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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. JJ Morales

    "Ask God to bless those people that say bad things to you. Pray for those people that are mean to you."

    November 11, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
    • kerfluffle

      I hope you have a lot of prayers, because you're a twerp, on a global scale.

      November 11, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
    • btguy

      I pray your tire blows out at 110
      I pray you pass out drunk with your best friend and wake up with his and her tattoos

      I pray your brakes go out runnin' down a hill
      I pray a flowerpot falls from a window sill and knocks you in the head like I'd like to
      I pray your birthday comes and nobody calls
      I pray you're flyin' high when your engine stalls
      I pray all your dreams never come true
      Just know whereever you are, near or far, in your house or in your car,
      wherever you are honey, I pray for you.
      I pray for you

      November 11, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
  2. JJ Morales

    Rom 3:23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

    November 11, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
    • Jin

      Do you really think you are accomplishing something posting quotes from an old book ?

      you can quote ANY book it doesn't do magic, prove anything or do anything

      November 11, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
  3. DNC

    ..... and where does your moral compass come from? What's that, you haven't got one?

    November 11, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
    • kenneth2

      Most ethics are instinctual.

      November 11, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
    • Mark Frommelt

      Morality is a result of evolution, it's necessary for communal living. My son knows right from wrong and he's 5 and never heard of GOD. Both his parents are atheists and I would say good people, charitable and kind. Do YOU need god to provide your moral compass? Would you be a robbing, stealing murderer without your faith....I'd worry if that's the case, though I'm sure it's not.
      I'm not only an atheist, but I firmly believe that religion's true purpose is malicious. We don't require religion for morality, morality has evolved as a way of navigating the in-and-outs of collective living. Religion is contrived of men for the purpose of imposing will on other men. It's surrounded itself in a veil of inscrutability protected by the righteous indignation of the pious. Perched high above question or reproach the masses must toss aside all reason and just blindly accept the doctrine or be damned. Ridiculous...I mean just read the the downright nastiness with which many of the religious defend their faith. Wishing eternal damnation or worse on those that don't believe. Why do they need to fight so ferociously for an all-powerful god, can't he defend himself? Why does someone not believing invoke such rage in them? Religion gives humans this un-shakable sense of absolute correctness (righteousness) and we use this as a platform to outcast or destroy anyone who may think differently...with no fear of reproach, in complete moral isolation as god has already made that moral judgement for us.

      November 11, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
  4. funweddingthemes

    The author makes a point I've noticed more than once. People mock Jesus in sometimes hateful ways, but the same comments made towards, say, Buddha or Mohammed or Krishna would immediately be labelled bigotry. It seems to me that if it's bigotry when it's directed toward Islam or Buddhism or Hinduism, it's bigotry when it's directed toward Christianity.

    And some of the comments here...."idiocy"..."bronze-age, middle-eastern, genocidal deity"..."F U"...

    And yet Christians are the ones who don't think rationally? If you can't even be civil in a public forum, how are you the poster child for clear thinking? Sheeeshhh....

    November 11, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
    • kenneth2

      Yes!

      The 85% of Americans who consider themselves Christian are being persecuted by the educated elite of society, its so obvious.

      November 11, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
  5. JJ Morales

    Thank you Jesus for your unlimited grace which has saved me from my sins. I thank you Jesus that your grace never leads to license, but rather it always leads to repentance. Therefore Lord Jesus transform my life so that I may bring glory and honor to you alone and not to myself.

    Thank you Jesus for dying for me and giving me eternal life.
    Amen.

    November 11, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
    • OOO

      Yes, Thank you Jesus for taking responsibility for all my sins and wrong-doings so that I didn't have to.

      November 11, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
    • JJ Morales

      ...your grace never leads to license, but rather it always leads to repentance...

      November 11, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
    • OOO

      "Thank you Jesus for dying for me and giving me eternal life."

      and didn't he die for you to forgive all your sins?

      November 11, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
    • kenneth2

      Yes!

      A Christian can be a evil, terrible, murderous person in life, but if he repents on his deathbed, all is forgiven!

      Yay!

      November 11, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
  6. kenneth2

    Judging someone based on their beliefs is obviously always wrong since all beliefs deserve equal merit.

    Believing and worshiping in a bronze-age, middle-eastern deity and his illiterate "son" makes perfect sense and the existence of these two deities is a fact, obviously.

    Its a sign of a reasonable, healthy mind to believe these two deities created and control the universe.

    November 11, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
    • Answer

      It is the word "reason" that they can't understand.

