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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. chocha

    BIN LADEN WAS MURDERED. he should have stood trial!!!! His civil rights were violated!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    November 11, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      Suicide.

      No, wait – natural death by lead poisoning.

      November 11, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • Observer

      lol

      November 11, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • Rudy1947

      Poo poo. He declared war and he lost. May the Indian Ocean rot his worthless soul.

      November 11, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
  2. palintwit

    Teabaggers love the baby jesus, but they love to boink their sisters even more.

    November 11, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
  3. Brian

    If Christ came to America today He would vomit at the sight of our "Christianity."

    November 11, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • cazzo nel culo grande

      go to hell

      November 11, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
    • ATLmatt

      He would have to be real first.

      November 11, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
    • chocha

      matt: how about that kok. once won't make you gay. it says so in the bible.

      November 11, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
    • ATLmatt

      you trying to make me your boyfriend?

      November 11, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
  4. cazzo nel culo grande

    the bible teachings are filled with violence, banging, hate, and destruction. what a nice god you serve.

    November 11, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
  5. cuchi

    Exodus 21: 7

    When a man sells his daughter into slavery, she is not to go free as male slaves may.

    November 11, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
    • ATLmatt

      how fun are you at parties?

      November 11, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • cazzo nel culo grande

      ask your mama

      November 11, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • cazzo nel culo grande

      matt: how about a big juicy kok for your mouth?

      November 11, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
    • ATLmatt

      whose you offering? Cause I am sure that your little dick wouldnt be desired by anyone... except maybe for a tooth pick.

      November 11, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
  6. Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

    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.

    November 11, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
  7. Genied138

    Islam really depresses me, people with beards look scary

    November 11, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      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.

      November 11, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
  8. cuchi

    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 2:01 pm |
    • ATLmatt

      me doth think you protest too much.

      November 11, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
    • JJ

      Psalm 137:9 – Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.

      November 11, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
    • John

      Who's protesting? You one of those cherry picking cafeteria Christians who only follow the 5% of the bible you agree with? Enjoy hell.

      November 11, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • ATLmatt

      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.

      November 11, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
  9. End Religion

    The bible is filled with comedy gold!

    November 11, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
  10. cuchi

    Slavery is OK

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

    Leviticus 25:44

    November 11, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      For seven years.

      November 11, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      So, John, slavery is OK if it's for only 7 years?

      November 11, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
    • End Religion

      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.

      November 11, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      John,

      The seven years was only for Jewish slaves, the other slaves did not have have an out..

      November 11, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
  11. HaHa!

    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."

    November 11, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
    • ATLmatt

      LOL, made me chuckle.

      November 11, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
  12. Ken Colwell

    James 3:8
    but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison

    November 11, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      You are proof of that Ken.....

      November 11, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • cuchi

      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

      November 11, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • cuchi

      a tongue can also give you a great bj

      November 11, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
  13. Alicia

    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.

    November 11, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
    • ATLmatt

      Re-crucified? Well, you tell that Jesus of yours to come down off that cross because we need the wood.

      November 11, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
    • Ken Colwell

      he's dead. fairy tales anyway. and you're ugly

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

      you want my wood?

      November 11, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
    • End Religion

      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.

      November 11, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
    • ATLmatt

      Ken- Wood is no good unless you can do something with it.

      November 11, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
  14. ATLmatt

    Help control the zealot population. Please have your devout spade or neutered.

    November 11, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
  15. Ken Colwell

    James 3:6
    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.

    November 11, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
    • ATLmatt

      I bet you are fun at parties.

      November 11, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
    • Ken Colwell

      tongue on member yah

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

      Jesus loves you...but everyone else thinks you are an azz.

      November 11, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
    • Ken Colwell

      jesus gave me a big kok

      November 11, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
  16. HaHa!

    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!"

    November 11, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
  17. Ken Colwell

    James 3:5
    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!

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

      I also love kok

      November 11, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
    • Ken Colwell

      use your tongue on my member

      November 11, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
  18. Bootyfunk

    jesus was NOT all about love. here he tells slaves to obey their masters if they want any chance of getting into heaven:

    Luke 12:37-38
    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.

    November 11, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
    • God

      he is talking about coming in their mouths

      November 11, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      A christian is a bondslave of God.

      November 11, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
  19. svann

    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.

    November 11, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
    • God

      F U

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

      i'm an atheist. my favorite atheist joke:

      what does it say on atheist tombstones?
      all dressed up and no place to go.

      LOL.

      p.s.
      god does not exist.

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

      Oh noes .."I'm being attacked." XD

      November 11, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      'Picture Jesus on the cross'

      "If your happy and you know it clap your hands!"

      November 11, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
    • OTOH

      Bootyfunk,
      "all dressed up and no place to go."

      It says the same thing on believers' tombstones!

      November 11, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
  20. HaHa!

    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".

    November 11, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
    • God

      you are going to hell

      November 11, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
    • Al

      I don't always watch a team that sucks but when I do, I watch the Cowboys.

      November 11, 2012 at 1:59 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.