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My Take: What all those Jesus jokes tell us
The authors note that Jesus jokes have become popular just since the 1970s.
November 10th, 2012
10:00 PM ET

My Take: What all those Jesus jokes tell us

Editor’s note: Edward J. Blum is a historian of race and religion at San Diego State University. Paul Harvey is a history professor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and runs the blog Religion in AmericanHistory. They co-authored “The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America.”

By Edward J. Blum and Paul Harvey, Special to CNN

Did you ever hear the one about Jesus being Mexican? Well, he was bilingual; he was constantly harassed by the government; and his first name was Jesus.

Or, perhaps Jesus was Irish? He loved a good story; he never kept a steady job; and his last request was for a drink.

Or maybe it’s possible that Jesus was Californian? He never cut his hair; he was always walking around barefoot; and he started a new religion.

You may not have heard these Jesus jokes, but you’ve heard others. They represent a comedic trend that has animated the United States since the 1970s. More and more comedy gimmicks hit on Jesus, his ethnicity and his relationship to politics. Laughing with (and at) the Lord is now fodder for major motion pictures, barroom comedy tours, graphic novels, t-shirts and bumper stickers.

How is it that a figure sacred to so many Americans has become the punch line of so many jokes? And why is it acceptable to poke fun at Jesus when other sacred figures are deemed off limits or there is hell to pay for mocking them?

The explanations are as numerous as the laughs.

Immigration shifts from the 1960s changed the ethnic and religious faces of the country so no tradition dominates today. The Christian right made such a moral spectacle of itself that it practically begged to be mocked. The emergence of “spiritual, but not religious” sensibilities left many Americans willing to denounce or laugh about traditional faith. The public rise of agnosticism, atheism, and secularism led to aggressive mockery as a form of persuasion.

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If we pause to consider why we’re laughing, we find that the comic bits delve into some of our thorniest and unresolved problems. The jokes reveal much more about us than they do Jesus. They speak to how our society has changed, how it hasn’t, and what we’re obsessed with.

The first public jokes about Jesus were heard in the 1970s. There had been religious jokes before this, but none about Jesus had become widely popular because organized Christianity held such authority. As the economic recession and problems of urban decay collided with civil rights exhaustion and new immigration, however, some Jesus jokes emerged.

Archie Bunker on “All in the Family” was the white racist and misogynist you loved to hate and hated to love. On one occasion, his son-in-law challenged Bunker’s rampant anti-Semitism with the claim, "Jesus was Jewish." Archie shot back immediately: "Only on his mother's side."

The “All in the Family” spin off “Good Times” featured a black family that lives in an inner-city housing project, probably Chicago's infamous Cabrini Green. On the show's second episode, the oldest son J. J. astounded everyone by painting Jesus as black. The younger son loves it, and says he learned all about Christ’s blackness from the local Nation of Islam.

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As the family debates whether this black Jesus should be hung on the wall in place of their white Jesus, they “miraculously” receive $140 from the Internal Revenue Service. Feeling blessed, the family placed the painting on its living room wall, and the elated J. J. shouted his tagline, "Dyno-mite!”

From the 1980s to the present, the number of prominent Jesus jokes has multiplied like loaves and fishes:

• In “Talladega Nights,” Ricky Bobby and his family debated which Jesus to pray to (“baby Jesus in golden fleece diapers,” “grown-up Jesus,” “ninja Jesus”). Their overall hope is that Jesus will help them continue their extravagant lifestyle.

• “South Park” featured Jesus as a weak-kneed host of a local talk show who boxes the devil.

• “Family Guy” had Jesus perform magic tricks that wowed his ancient audience.

• “The Colbert Report” placed a gun in Christ’s hand and had him defend conservatives against the liberal “War on Easter.”

• “Saturday Night Live” let Jesus chastise Tim Tebow for using the Lord’s name in vain and ended the bit by declaring that the Mormons have it right.

One unforgettable scene in the rather forgettable recent film “21 Jump Street” may explain why Jesus has become such a joke.

Before Jonah Hill’s character returns to high school as an undercover cop, he prays to a small, crucified “Korean Jesus.” Down on his knees, he says: “Hey Korean Jesus, I don’t know if you only cater to Korean Christians or if you even exist, no offense. I’m just really freaked out about going back to high school. It was just so f***ing hard the first time. … I just really don’t want to f*** this up. Sorry for swearing so much. The end? I don’t really know how to end the prayer.”

