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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. ThinkDefyUnite

    Christianity – The belief that a cosmic Jewish zombie who was his own father can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree.

    ... yeah, makes perfect sense.

    November 11, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • sickened

      You show a toddler's level understanding of Christianity. How pathetic. Do some reading about something and find out what it really says before you make idiotic comments like this.

      November 11, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
    • k33p3r

      @Sickened What part of the post is not accurate? It seems like the basic Judeo-Christian myth viewed through a slightly different cultural lens.

      November 11, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Please, sickened. I'd love to hear exactly what part of that description is wrong.

      November 11, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • ThinkDefyUnite

      @Sickened. I assure you that I have read all of it. And as you well know, this is EXACTLY how it is taught to toddlers, children, teens, adults, and everyone else, although not nearly as concise, unfortunately.

      November 11, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • UncleBenny

      Sounds like a pretty good summation to me.

      November 12, 2012 at 9:11 am |
  2. RichardSRussell

    "I have a deep, personal relationship with Jesus Christ."

    Do you gag as much as I do at hearing this pious crap?

    I've known my sister for over 6 decades. Altho I live in Madison, WI, and she lives in Denver, CO, so we only see each other every couple of years, I can tell you:
     • how tall she is.
     • what color her eyes are.
     • what color and how curly her hair is.
     • the different kinds of prescription drugs she takes, and what for.
     • which parts of her have been operated on.
     • which colleges she attended.
     • what jobs she's held.
     • what cities she's lived in.
     • what her hobbies are.
     • the names and breeds of the various dogs and cats she's had thru the years.
     • her favorite sports teams, and which one she has season tickets for.
     • the TV programs she watches regularly.
     • that it's her on the phone just from the sound of her voice.
     • her att¡tude toward eating meat.
     • whom she voted for in the last presidential election.
     • what kind of medical care she wants in case of a terminal illness.
     • her favorite color.
     • and about 50 other things.

    Now that's a personal relationship. Could any of you Bible-thumpers manage even half a dozen comparable answers about your "deep, personal friend" Jesus? And, even assuming your overwrought imagination could in fact gin up a few stabs at them, what are chances that they'd agree with any other equally deluded True Believer? OTOH, you could ask any of my sister's other good friends about the above characteristics, and they'd give you the exact same answers I would. That's because my sister, unlike your Jesus, is real — a 3-dimensional, flesh-and-blood, living, breathing, real-world human being, with a life, preferences, substance, and history.

    So, Mr. or Ms. True Believer, let's say you're walking across library mall one day, you see your good buddy Jesus in a bunch of folks ahead of you, and you holler "Hey, J, dude, wait up!". Would he?

    Let's not kid ourselves. This would never even happen because there's no way you'd be able to pick Jesus out of a crowd. Heck, you couldn't pick him out of a 1-person lineup. You wouldn't know him if he walked up to you on the street and handed you his business card. (In fact, it would tickle me pink to see your reaction if somebody actually did exactly that.)

    So we both know exactly what your claim to have a "deep, personal relationship with Jesus Christ" is. It's bullsh¡t. You know it's bullsh¡t. Everybody else knows it's bullsh¡t. The only reason you keep on repeating this bullsh¡t is because it's the slogan of the club that some con artist or charlatan has suckered you into believing you really want to be a member of. All you have to do is keep repeating the magic bullsh¡t phrase "I have a deep, personal relationship with Jesus Christ" and you can keep going to the club meetings. (Provided you keep paying the dues, too; let's not forget what's really important here.)

    But don't think that repeating that phrase is going to win you anything but contempt or possibly some degree of pity from anyone with a functioning brain. All you're really demonstrating is that you don't know diddly about real relationships or the way the real world really works. You are, in short, a pathetic dupe. And full of bullsh¡t, to boot.

    November 11, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
    • Future Mrs. Russell

      Marry me :-D

      November 11, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
    • Answer

      "I have a deep, personal relationship with Jesus Christ."

      –That is always a joke line. You've explained it well. XD

      November 11, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
    • Chris

      Do you honestly believe that believers don't know the difference between their sister and their faith? Many of the most brilliant philosophers and scientists in the world have had and continue to have a "personal relationship with Jesus". Many people have given everything they have...money, time, a life devoted to the poorest of the poor (at a rate that secular people have no hope of matching) because this "relationship". Sorry, you don't know what you are talking about.

