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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 • My Take • Opinion

soundoff (5,750 Responses)
  1. TheBdl1978

    If you want to hear some good Jesus jokes then go to any church on sunday. There will be a comedian in a white collar up on a stage telling crazy jokes like the one about the 900 year old man and the one about a talking snake and so forth. Solid material

    November 11, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
  2. MagicPanties

    elves 4: 51
    And then did Ken seek the zephyr window, and Zeus did strike him. And Jesus wept.

    November 11, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
  3. Buddhist

    All of the world religions are the kinder garden of Buddhism and enlightenment, I dare you to do your research

    November 11, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      Buddists don't care about God, but thanks for playing.

      November 11, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
    • End Religion

      ah, i smell more "only i know the one true way" bullshit

      November 11, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
  4. Ken Colwell

    Romans 14:11
    for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.”

    November 11, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
    • OTOH

      Ken C,

      That sounds much more like something that your "Satan" character would say.

      November 11, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
  5. Cain

    "You should read your Bible, sirs! You'll find all kinds of crazy s**t in there! Like did you know Jesus was a Jew??"

    ~ Clerks 2

    November 11, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
  6. MagicPanties

    loch ness 6: 32
    And so it came to be that Ken did stick the unicorn's horn where the sun don't shine. And Jesus wept.

    November 11, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
  7. HaHa!

    Why do girls love Jesus?

    They know he'll come again.

    November 11, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
    • Answer

      LOL

      November 11, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
    • Kathleen

      That's why the boys love him too. Jesus spent all his time on earth in the company of young men.

      November 11, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      Because he's hung like "this"?

      November 11, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
  8. Ken Colwell

    Psalm 34:13
    Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit..

    November 11, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
    • Answer

      Haha.. you're resorting to repeating them. XD

      November 11, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
    • Jesus

      Peter, place your mouth and tongue upon my massive cock.

      November 11, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      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.

      November 11, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
    • End Religion

      How about if you be a good christian and keep your tongue from speaking at all?

      November 11, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
  9. yeahItsMe72

    I think after getting inundated with people who believe in Religion, it's just natural to respond and make some jokes about it.

    Most of us quietly endure the insanity of Religion by peacefully letting those 'infected' by it pretend that it's real. So a little joke let's the normal majority let out a polite laugh before we go back to tolerating.

    November 11, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
    • HeavenSense

      @yeahItsMe72

      People don't "believe" in religion. Religion exists, no one doubts this.

      November 11, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
    • Rudy1947

      That's brilliant..'religion exists'. We all know this and there in lies the problems. Do we listen to 2nd century rhetoric or look and respond to 21st century issues with 21st century answers.

      November 11, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
    • Rose

      Yes, Rudy, we do use 2nd century rhetoric. I'm a student at Centre College and one of the first-year requirements is reading Niomachean Ethics and Crito and Apologie and many other extremely old works. We then apply them to the 21st century. It's called learning to think. Works well with the Bible too ; )
      God Bless

      November 12, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
  10. Joe george

    Whoever makes fun or jokes of our Jesus will be SEVERELY PUNISHED. Jesus has the power to destroy you and also has good heart to forgive. So please don not underestimate our Jesus the Savior.

    November 11, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      Oh, CRAP! Now I'm scared! Wait a sec – what's that, Scoobie? That's not all-powerful Jesus – that's just old man Smithers in a Jesus mask?

      November 11, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
    • Answer

      So does Zeus.. but where is Zeus in the 21st century? lol

      November 11, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
    • Joe george

      And I would have gotten away with it too, if not for you meddling kids!

      November 11, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
    • End Religion

      Hey Joe, to put it politely, fuck you and Jesus on a stick!

      November 11, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
    • Kathleen

      Jesus sounds like an insecure whiny lilttle schoolboy.
      You sure you wanna worship such a loser?

      November 11, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
  11. hindu filthy dipping ism

    word fondu is based on Latin word dippity doo, hot gooey, chips, great, chip dip, to be in greatness, pita chip, to be creamy to both of them, fondu, a noun in yummy, fonduism, way of yumminess.

    Visit dippingisfun.com to learn about fonduism, deliciousnessity of fondu's, deliciousness to impose fonduism, veggie dipping on humanity by fonduism, cheese skin of truth absolute by dipper. Be a dipper, not a fondu, lactose intolerant like a fondu, double dipper.

    November 11, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
  12. hindu filthy plant ism

    According to book of potted plants Fern sim, sun light ism, Green thumb, seed labels, potted plants oxygen loving Fertilizer sprouted in to new blooms else on front of tree parasite, at last rainfall Fertilizer looked at Sun lamp and smiled and growth was answered by Sun lamp, Fertilizer kissed soil, Fertilizer turned in to Sun lamp, and Sun lamp turned in to Fertilizer, ONE ON windlow shelf WAS NOT FERTILIZER BUT SUN LAMP, EVERY potted plants, hippie follower of potted plants Fern ism, sun light ism waters to as his Fern, sun light man potted plant. Visit GreenThumb.com to learn potted plantsism, partial light of grow lamp absolute plant food, by potted plants parasites.

    November 11, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
  13. HaHa!

    "Hot Cross Buns" was actually the name of Jesus' first aerobics DVD.

    November 11, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
  14. Bazooka Barfing

    Colwell And Braendlein back to back, I couldn't hold my brunch down.

