best picture of Jesus is one in which he's laughing !!!!
The bible is like a "Nigerian Email" from the bronze-age.
Now this is perfect. Where is the like button?
"Nigerian email"!!! LOL.
I just want to know ... if Jesus was Jewish, how come he has a Mexican name?
Because mexico has deep Catholic roots and adopted the name as one of their own to honor and remember Him through naming their children Jesus.
Jesus was not jesus. Jewish is a word the describe some one who practices a Religion called judeism. And his name wad not "Jesus"
Check out ZZ Top's version of "Jesus Just Left Chicago" from the 2010 Crossroads Southwest Music Festival on YouTube.
It's the ONLY version,,,
Is that better than the version from "Trez Hombres"?
I'm one of the "spiritual non-religious" folks,I guess. I've mostly heard about the "so-and-so dies and arrive's at the pearly gates" type of thing. While I support Christianity, I see very little harm in LOW-KEY and NON-ABUSIVE/HATEFUL/PROFANE religious humor. I would hope a believer who is secure in his belief will take it in stride, maybe see the humor and chuckle. The level of tolerance is important, for peace and peace of mind.
I reject "your" Lord and Savior as a myth. Monotheism (your religion probably)-you know, the Adam and Eve story that is believed by Christians, Muslims, and Jews-has killed a lot of people in our beautiful world. And the killing goes on and on and on and on and on. You folks sure like to spill blood. Now me, I'm not superst-itious.
The joke's on us, because after all, it was humans who created God. Calling it "real" makes it religion (a joke).
But if you crave pure humor, the best of the lowest-just tune in to those Christian TV channels. OMG!!!!!!!!!! I fell out of my chair last week because I laughed so hard. It's not Mr. Lord...it's "his" followers! It's sick what they do to kids inside of Monotheism.
Well, I guess God will read your email to you in the future when it's about entering heaven or not.
What a bunch of nonsense. Jesus is the butt of jokes because of hostility toward Christians, pure and simple.
Exactly. Christians a gullible and delusional and need to grow a brain.
No...Jesus is the butt of jokes because his story is utterly absurd. Believers are merely the unfortunate victims of that joke.
did you know jesus was actually a really BAD carpenter? Yeah.. in the real story, he nailed HIMSELF to a cross. :(
Really? Even the All in The Family joke? Come on...
You are right Bobb. One of mankinds classic traits is to fear and or mock anything that is different or what they do not understand. When they mock God its just their ignorance showing!
Prayer changes things
Hitler was a Catholic. Was that healthy? How many children have been forced into suicide in the Muslim nations in the last week alone? How many by Atheists? A humanist would consider it murder, but for you...your kids are safe in that community? Allowing children to think for themselves is healthy.
Sorry Erin, you're wrong, from those who knew him best hitler was an atheist.
It's just an immeasurable change that can't be captured by studies or scrutiny. And seriously, anyone saying anything about Hilter's beliefs needs to cite their works or gfto. So far it all just sounds like hearsay.
"To do justice to God and our own conscience, we have turned once more to the German Volk."
"We were convinced that the people need and require this faith. We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out."
"My feeling as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded only by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God's truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was his fight against the Jewish poison. Today, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before the fact that it was for this that He had to shed his blood upon the Cross. As a Christian I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice. ...And if there is anything which could demonstrate that we are acting rightly, it is the distress that daily grows. For as a Christian I have also a duty to my own people. And when I look on my people I see them work and work and toil and labor, and at the end of the week they have only for their wages wretchedness and misery. When I go out in the morning and see these men standing in their queues and look into their pinched faces, then I believe I would be no Christian, but a very devil, if I felt no pity for them, if I did not, as did our Lord two thousand years ago, turn against those by whom today this poor people are plundered and exploited."
NSDAP Party Program: “We demand freedom for all religious confessions in the state, insofar as they do not endanger its existence or conflict with the customs and moral sentiments of the Germanic race. The party as such represents the standpoint of a positive Christianity, without owing itself to a particular confession....”
Again I ask, have you ever threatened YOUR children with eternal dam nation? I haven't, but I'll bet you have! Why won't you answer the question?
Prayer changes nothing.
I've repeatedly challenged you to take the George Carlin Prayer Test. Pray to your imaginary god friend for a month, then pray to Joe Pesci for a month. You'll find the percentage of prayers answered by god, and those by Mr Pesci, will be about the same (50/50). Have you taken the test? If so, please report your results.
