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.
Mock Muhammad and the popes with the abandon with which you mock Jesus, probably a distorted image of Jesus which exists only in your bent brain.
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!
Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment.
hence your momentary post
Nah. Lies persist as long as people want to believe them.
For though they sayeth things and stuff, they meaneth stuff and things.
There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
It's a long road to 5000. XD
The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom, but the perverse tongue will be cut off.
Ken, the last bit sounds like your Christian god being a vicious berk as usual, and trashing free speech. As someone else here said, a human court would convict your god of human rights abuses, no contest.
Thanks to pizza chefism, greasy-ism of pepperoni thin crust folded, fork eating of deep dish red sauce ANCHOVIES, east coast and their pizza chef ism copy cat pizza chef Anthony, By the slice have lost meanings of traditional crust and alfredo of By the slice, ANCHOVIES, The deep dish red sauce, traditional crust and alfredo of Sappo filthy mall pizza. They hand toss the pie, but on their own pizza chef ism, ignorance. Visit bestpizzapie.com to learn meaning's of Word ANCHOVIES, deep dish red sauce, by the slice and the world ism.
I can cure the lame. I can cure the blind. I can even cure lepers. But there’s no cure for stupid.
The tongue of the righteous is choice silver; the heart of the wicked is of little worth.
As usual, a shallow and worthless proverb dumbed on us by Ken. Beyond saying what is already obvious (doing bad stuff is bad), it fails to consider all the silver-tongued con artists in our midsts.
*dumped* on us
Mock Muhammad, Jewish leaders and the popes with the abandon with which you mock Jesus, probably a distorted image of Jesus which exist only in your bent brain.
I love Israel and the ordinary Jews; its only that their religious leaders tell them lies about the Old Testament.
My invisible pink unicorn says Rainer is the 2nd coming of Jesus.
The only thing useful about Rainer is his use of the word "rain".
I tire of Christians telling me what they believe and why they believe it. Good for you...now keep your personal beliefs to yourself.
How is it different from a science teacher evangelizing the myth of evolution as a means to species and reading the Lord's Prayer in the morning at school; as a matter of seperation of Church and State?
Because, John, there is an overwhelming mountain of scientific evidence supporting evolution, whereas there is NO EVIDENCE WHATSOEVER – NONE – supporting the existence of a god.
haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood,
They make their tongue sharp as a serpent's, and under their lips is the venom of asps.
John 18:36 Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world" WAKE UP DABNABIT KEN! OUR world is not of God's Kingdoms! Dumb futzes
Q: Why can't Jesus play hockey?
A: He keeps getting nailed to the boards.
Mock Muhammad and the popes with the abandon with which you mock Jesus, probably a distorted image of Jesus which exist only in your bent brain.
They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue struts through the earth.
Hey Christians, I hear ya. We members of the Flat Earth Society get laughed at and ridiculed all the time too by all those
smarty pants know it all types. Those "rational" demon possessed science lovers with their demand of evidence, etc. Just ignore them. They'll find out one day that we're right when they are out for a walk one day and fall off the edge of the Earth. Then we'll see who's laughing.
"A little science estranges man from God. A lot of science brings him back"
What does that mean? Religion is scientific? More scientific investigation will lead to the substantiation of what is little more than legend? Ridiculous.
Your tongue plots destruction, like a sharp razor, you worker of deceit.
Wombats 13:24: And the Lord looked down upon the Earth, and saw that it was good.
Wombats 13:25: But then an Angel of the Lord handed the Lord his bifocals, saying upto the Lord, Look, my Lord, upon the CNN Belief Blog Comment section. And lo, the Lord looked upon the comments section, and thereunder he saw the postings of Kenneth of Colwell
Wombats 13:26: And the Lord said onto the angel, as Jesus Christ is my only begotten son, i now say, Jesus Christ! Won't that Kenneth fellow shut the Hell up? And the Lord turned Kenneth of Colwell into an A-ss, saying onto him, Now your words are like so much braying, so time to give it a rest.
Wombats 13:27: And Kenneth of Colwell looked unto the face of the Lord, which was wrought with wrath, and he did say, Good thing you're imaginary, or I'd really be up the creek. Now, back to my inane prattling.
Wombats 13:28: And the Lord, in his imaginariness, could do little but look on.
Thus endith the lesson.
Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit.
May the LORD cut off all flattering lips, the tongue that makes great boasts,
"the tongue that makes great boasts"
... such as you, Bible boy.
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.