    November 11, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
  15. hindu filthy crying ism

    Closing window to awful sounds of crying babies Barking dogs ism, ambulance noise pollution ism, Nobody cares neighbor ism, open windows, crying babies emergency noise ism Damn fire trucks sirens louder ism in to neighbor one else on front of his main street, at last holidays fire trucks looked at HOME OFFICE and wailed and same was answered by HOME OFFICE, Damn fire trucks spewing water on ash, Damn fire trucks turned in to HOME OFFICE, and HOME OFFICE turned in to Damn fire trucks, ONE ON corner WAS NOT DAMN FIRE TRUCKS BUT HOME OFFICE, EVERY crying babies, puppy follower of crying babies Barking dogs ism, ambulance noise pollution ism making noises to as his Barking dogs, ambulance noise pollution man dog. Visit TurnOffTheNoise.com to learn crying babiesism, denial of noixe absolute chaos, by crying babies noise ism.

    November 11, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
  16. HaHa!

    A drunk stammers out of a bar and runs into two priests. He runs up to them and says, "I'm Jesus Christ."
    The first priest says, "No, son, I'm Jesus Christ."
    So the drunk says it to the second priest.
    The second priest replies, "No, son, I'm Jesus Christ."
    The drunk says, "Look, I can prove it." and walks back into the bar with the priests.
    The bartender takes on look at the drunk and exclaims, "Jesus Christ, you're here again?"

    November 11, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
  17. Alan

    Many of the stories have flaws like making world or universe in 6 days, where is gods photo or even depiction.

    November 11, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      If we change the translation from 6 days to 6 eras the story looks a lot like the global geological record; each mass extinction seperated by a layer of Ir24.

      November 11, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      John, the writers meant Genisis to be taken literally, if you change the tranlation of course you can make it mean anything you want.

      November 11, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      Blessed-My favorite bible was translated by a Dutch printer named John Wesley, but I have already pointed out translation errors in his book. Hebrew was written with no vowels and the choice of vowels changes the meaning of the word. I have no problem whatsoever with the notion that day should be translated as era. It is the NIV believer that must have exact adhearance to the words, as their translation is from different texts from the one Jews and many Christians derive their understanding of Church history from.

      November 11, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      John,

      Some errors were intentional, others were accidents, all point to the conclusion the bible is man made and not divine in orgin. I admit that there could be a god, but the chistian god is absurd.

      November 11, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Seven days or seven ages, there is still no proof that any god exists.

      November 11, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      Blessed-The absurd part is the Jesus they sell at chuch is not even the same one that is in the bible. The evangelical chuch is about profits from publishing and the catholics seem rotten at the core.

      November 11, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      John,

      Any version of Jesus that claims divinity is absurd.

      November 11, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
  18. keyser

    What they tell me is that most people see through this nonsense.

    November 11, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
    • cwrighta70

      Actually, the number of people who believe in Jesus or profess to be a Christian or religious in general outnumbers those who don't. The fact that the bible has proven time and again to be filled with truth, corroborated by archaeological discoveries, historians, etc, shows that this Jesus stuff is not "nonsense". The fact is there is a man named Jesus who loves you no matter what you do. The bible tells us that all he wants is for you to believe in him and seek him. The last thing he wants is to condemn you. He'll never tell you that you're not doing a good job or that you're failing. He wants to give you a hug and accept you with open arms! So if you read the bible with an open mind and an open heart, I think you will find something truly amazing.

      November 11, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      Something truly amazing – like that bats are birds? That rabbits chew their cud? How do you reconcile that with your supposed truths? It's simply a collection of books written by people, for people, and used to manipulate people who are gullible enough to believe it.

      November 11, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
    • Answer

      @cwrighta70

      You base your argument on the number of people who believe it? That's funny.

      November 11, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
    • End Religion

      cw, the people who've "proven" anything about the bible's authenticity are those who seek through circular argument to use its existence to prove its existence. All religion is a fraud. You don't need it to just be a nice person and do good things. All that's left after that is that you need it as a security blanket, and then it's apparent enough it's all a game.

      November 11, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
    • OTOH

      cwrighta,

      The population of the world at present is a bit over 7 billion.
      There are approximately 2.1 billion Christians, which is around 33 per cent.

      http://chartsbin.com/view/3nr
      http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0904108.html

      You have had over 2,000 years to convince people of your "truths". You have not.
      It probably took less than 50 years for the laws of gravity to be accepted world-wide - as well as tons of other real concepts. You pretty much get a "fail" here.

      November 11, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
  19. Alan

    Reality is Jesus was a good guy whose name is now used to guide people.

    November 11, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
    • Answer

      Mankind has always employed good stories to pass on lessons to their children. It's the zealots that believe the whole illusion that are a pain to real progress.

      November 11, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Reality is Jesus did not have an original idea in his head and christians use the claims of Parlor tricks to "prove" divinity. It is not that he may not have been a good guy, that does not make him god.

      November 11, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
    • Izzy

      You mean to tell me that with 5,000 magic fish bones at their disposal, no Jewish guy picked them up to sell them as souvenirs and relics?! Oy!

      November 11, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
    • Kathleen

      Actually, Jesus is a mythical figure created by his followers to peddle their product.
      He's basically the religious version of Aunt Jemima or Betty Crocker.

      November 11, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
  20. Ken Colwell

    Proverbs 15:2
    The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly.

    November 11, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
    • Answer

      Hey nut.. why'd you stop?

      Don't tell me... you ran out? :P

      November 11, 2012 at 1:38 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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.