The hilarity of the moment only makes sense in our time. Hill's character is unchurched and agnostic, but wants spiritual power to guide him. We can laugh at how agnosticism and being “spiritual, but not religious,” leave him uncertain of what to say, how to say it, and even how to end.

We can also laugh at how ethnic factors color his approach. By wondering if Korean Jesus cares only about Korean problems, Hill pokes fun at the issue which was made a media spectacle in 2008, when the Rev. Jeremiah Wright could be heard preaching that “Jesus was a poor black man” as part of his support for Barack Obama. What good is a God who only cares for those who look like him?

The Jesus jokes not only reveal how tangled our religious, racial, economic and political positions have become, but also how many outlets there are for the jokes. In these tense times, when presidential hopefuls point fingers at one another and families unfriend one another over political and cultural differences, laughing may be one way to talk about the problems without killing one another.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Edward J. Blum and Paul Harvey.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Entertainment • Jesus • Opinion

soundoff (5,750 Responses)
  1. PumpNDump

    Let me help you:

    1. The earth is approximately 4.5 BILLION YEARS OLD. Radiometric dating proves this.

    2. "god" and "jesus" are no more relevant than the Greek or Roman Gods and are just as real/true.

    3. The whole parting of the red sea, noahs ark, adam/eve, rising from the dead, walking on water, just like "miracles", are all myths. Just an FYI.

    4. There is absolutely no legitimate, academically accepted peer reviewed proof that "jesus" ever existed. None whatsoever.

    5. Evolution is a scientific fact. Get over it. Our ancestors are over 6 Million years old. Global climate change is also a scientific fact.

    6. How can anyone "hate" a myth? It's like me proclaiming I hate "Batman". Batman is just as real as "jesus".

    7. http://godisimaginary.com/

    8. The bible was written by men to control/manipulate and profit from man. It's that simple.

    9. Roe vs. Wade is the law of land.

    10. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kitzmiller_v._Dover_Area_School_District

    I don't care what myths or fables you believe in provided you keep them to yourself and don't inflict them on others. Keep them out of public schools, science/math, public policy, foreign policy, law and jurisprudence. If you want to raise your children to flip burgers, dig ditches and believe in myths, bully for you. We don't care as long as you don't inflict them on others.

    November 11, 2012 at 11:59 am |
    • John P. Tarver

      Evolution as a means to species is racist nonsense, that no longer has a place in science.

      November 11, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • pima

      Keep trying, JPT – no one is buying your bullsh it. lol.

      November 11, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
  2. Heretic

    Q: What kind of shoes did Jesus wear?

    A: cross trainers.

    Q: did you hear about the new cereal available on TBS? Christ Crispies. They walk on milk.

    Q: why did the Romans crucify Jesus instead of stoning him to death?

    A: so that instead of making the sign of the cross, Catholics wouldn't have to make fists and knock themselves silly while reciting "in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy ghost...."

    November 11, 2012 at 11:58 am |
    • Bootyfunk

      lol!

      November 11, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
    • End Religion

      nice!

      November 11, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
  3. Cuchifrito

    isn't there a rumor that jesus was gayola?

    November 11, 2012 at 11:57 am |
  4. TheVocalAtheist

    Jesus is irrelevant as humanity moves forward. We can't even prove if he existed. Was the philosophy anything profound? Humans, primates, rodents and a whole slew of other species act on empathy naturally. We know this to be true as it can be proven scientifically. This Jesus philosophy comes along and all of sudden empathy is discovered? Give me a break. There is no need for a Jesus or a God to be what we are naturally.

    November 11, 2012 at 11:53 am |
    • Cuchifrito

      then the preachers could not own million dollar homes and drive cars and SUVs worth hundreds of thousands of dollars

      November 11, 2012 at 11:56 am |
    • John P. Tarver

      Relativity and Quantum mechanics require a sentient being outside the universe to make the universe real. God is a natural part of makes reality.

      November 11, 2012 at 11:58 am |
    • Cuchifrito

      john- stop it. just stop it

      November 11, 2012 at 11:59 am |
    • TheVocalAtheist

      @John

      "God is a natural part of makes reality"

      Prove it or go away.

