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.
Follow the CNN Belief Blog on Twitter
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.
CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories
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.
BIN LADEN WAS MURDERED. he should have stood trial!!!! His civil rights were violated!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
No, wait – natural death by lead poisoning.
Poo poo. He declared war and he lost. May the Indian Ocean rot his worthless soul.
Teabaggers love the baby jesus, but they love to boink their sisters even more.
If Christ came to America today He would vomit at the sight of our "Christianity."
go to hell
He would have to be real first.
matt: how about that kok. once won't make you gay. it says so in the bible.
you trying to make me your boyfriend?
the bible teachings are filled with violence, banging, hate, and destruction. what a nice god you serve.
Exodus 21: 7
When a man sells his daughter into slavery, she is not to go free as male slaves may.
how fun are you at parties?
ask your mama
matt: how about a big juicy kok for your mouth?
whose you offering? Cause I am sure that your little dick wouldnt be desired by anyone... except maybe for a tooth pick.
And it came to pass that Saint Victor was taken from this place to another place, where he was lain upon pillows of silk and made to rest himself amongst sheets of muslin and velvet. And there stro-ked was he by maidens of the Orient. Full sixteen days and nights stro-ked they him, yea verily and caress-ed him. His hair, ruf-fled they and their fingers rubbeth they in oil of olives and runneth them across all parts of his body forasmuch as to soothe him. And the soles of his feet lick-ed they and the upper parts of his thigh did they anoint with the balm of forbidden trees. And with the teeth of their mouths, nibbleth they the pointed bits at the top of his ears. Yea verily, and did their tongues thereof make themselves acquainted...with his most secret places.
For fifteen days and nights did Victor withstand these maidens, but on the sixteenth day he cried out, saying, "This...is fantastic! Oh...this is terrific!" And the Lord did hear the cry of Victor. And verily came He down and slew the maidens. And caused their cotton wool buds to blow away, and their Kleenex to be laid waste utterly. And Victor, in his anguish, cried out that the Lord was a rotten ba-stard. And the Lord sent an angel to comfort Victor for the weekend. And entered they together the jacuzzi.
Here endeth the lesson.
Islam really depresses me, people with beards look scary
Santa scares the crap out of me. Hang on – or was that Satan? I get those two imaginary beings mixed up, what with their names being so similar.
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.
me doth think you protest too much.
Psalm 137:9 – Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.
Who's protesting? You one of those cherry picking cafeteria Christians who only follow the 5% of the bible you agree with? Enjoy hell.
John, all of the fun people are going to hell. Who wants to be around a bunch of judgemental sticks in the mud with you. It may be called heaven but if you are there it will be hell.
The bible is filled with comedy gold!
Slavery is OK
Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. (NIV)
For seven years.
So, John, slavery is OK if it's for only 7 years?
tell the rest, John. You know, about the loophole, where if the slave has a wife then you keep him forever. So all they did was find wives for each slave in 7 year's time.
The seven years was only for Jewish slaves, the other slaves did not have have an out..
Two prostitutes wee riding around town with a sign on top for their car which said, "TWO PROSTITUES.........$50.00."
A police officer, seeing the sign, stopped them and told them they'd either have to remove the sign or go to jail.
Just at that time, another car passed with a sign saying, "JESUS SAVES."
They asked the cop why he let the other car go and he said, "Well, that's a little different, it pertains to religion." So the two ladies took their sign down and took off.
The following day found the same cop in the area when he noticed the two women driving around with a large sign on their car again. Figuring he had an easy bust, he began to catch up with them when he noticed the new sign which read "TWO ANGELS SEEKING PETER.......$50.00."
LOL, made me chuckle.
but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison
You are proof of that Ken.....
Women are inferior to men
A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. (NIV)
1 Timothy 2:11-12
a tongue can also give you a great bj
As a Christian, I have no problem with Jesus getting so much notoriety even if it's a discolored joke because, I know full well that he can take care of himself. At least people are talking about him haven't treated him like, say, Ron Paul who was hung in a dark corner and forgotten.
Jesus is basically being re-crucified in society and this was predicted to happen, along with his people.
Re-crucified? Well, you tell that Jesus of yours to come down off that cross because we need the wood.
he's dead. fairy tales anyway. and you're ugly
you want my wood?
All religions predict persecution so they can cry when someone tells jokes at their expense. On another note, I predicted what I would have for dinner last night by ordering it from a menu. When the waiter brought it I was not surprised to see I can predict the future.
Ken- Wood is no good unless you can do something with it.
Help control the zealot population. Please have your devout spade or neutered.
And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.
I bet you are fun at parties.
tongue on member yah
Jesus loves you...but everyone else thinks you are an azz.
jesus gave me a big kok
A man and wife attended church one evening, and the wife decided that it was time to stop her husband from sleeping in Church. So, she took her hat pin and decided she would poke him every time he fell asleep. Right about the first time he falls asleep, the preacher asks, "And who created the Universe?" The wife poked her husband and he awakes and yells, "My God!"
The second time he falls asleep, the preacher asks, "And who died on the cross for you?" She pokes her husband and he screams, "Jesus Christ!"
The third time, the Preacher asks, " And what did Eve say to Adam after she bore him his 99th son?"
The wife pokes her husband and he jumps up and yells, "By God, if you poke me with that thing one more time, I am going to break it OFF!"
So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!
I also love kok
use your tongue on my member
jesus was NOT all about love. here he tells slaves to obey their masters if they want any chance of getting into heaven:
37 "Blessed are those slaves whom the master will find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will gird himself to serve, and have them recline at the table, and will come up and wait on them.
38 "Whether he comes in the second watch, or even in the third, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.”
why would anyone worship someone that believes in slavery? disgusting.
he is talking about coming in their mouths
A christian is a bondslave of God.
You say christians are humorless about religion, but from reading these posts it seems like many atheists are just as humorless. Come on guys, lets have some real jokes. Something funny, not just attacks.
i'm an atheist. my favorite atheist joke:
what does it say on atheist tombstones?
all dressed up and no place to go.
god does not exist.
Oh noes .."I'm being attacked." XD
'Picture Jesus on the cross'
"If your happy and you know it clap your hands!"
"all dressed up and no place to go."
It says the same thing on believers' tombstones!
Q.What do the Dallas Cowboys and Billy Graham have in common?
A.They both can make 70,000 people stand up and yell "Jesus Christ".
you are going to hell
I don't always watch a team that sucks but when I do, I watch the Cowboys.
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.