      November 11, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
  7. JJ Morales

    Why are you all making fun of somene who is praying? I am doing nothing wrong.

    November 11, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
    • Answer

      It's fun to mock you pathetic dolts. XD

      November 11, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
    • kenneth2

      You're attempting to telepathically communicate with a bronze-age, middle-eastern deity and his son.

      November 11, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
    • JJ Morales

      I will pray for you. You need guidance and saving. you are going down the wrong road.

      November 11, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
    • kenneth2

      JJ,

      I will also pray for you, because you're latino, and your culture is backwards.

      November 11, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
    • JJ Morales

      kenneth, you are full of hate. I will pray. you hate yourself, don't you? go kneel and pray, and ask for forgiveness. It shall be granted to you, but only if you ask. don't be too proud.

      November 11, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
  8. kenneth2

    Out of the many thousands of deities to exist in the mind of humans, its so odd that many people still worship Yahweh and Jesus.

    If you're a Christian, I presume to you refer to Yahweh and his "son" Jesus, which by definition, makes you polytheistic.

    Most Christians presume the their deity can hear their thoughts telepathically (prayer).

    How do you know your deity even wants to be worshiped?

    November 11, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      Creation by the one perfect spirit, or by third rate demon? That is the older question.

      November 11, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
  9. Mt

    As christians....we lost our zeal to stand up and defend Christianity and its figures like Jesus Christ, i admire the muslim's zeal and anger when it comes to defending mohamed when there is any jokes about him, yet i don't justify killing or burning an embassy

    November 11, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
    • kenneth2

      Yes!

      Religious people need to get more angry!

      Makes perfect sense.

      November 11, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
  10. JJ Morales

    Heavenly Father, have mercy on all these people here , a bunch of sinners. I believe in you and that your word is true. I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God and that he died on the cross so that I may now have forgiveness for my sins and eternal life. I know that without you in my heart my life is meaningless.
    I believe in my heart that you, Lord God, raised Him from the dead. Please Jesus forgive these people, for every sin they have ever committed or done in their heart, please Lord Jesus forgive us all and come into our heart as our personal Lord and Savior today. I need you to be my Father and my friend.

    I give you my life and ask you to take full control from this moment on; I pray this in the name of Jesus Christ."

    Amen.

    November 11, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
    • Answer

      Yak yak yak..

      That's all I read. XD

      November 11, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
    • kenneth2

      Thank you for your prayers. I appreciate your attempts at telepathically communicating with your bronze-age, middle-eastern deity (Yahweh) and his illiterate son, Jesus.

      I'm sure your prayers make all the difference in the world.

      November 11, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
  11. hot

    212 890 1590

    November 11, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
  12. Blasphemy

    As the storm raged, the captain realized his ship was sinking fast. He called out, "Anyone here know how to pray?" One man stepped forward. "Aye, Captain, I know how to pray." "Good," said the captain, "you pray while the rest of us put on our life jackets – we're one short."

    November 11, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
    • JJ Morales

      I will pray for you so that God may spare your soul. Judgment day is coming.

      November 11, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
    • Answer

      LOL

      November 11, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
    • Blasphemy

      Judgement day is coming and JJ thinks he or she have the influence with his or her God to save or sacrifice my soul.

      And you wonder why people mock?

      November 11, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
    • A Frayed Knot

      JJ Morales,

      And we all know what a huge effort that 'praying' task is. Whattaguy! Thanks for the nice intentions, though.

      Hope it works better than those prayers for Texas rain when the dang place caught fire post haste.

      November 11, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
  13. Bertrand Russell

    I swear, the most hostile Christians in the world must all have the CNN religion blog bookmarked so they can show up at a moment's notice to mock anyone who believes any different than they do, or who doesn't believe their silly fables.

    November 11, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
    • JJ Morales

      This is our channel. I will pray for you.

      November 11, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
    • Ken

      JJ, you do that. We'll think for you, since you can't reason yourself.

      November 11, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
    • Ken

      And it's not your channel, bozo. Don't claim to own what you don't.

      November 11, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
  14. Blasphemy

    In the beginning, God created the earth and rested.

    Then God created Man and rested.

    Then God created Woman.

    Since then, neither God nor Man has rested.

    November 11, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
    • su

      tru dat

      November 11, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
    • Rodak

      "In the beginning, God created the earth and rested."

      I wonder how tired he was after making trillions of galaxies other then ours, and just where does that fit in the 7 day timeline

      November 11, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
    • su

      only 6 days. rest on the 7th. and if anyone is working on the sabbath, they must be put to death!