      November 11, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • God's Oldest Dreamer

      To be an empath or not to be one for that is a good question to consider afterall, empathic syndroms are run amock. What a mockingly weird thing a mockery is!

      November 11, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • Cuchifrito

      gotta keep the illusion alive. it's big $$$$ for the churches and preachers. I just feel bad for the old grandmothers that donate their social security checks to these bufoons so they can go to heaven.

      November 11, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • sybaris

      Exactly. The "lessons" in the bible are merely universal truths about human nature repeated in most other religions and by "divine" figures that were invented before and after the Jesus myth.

      No Mr & Mrs Christian, your dogma does not corner the market on being neighborly.

      November 11, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • pima

      JPT: "Relativity and Quantum mechanics require a sentient being outside the universe to make the universe real. God is a natural part of makes reality."

      Lol. That's ridiculous because we don't know enough about the nature of what was before the present universe to know if the same laws and forces apply. But nice try JPT to make make everything fit nicely alongside the myths that man created long ago.

      November 11, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
    • Kay

      Following your "logic", John...a sentient being outside the universe would require another sentient being outside the outside of the universe to make the first sentient being outside the first universe real. Ad nauseum.

      November 11, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      Kay-there is no evidence what you claim is true, but I suppose it is a fine english teacher sort of "science" idea.

      November 11, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • God's Oldest Dreamer

      pima,

      We can only know the before matter as we now see it came into being, there was an unending Sea of absolute Nothingness from which was born the elemental sons of God, the Holy Sea of Nothingness, His Holy Spirit.

      November 11, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • pima

      Dreamer – "We can only know the before matter as we now see it came into being, there was an unending Sea of absolute Nothingness from which was born the elemental sons of God, the Holy Sea of Nothingness, His Holy Spirit."

      Lol. Correction – we presently only know what we see and what we are comfortable saying we know. And we know absolutely nothing about the nature of anything before our universe.

      November 11, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • Kay

      John – There's no more evidence of what you claim about the existence of a sentient being outside the universe than the nonsense I wrote. You simply have "faith" that it's there. Sorry, but "faith" is not "evidence", no matter how much you have "faith" that it is.

      November 11, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
  5. huge kok in my pants. will someone please set it free?

    They made their father drink wine that night also, and the younger daughter went in, and lay with him: and neither then did he perceive when she lay down, nor when she rose up. So the two daughters of Lot were with child by their father. [Genesis 19:31-36]

    November 11, 2012 at 11:53 am |
    • Cuchifrito

      Interesting....Lot's daughters, intercourse out of wedlock was a crime punishable by death, and adulterous affairs punishable by the same....However, somewhere in the bible, it is said that a father is responsible to prepare his daughters for the bed of her husband.....I would say it's pretty clear what that means...

      November 11, 2012 at 11:55 am |
  6. Randy williams

    It is fascinating that Jesus jokes are discussed, but we can't even MENTION Muhammed, else the diaper-head boom-boom's come crawling out of the sewers to jihad our butts. Guess it'll take those cavemen a couple of centuries to catch up and become civilized.

    November 11, 2012 at 11:52 am |
    • Kay

      Uh...I think you just mentioned Muhammed...and I'll bet you are *not* shaking in your boots :-)

      November 11, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • Cuchifrito

      muhammed is a filthy towel head cab driver in ny

      November 11, 2012 at 11:58 am |
    • sybaris

      Randy, no one is stopping you from making muhammed jokes.

      November 11, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
  7. huge kok in my pants. will someone please set it free?

    Kill female sorcerors

    You shall not allow a woman to live who practices sorcery

    Exodus 22:18

    November 11, 2012 at 11:51 am |
  8. Blasphemy

    And in the beginning thee was darkness.

    Some like it that way and strive to keep it thus through religion.

    November 11, 2012 at 11:50 am |
  9. Suess

    the Lord is no joke

    November 11, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • Rufus T. Firefly

      That's true, jokes are funny because they have a kernel of truth.

      November 11, 2012 at 11:49 am |
    • Blasphemy

      He he he

      November 11, 2012 at 11:49 am |
    • sybaris

      which lord?

      November 11, 2012 at 11:49 am |
    • huge kok in my pants. will someone please set it free?

      allah, buddha, cows in india?

      November 11, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • Blasphemy

      Oh? I am sorry. I thought that was a joke.

      November 11, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • Randy williams

      I AGREE!!! The Lord was the BOMB on Hawaii 5-0!!!