Are you a real live troll, or nothing more than a xianbot?
"There ain't no jesus gonna come from the sky.
Now that I found out, I know I can cry." – John Lennon
Hitler was an atheist and a vegetarian.
"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. .
Prayer does not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.
An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.
The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs`!
Where do you get your information about Hitler. There were many opinions as to whether or not he was god fearing. No where in his book, Mein Kampf, does he mention being an Atheist. I don't think anyone know's one way or another. He was raised catholic but he refused to participate in the sacraments after childhood. I am an atheist and I have no ill will towards practicing christians. I do laugh at a funny joke about jesus or a funny joke about bald overweight man like myself but do not get offended by it. People need to loosen up.
Good article. As a Christian, I appreciate these articles and even find them inspirational. I am grateful that God has a sense of humor and can take a good joke. The Bible is filled with humor and surprise. Try to write this article in another land about their prophet and see what happens. God created us to laugh, smile and have humor, and I for one am grateful. What a good and gracious God.
I've never heard a joke from God. Until I do, he does not exist.
The Bible is filled with humor?!?!? Yeah, nothing funnier than wiping out nearly every living creature on earth in a flood, or sending a giant bear to tear children limb from limb for mocking a bald prophet! I tell ya, when I read that, I laughed until I cried!
Actually, Jesus did a few good camel jokes...
Jesus jokes do definately tell of the depravity of our culture. None of the so called jokes quoted in the article are even close to being funny, they are disgusting. Jesus, what He did, what He offers to mankind, who He is is NO joke. He is real, alive, loves mankind with a love we cannot even begin to comprehend and is coming again to gather up the faithful. So, one day the joke will be on those who take Jesus as a joke. He loves you, offers salvation to everyone who calls upon His name. Accept Him as your personal Savior and you will NOT be making jokes about Him.
How utterly stupid. You live in a delusionary fantasy world.
Only Jewish on his mother's side... I don't care who you are but that is funny.
Heaven is going to be SO boring!
Was hoping for more jokes in the comments section. Come on people, get it together!
We can and must grow out of this wishful thinking. There is no celestial theme park for the dead and there is no invisible ghost listening to your requests. Reality is far more awe inspiring and interesting.
Logic and reason are the foundation for empiricism. We may not like what we learn, but it is far better to deal with the truth.
Seriously, can we just abandon these ancient myths?
Tom, you can neglect God all of your life and choose to not believe in him but in the end you will be judged like the rest of us. The bible talks about men and women who witnessed Jesus and his apostles. They witnessed miracles and Jesus life after death. If this is such an ancient myth, where is the body of Jesus? Please open your eyes, look around you, and realize that we have a Creator and he will judge us one day.
Gee Blake...I read a book about a vampire. He rose from the dead too. If we're taking old books and considering them fact... Miracles? You mean something wonderous to the eye and unable to be explained? Then David Copperfield must be some kind of god too.
BLAKE – You are merely puking the ancient myth, right out of your mouth. Judged? Are we a little bit frightened Blakey -wakey? Superst itious are we? Grow up in the church? Cannot think alone? Fear the unknown? You oughtta look into the known-wow!! The scientists only know about one-tenth as much as you "fully enlightened" people, but they just recently discovered that you believe in something that was, ummmmmm, sorry to tell you Blake, but it was man-made. Ooops. A little knowledge is scary! Now you Blake, you have one life to live, lucky to be here at all, and YOU have chosen to spend your time on someone else's train. Puke out that myth Blake, you're a well-indoctrinated little bug ger.
And I say Thank Mithra for Tom Paine! You are my hero. Or thank nature Blake...take your pick.
Hey ERIN, if you wanted prayer, all you had to do was ask for it not knock on Blake for being right, "quam molesti"
I agree with your sentiment Tom. Our visible universe is strange and wonderful. That doesn't mean there is no spiritual universe. There's room for both. Narrowing your belief system narrows your possibilities and limits your life.
I am unclear what a "spiritual" universe is. I think you are referring to a sense of the numinous, wonder and inspiration. Those are clearly part of the human experience and should not be denied. But, they are human and while we can not define the origin, we should pursue knowledge of this through science. If a theory is not testable, it is not a viable theory, right?
I know that when I burn a bull on my altar the aroma is pleasing to God. Leviticus 1:9
The problem is my neighbors. They say the aroma is not pleasing to them.
Should I smite them all?