      November 11, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
  15. Torrence

    Hey lets go to a magic building, complete with magic statues and crosses, This helps the praying,lighting candles and robe wearing magic get to a God in the sky. Before the magic can be sent to this God you must put some money in the floating basket.

    Sound ridiculous ? because it is !

    November 11, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
    • DNC

      Only if you have no soul. I weep for you.

      November 11, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
    • Alicia

      Atheists love that word "magic". Interesting.

      I suppose believing in something they refuse to seek makes it "magic" when even magic itself isn't real. See the irony?.

      November 11, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
  16. JJ Morales

    Just because you don't believe in God doesn't mean He isn't real. You may not believe in Him, but He believes in you.

    November 11, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
    • Torrence

      That example can be used for the Easter bunny and Santa Claus to

      November 11, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
    • Bertrand Russell

      There is a bright pink celestial teapot orbiting Uranus with JJ's name on it. Really, there is.

      November 11, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
    • Gondar

      Just because you don't believe in Xenu doesn't mean He isn't real. You may not believe in Him, but He believes in you.

      November 11, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • JJ Morales

      I will pray for both of you.

      November 11, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • Rodak

      I will flip a coin for you JJ it has the same chance of a praying working

      Tales up = your brainwashed
      heads up = you have a low IQ

      November 11, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
  17. kenneth2

    A priest and a rabbi are walking past a playground.

    The priest says "Lets go screw one of those boys"

    The rabbi responds" "Out of what?"

    November 11, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
  18. Dan

    I swear, the most hostile atheists in the world must all have the CNN religion blog bookmarked so they can show up at a moment's notice to mock anyone who believes any different than they do.

    November 11, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
    • Cacca

      F U

      November 11, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
    • kenneth2

      Perhaps we mock your beliefs because they're idiotic?

      November 11, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
    • fin

      perhaps because you try to shove your beliefs down my throat

      November 11, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
    • Bertrand Russell

      I swear, the most hostile Christians in the world must all have the CNN religion blog bookmarked so they can show up at a moment's notice to mock anyone who believes any different than they do.

      November 11, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
    • Alicia

      LOL at Dan... I agree.

      Just build it and they will come... LOL, LOL.

      November 11, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
    • Ken

      Alicia, LOL all you want but you are the one who is the laughingstock with the substandard brain that can't handle modern science.

      November 11, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
  19. kenneth2

    Question: How many potatoes does it take to kill an Irishman?

    Answer: Zero

    November 11, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
  20. kenneth2

    Religion tends to be strong in under-educated, gullible people of the world.

    It would be better if these people didn't exist.

    November 11, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
    • JJ Morales

      Just because you don't believe in God doesn't mean He isn't real. You may not believe in Him, but He believes in you. And, more to the point, I have never in my life heard any clergyman (and I'm a convert to the Catholic faith, so I've known more than just Catholic ones), claim to know what is unknowable. Most of them will tell you they are humbled every day by the examples of grace and miracles to which they are witnesses. until we all meet Him ,we will never be privy to the breadth of knowledge we will possess until we are allowed into His presence. Until then, we use the knowledge He has given us as His children to determine what He wants us to do and be – in a nutshell, to love each other and Him with every ounce of our being, and to deny our selfishness which is what leads to our destruction. I know many "normal", sane priests who are just trying to be good shepherds of God's people, and lead them the best they can given their own fallen human nature. I hope and pray that whatever it is that is the manifestation of your anger toward the Church and the men who give their lives for her will be healed.

      November 11, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
    • kenneth2

      Humans must worship your bronze-age, middle-eastern, genocidal deity (Yahweh) and his illiterate son Jesus, or they'll be eternally tortured in hell.

      Nice religion you got there.

      November 11, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
    • JJ Morales

      I will pray for you and your soul.

      November 11, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
    • Bertrand Russell

      There is a bright pink celestial teapot orbiting Uranus with JJ's name on it. Really, there is one out there.

      November 11, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
    • Bertrand Russell

      There is a bright pink celestial teapot orbiting Uranus with JJ's name on it. Really, there is one out there.

      November 11, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • kenneth2

      JJ,

      Out of the many thousands of deities to exist in the mind of humans, which "god" are you referring?

      If you're a Christian, I presume to you refer to Yahweh and his "son" Jesus, which by definition, makes you polytheistic.

      Most Christians presume the their deity can hear their thoughts telepathically (prayer).

      How do you know your deity even wants to be worshiped?

      November 11, 2012 at 3:01 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.