      November 11, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • sixin

      Everything is going to be alright Mr. Russell. The anger will subside.

      November 11, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • Jimmy Joe Jim Bob

      "Do you honestly believe that believers don't know the difference between their sister and their faith?"

      They clearly do not know fantasy from reality, so it's possible.

      "Many of the most brilliant philosophers and scientists in the world have had and continue to have a "personal relationship with Jesus"."

      No, they don't. You're talking about mediocre minds, not brilliant ones.

      November 11, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • tallulah13

      I honestly believe, Chris, that you didn't answer the question.

      November 11, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
    • Chris

      @tallulah- "This (saying "hello" to Jesus across the street) would never even happen because there's no way you'd be able to pick Jesus out of a crowd." There is a question here? Ridiculous.

      November 11, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
    • tallulah13

      The question, Chris, is how can you claim to have a "deep, personal relationship with Christ" when you all you know about the guy is what was in the bible or what your pastor/priest told you?

      November 11, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
  3. Jeb

    Does anyone else find it funny that of all the people in the world, Christians seem to act the least like Christ?

    November 11, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • God's Oldest Dreamer

      Jeb,

      And which basket have you been putting your eggs in?

      November 11, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
    • Answer

      YA really.. remember that you fear god. You're going to burn. XD

      November 11, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
  4. Betty Bowers

    I gave my love to Jesus
    and now He never calls!

    November 11, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
    • John

      Jesus calls people all the time, but you'd have to be listening...

      November 11, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Jesus is like that. He takes after his dad - that guy who knocked up that nice jewish girl, then abandoned her.

      November 11, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
  5. RichardSRussell

    Why the Jesus jokes?
     
    Because Jesus is HILARIOUS!

    November 11, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
    • John

      Jesus from what the account says, was actually a nice guy that got beat to death at the end of his life, to save others. It's sad, but that's what the accounts say.

      November 11, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
    • tallulah13

      The really sad thing is that some people think it's the best thing ever that some guy got tortured to death so that they don't have to be responsible for their own actions.

      Actually, I think that's scarier than sad.

      November 11, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
  6. Jeb

    If Jesus existed, he was just flesh and blood like you and me.

    He was born like any other human being and died like one too.

    He's dead now and his followers don't abide by anything he said.

    That makes him pretty irrelevant.

    November 11, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
    • Blasphemy

      The very fact that they worship him shows that they do not listen to him.

      November 11, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
  7. Blasphemy

    If there was freedom in religion the price of redemption would be negotiable.

    November 11, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
  8. Eliminate hinduism, Atheism, Secular ism. way of animals, not human.

    To call hinduism, corruption of truth religion is a under statement, hinduism, corruption of truth is hinduism, a crime against truth absolute GOD, FOUNDATION OF EXISTENCE and HIS humanity, desire. worth not of just a joke, but elimination for peace, Islam among humanity by implementation of consti tution of truth absolute, if necessary, BY FORCE.

    November 11, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
    • Jeb

      Crazy much?

      November 11, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      What did the clock say at midnight?

      November 11, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • Eliminate hinduism, Atheism, Secular ism. way of animals, not human.

      Ya, Yo goons, Islam among human domi nation s by implementation of vio lence, if necessary, BY FORCE. BY KABOOMS.

      November 11, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • Eliminate hinduism, Atheism, Secular ism. way of animals, not human.

      Force is absolutely permitted to eliminate hinduism, criminality, according to hinduism, crime of a hindu, criminal, have no doubt about it hindu, ignorant.

      November 11, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
  9. God's Oldest Dreamer

    The long and windy roads of all religious dichotomies does tear apart some very simplified scripture verses favoring to turn a blind eye away from certain Truths such as John 18:36 Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world". Who among the devout klans of christian dumbs would dare to believe such a concept that our world is not the kingdom of Christ Jesus and never will be NEVER! Dumb Futzes and dumber klutzes are christian dumb bells ever ringing their beliefs in tandem without skipping a beat of the drummer boys.

    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?

    November 11, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
    • Rudy1947

      You have talked but have said nothing. 2nd century rhetoric does not work any more....remember latin !