Kill your neighbors. That is what god would want, if they object to his veneration. Besides, who doesn't enjoy the smell of a nice slab of beef roasting on a grill? They're weird.
Unfortunately, you poke fun of something you don't fully understand. That scripture is Old Testament, before Jesus. We don't have to live life by sacrificing bulls or anything of the sort. The message of the New Testament is where we find life...
I know what you mean. I have the same problem with slaughtering lambs in the back yard.
and this is news... jokes about some deity well now ive seen it all, its almost as bad as that news reel about the cop arresting some guy for assault for farting.
You took the time to comment on it, so it must be newsworthy to you. Jesus had a sense of humor and irony. Do you?
not really... ya no not at all.
and i only red half of the article so it was clearly the best news ive ever had since 9/11
If Catholic nuns consider themselves "brides of Christ", wouldn't that make Jesus a polygamist?
I think this best describes what I just read and it comes from Billy Madison.
"Mr. Madison, what you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul."
A priest and a rabbi were hanging out. A little boy walked by, and the priest said to the rabbi, "Let's take that little boy in the woods and f*** him." The rabbi thought a minute, and said, "Out of what?"
This trend shows that some people are finally getting a life and are capable of laughing at themselves. BUT, I wouldn't try this with Mohammed yet.
Why not? Are the rational people of the world supposed to remain in fear of fundamental zealots? The more we out these crazies the sooner they will be ostracized from influence. Just as Malala now represents the will of people to change the archaic views of fundamentalists so too will mocking Mohammed. Everyone should start making Mohammed jokes...they can't threaten us all.
Trot yourself to your nearest mosque and start telling mohammed jokes then steve or be known as the phony you are.
I didn't realize I qualified as everyone? Do you have reading comprehension problems?
You first.You definitely do not speak for everyone.
AtheistShlebs thinks AtheistSteve sounds pretty brave standing up to muslim extremists from behind the anonymity of a cnn comment board.
If we don't laugh about this stuff we'll cry about it. Honestly, I'm a Christian-leaning agnostic and though I only "hope" there is a God I come in here just to read the silly articles and the so bizarre it's comedy comments. I'm hooked.
True Christians expected to see Jesus as well as Christianity to be made fun of. Why ? Because of understanding Revelation 16:12., which says: "And the sixth (angel) poured out his bowl upon the great river Eu·phra′tes, and its water was dried up, that the way might be prepared for the kings from the rising of the sun."
The "river Euphrates" is in reference to Babylon the Great, the world empire of false religion. (Ancient Babylon was surrounded by the river Euphrates that served as protective watery barrier to invaders) Revelation 17:15 explains that the "waters" of this symbolic river means "peoples and crowds and tongues and nations". Hence, by drying up of the "river Euphrates", the religions of the world are loosing their members, their "peoples" that are located in all the nations. And this applies to Christendom, loosing mass numbers of members, in which many become either apathetic, or agnostic or even atheistic.
Plain and simple, many are leaving organized religion, and in the process, are now making fun of religion, with Jesus as being their springboard. However, this is leading up to the preparing "for the kings from the rising of the sun". This will soon open the door, for our Creator, Jehovah God and his reigning Son, Jesus Christ, to begin the "great tribulation". Why ?
Because there has to reach a threshold or tipping point for religion to become such a distaste in peoples mouths that they turn against it. That this will happen in the near future is seen at Revelation 17:16, whereby the "ten horns" or political elements of the world devour the false religious empire of Babylon the Great, making "her devastated and naked" and then completely burning her with fire."
Blah, blah, blah. The book of Revelations as prophecy for the 21st century has as much credibility as the 2012 Mayan calendar luncacy...namely, none.
"devastated and naked"? HAHA HA you said "naked"! You so funny!
wow, tg, you sure have memorized it well. congrats on your useless and pointless knowledge
I bet you're a christian that takes the bible as "literal truth"- that the world is only 6,000 years old, was created in 6 days, man was made from dust, blah blah blah. How can these type of christians believe Genesis literally, accepting it as "science", and then take Revelations as metaphor, open to wide interpretation? My friend (7th day adventist) is 100% sure (as are many) that it reveals that the catholic pope will be the "anti-christ". If so- why didn't the church usher in the anti-christ back in the dark ages, when they ruled everything, instead of now,as it weakens and dies off? What fools.
And this is what I love about a lot of Christians. Take some Bible verses that could have many meanings, but go ahead and use it in the way you feel helps you the most.
Boy TG have you been brain washed or what.
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.