      November 11, 2012 at 11:53 am |
  10. huge kok in my pants. will someone please set it free?

    interesting that with all of these bible teachings being posted, the kristian nuts are very quiet. I guess they can't defend these absurd, inhumane, godless writings of their own book.

    November 11, 2012 at 11:47 am |
  11. Lou

    It is nothing more that the work of the devil in the children of this world. The devil is the slanderer who slanders and opposes God. It will continue and until the end. It will get worse and will result in persecution of the children of God.

    November 11, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • John P. Tarver

      Christ defeated Satan 2000 years ago, these are the days of the sins of Man.

      November 11, 2012 at 11:48 am |
    • huge kok in my pants. will someone please set it free?

      look up what slander is. Then you will see this is not slander. It's from your own bible. OWN IT!

      November 11, 2012 at 11:48 am |
    • sybaris

      Clearly, religion and the worship of god(s) is a filthy perverted disease of the mind.

      November 11, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Well your all powerful god should do something about it then....or he is not that "all powerful"...

      November 11, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
  12. huge kok in my pants. will someone please set it free?

    Kill adulterers

    If a man commits adultery with another man's wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death. (NIV)

    Leviticus 20:10

    November 11, 2012 at 11:45 am |
    • John P. Tarver

      Jews only stoned the adultress and Christ spoke out against the practice.

      November 11, 2012 at 11:49 am |
  13. huge kok in my pants. will someone please set it free?

    Slavery is OK-

    Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves.

    Leviticus 25:44

    November 11, 2012 at 11:44 am |
    • John P. Tarver

      Endentured servatude.

      November 11, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • Kay

      No, John...there's a HUGE difference between slavery and "endentured servatude".

      Slavery is the formal ownership of another human being. Indentured servitude is a form of debt bondage in that the person works for free until a debt is paid off, and they are then free to leave.

      Stop being such an apologist.

      November 11, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      Perpetual slavery was not a part of OT culture and was considered very wrong. Christ went about claiming his final year was the Year of Jubilee, a time when all debts are forgiven and all slaves freed, once every 50 years.

      November 11, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
    • pima

      LOL. JPT tries to sugar-coat slavery – LOL.

      November 11, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      pima-the alternative to endentured servatude was usually death, right up until the second Treaty of Versailles in 1890.

      November 11, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • Kay

      Being an apologist again, eh, John?

      The Bible makes a clear distinction between Jews as slaves and members of other tribes as slaves. The fact that you want to ignore these distinctions doesn't validate your bogus claims. And, no...Jesus didn't lift a finger to free the slaves from *other* tribes. His Jubilee stuff *only* applied to Jewish slaves.

      Had you even bothered to check your Bible for the single verse you're responding to, and looked at it in context, you'd see that it says:

      "Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites harshly. (Lev. 25:44–46)"

      By the way, what on earth are you talking about when you refer to "the second Treaty of Versailles in 1890"??? There is no such thing!!!

      Please stop trying to sound well-educated. It doesn't work when you post nonsense. Speaking of which, it's still spelled "indentured servitude".

      November 11, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
  14. huge kok in my pants. will someone please set it free?

    Kill gays:

    If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.

    Leviticus 20:13

    November 11, 2012 at 11:43 am |
  15. el diablo

    NO ONE ever quotes the bible unless it's for THEIR convenience!

    November 11, 2012 at 11:41 am |
  16. Fairy tale

    Six days work shall be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on it shall be put to death.
    Exodus 35:2

    November 11, 2012 at 11:39 am |
    • John P. Tarver

      The Pharasees attempted to have Christ stoned for vilating that Law, fool.

      November 11, 2012 at 11:53 am |
  17. El Flaco

    The 'jokes' in the article are line delivered by actors and actresses. The private sector is simply using religion to make more money. These 'jokes' do not emerge from our culture; they are manufactured and focus grouped by global media corporations.

    November 11, 2012 at 11:39 am |
    • CJA

      Wrong. I hear them all the time from non-actors in real life. Also even if the intent is simply to make money the jokes would have to "work". That is the audience would have to like the jokes.

      November 11, 2012 at 11:48 am |
  18. Scott

    "One unforgettable scene in the rather forgettable recent film “21 Jump Street” may explain why Jesus has become such a joke." Jesus a joke?? Are you kidding me?