      November 11, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • God's Oldest Dreamer

      Rudy1947,

      Sorry bout this but I was born into an English speaking society. Never attended latin seminaries. Way too old now and all my wordages come from the depths of a dream-state I put myself into as I chicken peck away at the keyboard. Edgar Cayce is my idol. I just adore writing in the mystical waiverings of psychotropic mind sensorium. Makes me feel good whenever I hammer home the dichotomies of asphyxia upon the unlearned and deeply stilled umbrage carriers.

      November 11, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
  10. Blasphemy

    The insecure Christians ask:

    Why is everyone picking on me?

    Because you are a clown Charlie Brown.

    November 11, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
    • John

      Charlie brown was just a regular guy. Jesus died for sins.

      November 11, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • Nope

      No, Jesus didn't die for people's sins, Mithra did.

      November 12, 2012 at 9:26 am |
  11. bosefasaurus

    I think the fact that people still think Jesus existed is a joke.

    November 11, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      That Jesus MIGHT have existed is vàguely plausible.
      The idea that he STILL exists is the joke.

      November 11, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • John

      A number of witnesses described him and what he did. Josephus mentioned him as well. A lot of the things described match up with what was going on at the time locally there.

      November 11, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • UncleBenny

      There are no eyewitness accounts. The Gospels were written long after his supposed death, and not by the apostles to whom they are attributed. The passages in Josephus that you refer to are in all likelihood forgeries by later Christian writers. The earliest New Testament writings are the letters of Paul, who never met Jesus in person, just had a mystical experience and somehow became the world's greatest expert on Jesus. None of the other" historical" references really carry any weight.

      November 12, 2012 at 9:22 am |
  12. pbernasc

    What are you guys, plain stupid?
    Jokes about Jesus are not about Jesus, they are about the culture of religious people.

    November 11, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
  13. Lilith

    Reducing religion to joke status is just another step towards its inevitable status of not being relevant enough to even laugh at.

    November 11, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
    • PIPThewonderDOG

      It was always a joke, just more people are getting it now

      Candles, Rituals, Robes, Praying, Talking Animals = Very funny stuff

      November 11, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      Catholics just elected a President, siilly screech owl.

      November 11, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
    • Answer

      -quote–
      John P. Tarver

      Catholics just elected a President, siilly screech owl.
      –end–

      Sure. Women didn't count nor did the Latinos...
      People have access to the data, but the liars are once again the religious twits.

      November 11, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      Ans-It is the Catholics that were in play and CNN played them well.

      November 11, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
    • Answer

      @John

      Sure.. sure.

      You can have all the illusions you want. Adding this one on top of whatever you already hold isn't anything new.

      November 11, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
    • Blasphemy

      "but the liars are once again the religious twits."

      And they become more and more obvious about it. Which is why they become more and more insecure about it.

      A vicious cycle

      November 11, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • Observer

      John P. Tarver,

      Is that the same CNN that Republicans insist no one watches?

      November 11, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
  14. Blasphemy

    Today in church the Priest was really fired up.

    He had the congregation on the edge of their seats and reaching for their check books when this flatulent Farmer let loose with a big one.

    The stench emptied out that Church as people got trampled and pews were over turned in the haste.

    I have heard of Weapons of Mass destruction but that is the first time I ever saw one used.

    November 11, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
  15. GorlakTheINvader

    Good, Goooood, most of these silly humans still think rituals and magic exists, they will be easy prey

    November 11, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
    • John

      t's not magic or rituals, it's that people believe God, the one that created everything.

      November 11, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
  16. The Dude

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9eqKb5ViN_Q&w=640&h=390]

    November 11, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
    • mark

      this is the best one yet!!!!!!!!!!!!!! thanks for posting !

      November 11, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
  17. t3chn0ph0b3

    Does my plastic Ecce H0m0 count as a Jesus joke?

    November 11, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
  18. HenryMiller

    The question isn't why Jesus has become a punchline, the question is why anyone still takes religion seriously.

    November 11, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
    • Ken

      Exactly, Henry.

      November 11, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
  19. Atheism is freedom

    Live above the influence, step back and break the chains of your indoctrination and live free.

    November 11, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
  20. macleod77

    In 2004, the world could not believe that the Red Sox won the World Series. People in Chicago were fabbergasted. In 2005, the White Sox won the World Series, and the Cubs fans were distraught. How could this happen? Many a Cubs fan found themselves in church praying, "God will the Cubs ever win the World Series?"

    God looked down at the Cubs fan and replied, "Certainly.....just not in my lifetime!"

    November 11, 2012 at 3:51 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.