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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. jamelle

    666

    November 11, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
    • God's Oldest Dreamer

      et al,

      A scattering is upon us in these trying days and Age. Leave your wantings behind and never take wind of one's longings for the weightiness of one's longings will smite even the most influential. Carry away nothing and leave. Head to the places inside one's being and do not keep ajar your door for many will want to enter in and should not. Your loving this Life is for the world to have and you should not heed the rumors from others as to just what is truly right. It is therefore best for mankind to simmer in their juvenile pottages never rationalizingly 'assaying' one's diffuse detriments, the very smallest of life's grains. As smitten breeds, our splendors reveal one's characters to be traitorous to one's analogous fold. Where then does Life end and living begin?

      Who before this day's Age is found worthy of Goodly praises? Who after us will find peace set before them? Who in today;s timeline is this "son of man" that many should fear him for his worthiness stance? Who above can see the below? Who that is below can see what be above? From the very smallest crevice to the most high chasms, the Sea of Nothingness is the Holy Spirit. May the elemental Gods find favor in this found son of man that he may not be afflicted with this world's power but rather he should carry upon him the angst from his manhood till his natural death.

      November 11, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
  2. biggie

    All you non believers will burn in hell, for ETERNITY.

    November 11, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
    • JJ Morales

      Yes, worship Yahweh and Jesus or be eternally tortured!

      The love you so much, they demand to be worshipped properly.

      November 11, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
    • palintwit

      You are hilarious!

      November 11, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
    • Answer

      What keeps the flames going? lol

      November 11, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Threats of eternal punishment betray a weak argument.

      November 11, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
    • biggie

      the bodies of non believers keeps the flames roaring at an even 2200 degrees.

      November 11, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
    • Martin

      Wait which hell are we talking about? from what religion?

      November 11, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
    • Christo

      so all the well-behaved Hindu, Muslim, Africans, and Chinese which out number the Christians all will burn in hell for eternity because they never believed? Wow, not sure I want a God that selective. Get out of the dark ages man.

      November 11, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
    • Sizzling Flesh

      Hail Mary full of grace, please don't let the smell of burning flesh reach my face.

      November 11, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
  3. ThinkDefyUnite

    A bible and god that advocates slavery, genocide, murder, child abuse and hatred.
    The Inquisition.
    The Crusades.
    Salem witch hunts.
    Persecution of Galileo and countless others for daring to espouse scientific facts.
    Church-sanctioned child molestation.
    Rejects marriage for priests, yet defines marriage for the masses.
    Anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-science.
    2000 years of lies and manipulation.
    Leader lives in palace in own country surrounded by gold, marble, and priceless artwork.
    Pays no taxes yet is a major land and property owner.

    Nice "religion" you got there...

    How do catholics defend such behavior? It must be the will of god, right?

    November 11, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
    • Anonymous

      They dont think they only preach what someone told them

      November 11, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
  4. FedUpwithLA

    Ha, ha! Very funny. Laughing all the way to Hell . . .

    November 11, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
  5. JJ Morales

    I've often considered going the priesthood, the percentage of gay men in the Catholic clergy must be as high as any gay bar in San Francisco.

    November 11, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
    • Kenneth

      F U FA GG OTT

      November 11, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
    • JJ Morales

      Jesus was gay, and I worship him, and I want Jesus inside me, so I must be gay too.

      November 11, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
  6. JJ The Morly MOrlas Bible Thumpa

    I dont have a life so i post bible passages all day on cnn to feels impotant, and it helps me keep my mind off the abuse as a child i went through which vindicates my religious crutch, kinda like a drug addict.

    November 11, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
    • JJ Morales

      no, my friend. it does not make me feel important. I feel like fighting the likes of you. you are on a religious chat board and you are full of hate. I will pray for you.

      And no, there was no abuse either.

      November 11, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
    • JJ Morales

      PS – Btw, I was abused by a priest as a teenager, but is it really "abuse" if I enjoyed it?

      November 11, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
    • JJ The Morly MOrlas Bible Thumpa

      I have no hate only humor, but a nice holy person like you assumed hate from start ? wow

      November 11, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
    • Jin

      Most people who went through some form of abuse are in denial about it. and fall onto magic to make it make sense for them

      November 11, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
  7. JJ Morales

    I love watching priests wear their dresses and fab-u-lous hats on sundays, I often imagine how these men look naked.

    November 11, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
    • JJ Morales

      you seem to be mentally ill.