    November 11, 2012 at 11:37 am |
    • kalo

      Personally, I believe if Jesus was real and came back today he would laugh at them while cleaning people's feet. He wasn't that egotistical to not get good humor.

      November 11, 2012 at 11:39 am |
    • el diablo

      I need my kok cleaned

      November 11, 2012 at 11:40 am |
  19. ffffffuuuuuuucccccckkkkkkk

    Kill blasphemers

    One who blasphemes the name of the LORD shall be put to death; the whole congregation shall stone the blasphemer. Aliens as well as citizens, when they blaspheme the Name, shall be put to death.
    Leviticus 24:16

    November 11, 2012 at 11:35 am |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      The christian god is an asshat.....come get me f'er.

      November 11, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • Observer

      Leviticus contains nonsense. No one follows it.

      November 11, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • huge kok in my pants. will someone please set it free?

      yeah, so just pick and choose what we like, and the rest, oh well...

      November 11, 2012 at 11:49 am |
    • Rose

      Please stop quoting random bits of the Old Testament. We now have someone who's taken care of the whole dying thing. It's somewhat irrelevant now, and it has been since Jesus hung from the cross. If you're going to attempt to mock us that way, look at the New Testament, please.

      November 12, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • Rose

      Just realized that could be read the wrong way. I meant we're not being put to death for those sins anymore.

      November 12, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
  20. God's Oldest Dreamer

    Luis Wu wrote on November 11, 2012 at 11:16 am, stating, "I was raised that way as well. But when I reached my mid-teens, I began taking a great interest in science. I started thinking logically, using reason and objectivity. At that point I saw religion for what it really is, ancient mythology, nothing more."

    What just really do you know about scientific methodologies? Do you know the sustainment principles of quantum physics? Do you know anything about Fractal Cosmologies and its self-similar cosmological paradigms? Do you know whether or not there truly are two paradigms of cosmologic symmetries each one sustaining the other?

    Lettuce Love,
    Let Us Love,
    G.O.D.

    November 11, 2012 at 11:35 am |
    • sybaris

      Ooooo look gods oldest dreamer is regurgitating some junk science probably from CARM in an attempt to discredit someone else.

      November 11, 2012 at 11:45 am |
    • Observer

      God's Oldest Dreamer,

      Your pretentious comments impress no one but yourself.

      November 11, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Gods Oldest Dulusion,

      Science doesn't "know" everything...

      Religion doesn't "know" anything.

      November 11, 2012 at 11:48 am |
    • God's Oldest Dreamer

      sybaris,

      CARM – Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry I do not know of nor does my scientific points ponder the religious dogmas of Christiandom's 'parrotous' sublimations.

      November 11, 2012 at 11:55 am |
    • CJA

      The trouble is that humans for millions of years lived on the plains of Africa at the place where the grassland made a transition to forrest. We are perfectly suited to that environment. In that environment gross generalizations worked. Placing people into categories of "us" and "them" also worked. Math and logic are new human inventions and the human brain is just barely able to do math and science. In fact only some people eventually learn after years and years of training. SO things like anthropomorphic projection of nature and racism persist today and always will. It is a very unusual human who can do something truly new. Most of us only selectively copy others. It is unfair to call most people "sheep". "Human" is a better term although both species have much in common.

      November 11, 2012 at 11:59 am |
    • God's Oldest Dreamer

      CJA,

      Our coming of Age is a generational undertaking and like sheep to be sheared most folks a 'parrotously' enamoured.

      Nothing is a Foreverness and Matter, in its' infinitesimally established finiteness, is a materialized foreverness unobtainable by us, human-like megaliths called mankind. We are all giants too huge and too vast for us to ever re-enter in wholeness back into the Kingdoms of God which are inside or within our bodies. So many damningly dumb buildings of evolution's ascension into the spatial voids of outward motions sanctioned by the Godly! Too little are our intellectual abaters

      John 18:36 Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world"

      1Corinthians 3:9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, [ye are] God's building.

      Luke 17:21 Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is INSIDE you.

      November 11, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
    • Kay

      I hate it when people try to sound erudite and fail miserably. Why? Because, when they're called on it, they try even harder...and sound even more ridiculous.

      Hint, Dreamer: Stringing big words together meaninglessly does *not* make you sound deep or intelligent.

      November 11, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.