      November 11, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • JJ The Morly MOrlas Bible Thumpa

      Talking to ones self is a sign of being crazy

      November 11, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
    • JJ Morales 1

      Some thief stole my name

      November 11, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
  8. allah

    jesus the false prophet –
    "For assuredly, I say to you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the son of man comes." (Matt. 10:23)

    Jesus' speech here in Matthew that often goes unnoticed. He is giving instructions to his twelve apostles to go out and start preaching, which they immediately do in the next chapter (Matt. 11:1). The son of man is Jesus, of course, and his coming spells the end of the world (see Mark 13:24-27 for details: the sun and moon darkening, the stars all falling, etc.). Does anyone really think that Christian missionaries haven't gone through all the cities of Israel yet? And if Jesus really did say it, why didn't the world end around the year 30? No matter how one tries to twist this verse into something else, the fact remains that this prophecy of Jesus just doesn't hold up. i.e. false prophet.

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

    I've always struggled with my lust for young boys, but luckly, through prayer and the Catholic Church, I hope to meet some priests who will introduce me to alter boys.

    Catholic priests are some the most experienced child-molesters in the world, thats why I joined the Catholic Church.

    November 11, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
    • Answer

      –quote–
      JJ Morales

      This is our channel. I will pray for you.
      –end–

      That statement says it all. Full of laughs in there. XD

      And you still wonder why you cretins are laughed at?

      November 11, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
    • Answer

      –quote–
      JJ Morales

      no, they are prayers to God.

      –end–

      Another funny one, but which god? lol

      November 11, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
  10. Patrick

    Lord Jesus, please help me when people at work turn me in for being sick and can't do a job. I try to excel in other areas at work, like lunch. I don't want revenge at all. If it's for me to have my job ,I AM TRULY BLESSED but if I lose my job I know there's a reason. Please give me peace.

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

    I say to you people that are listening to me, love your enemies. Do good to those people that hate you. 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 3:15 pm |
    • JJ Morales

      And by jove, learn science not fantasy !

      November 11, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
    • JJ Abrams

      This would make a good tv show, about the brainwashed bible thumbers

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

      you cannot silence God's word, or the words of His believers. You can kill me, and 100 more will take my place, and scream even louder. We will not be silenced.

      November 11, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
    • JJ Abrams

      "you cannot silence God's word, or the words of His believers. You can kill me, and 100 more will take my place, and scream even louder. We will not be silenced."

      Allrighty then, crackpot alert !

      November 11, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
    • Rudy1947

      JJ take a break. I think you are on overload. Us non-believers will be back next Sunday. I do not say this from malice.

      November 11, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
  12. JJ Morales

    Vacinni: INCONCEIVABLE !

    November 11, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
  13. JJ Morales

    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 3:14 pm |
    • bob

      You want me to kneel ? sounds like picking up soap in prison

      November 11, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
  14. kenneth2

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

    What a religion!

    November 11, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      Harlots and Publicans were the only ones in repentance, even in christ's time.

      November 11, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
    • Alicia

      So, that means he might even forgive you!!

      November 11, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
    • CatSh

      Only if he truly repent. In my experience, evil, hateful, murderous people die evil, hateful, and murderous.

      November 11, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      I expect to meet more Hell's Angels in heaven than Pastors.

      November 11, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
  15. JJ Morales

    Ben Kenobi: use the force luke !

    November 11, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
  16. JJ Morales

    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.

    November 11, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
    • JJ Morales

      you can steal my name, but you cannot steal my faith.

      November 11, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
    • JJ Morales

      I see said the blind man

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

      as he picked up his hammer and saw?

      November 11, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
  17. Blasphemy

    Churches don't understand that a man's character is like a fence.

    It cannot be strengthened by whitewash.

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

    Father, I know of several people who do not wish me well. They love it when I stumble. They rejoice when I hurt. They delight in my failures. Father, I first ask that they can come to know Jesus and have your Spirit minister to their deepest hurts and transform them into your children. Give me strength as I seek your presence so that you can bless them. Help me release all vindictiveness, desires for vengeance, and cultivated bitterness and malice.

    In Jesus' name I pray.

    Amen.

    November 11, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
    • Nug

      You do realize even people who go to church would think someone posting bible rants on cnn would be crazy right ?

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

      these are not bible rants. They are prayers. when was the last time you prayed. A long time it seems.

      November 11, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
    • kerfluffle

      no, they are definitely bible rants...

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

      no, they are prayers to God.

      November 11, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
    • CatSh

      JJ, you shouldn't pray publicly like a Pharisee. You are too proud displaying you religion.

      November 11, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
  19. randall

    spin it however you want mr. educated writer, but anyone who has open eyes knows that the reason for the jokes and other "fun" poking is the normal view of most americans that hate anyone who stands for anything. tolerance my backside! the question and story that a real journalist should be asking is "why no Islam jokes" or "why Islam get's a free pass". you know, how most americans are big mouts with elastic backs. cowards you are......and you know it.

    November 11, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
  20. Blasphemy

    Little Johnny's new baby brother was screaming up a storm.

    Johnny asked his mom, “Where did he come from?”

    “He came from heaven, Johnny.”

    Johnny responded: “Wow! I can see why they threw him out!”

    November 11, 2012 at 3:07 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.