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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. Blasphemy

    Do it MY way or suffer the wrath of GOD is the root of terrorist mentality.

    November 11, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      To which our reply should be, "Well, then, let your god kill me if he wants to, but don't you go hurting or killing people for him."

      November 11, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
    • Eliminate hinduism, Atheism, Secular ism. way of animals, not human.

      Way of the hindu Jew, criminal secular, self centered atheist.

      November 11, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
  2. Eliminate hinduism, Atheism, Secular ism. way of animals, not human.

    Does this word "terrorist" exist in your divine language. If not, why do American s, secu lair, Lucifer's denier of truth absolute Allah, lock mu slims up in G I T M O? Tell me why, goons.

    November 11, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
    • Eliminate hinduism, Atheism, Secular ism. way of animals, not human.

      terrorist means nothing else but a hindu atheist, criminal self centered, secular, no one like to use it more than a hindu Jew, criminal self centered or atheist.

      November 11, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
    • Answer

      Look at the dogs bark..

      November 11, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
    • Eliminate hinduism, Atheism, Secular ism. way of animals, not human.

      perfect hindu, ignorant, one does not see a dogs bark, but hears it, like yours.

      November 11, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
    • Answer

      Woof woof

      November 11, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
  3. Judas

    Why did jesus cross the road ?

    November 11, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • Priest

      He was stapled to the Chicken

      November 11, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • HeavenSense

      Because panini's are only 8.99 today. That includes chips and a small drink.

      November 11, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
  4. God's Oldest Dreamer

    So much for the notion of a “straight” Jesus. Timothy and Philip knew the true nature of Christ, as evidenced in this passage from the Gospel of Philip, "...and our Lord came unto me and witnessed as I behaved without intimidation."

    Scholars believe this is evidence of group sexual activity, common place at this time in history among men afield. ;)

    Love Let Us,
    Love Lettuce,
    G.O.D.

    November 11, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
  5. Joker

    Ever hear about the dyslexic devil-worshiper? He held a big sign that read. "RENOUNCE YOUR DOG AND GIVE YOUR SOUL TO SANTA!"

    November 11, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
  6. Eliminate hinduism, Atheism, Secular ism. way of animals, not human.

    Open challenge to every one, CNN moderators, scholars, dumb, claiming to be of Atheist, Jewish, Christian or Muslim religion or pseudo-religion, or cult ism, Does this word "72 vir gins" exist in your divine language. If not, why do us Taliban commit suicide, exceed limit of truth absolute GAWD ? Are Muslim stupid goons?

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

      Not sure about all of them but buddy that blew himself up for 72 virgins sure is.

      November 11, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
  7. Draxta

    Nailed to the cross and in pain, Jesus looks up to the heavens and asks God; "Father, if you can hear me and it be in your will for me to be free, please, please remove the nail from my right hand." Instantly the nail pops out and falls to the floor. A stunned Jesus looks at his hand, which is now free a able to move. Jesus looks to the heavens and asks; "Now Father, please remove the nail from my left hand." And as quickly as the last one, the nail pops out of his left hand and falls to the floor as well.
    Jesus begins to lean forward, falling towards the ground. With arms swinging wildly Jesus screams; "THE FEET, THE FEET!!"

    November 11, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
  8. Eliminate hinduism, Atheism, Secular ism. way of animals, not human.

    Open challenge to every one, claiming to be of Jewish, Christian or Muslim religion, Does this word "religion" exist in divine language. If not, why do you commit hinduism, exceed limit of truth absolute GOD ?

    November 11, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
    • HeavenSense

      Yes, to my knowledge that word is in the divine language. Thank's for checking.

      November 11, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
    • Eliminate hinduism, Atheism, Secular ism. way of animals, not human.

      What is that word?

      November 11, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
    • HeavenSense

      Yes that one too. Thanks.

      November 11, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • Eliminate hinduism, Atheism, Secular ism. way of animals, not human.

      which one, ignorant

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

      The one I mentioned earlier. Thanks a bunch.

      November 11, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • Eliminate hinduism, Atheism, Secular ism. way of animals, not human.

      and I ask again which was that, Lucifers' goon.

      November 11, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
  9. Blasphemy

    In the beginning there was darkness.

    The Churches are doing their best to keep it that way.

    November 11, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
  10. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    I hope everyone got the memo.......I'm wrong. It doesn't change a thing. I feel like an idiot

    November 11, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
    • onecell

      all right!! i knew you would come around sooner or later.

      November 11, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Hi fake prayer-bot.

      November 11, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
    • John

      Good for you. You've prayed every day for two years and posting the same shit every day and no change. You finally see the light.

      November 11, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
  11. Henry

    Matthew 12:3, “For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

    November 11, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
    • Gordo

      Gordo 1:11
      The bible is a crock of nonsense. And circular references are circular.

      November 11, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      Swedish Chef 18:4 -Yorn desh born, der ritt de gitt der gue, Orn desh, dee born desh, de umn bork! bork! bork!

      November 11, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
    • GodFreeNow

      To summarize, words are WAAAAAY more important than actions. Say a magic prayer... bingo, welcome to heaven. Killed an entire family? No problem... just say the magic words and god will forgive you.

      November 11, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • Joker

      The first sign of a person becoming a fanatic is they lose their sense of humor.

      November 11, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • John

      "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit Not a nasty, dirty wet hole, filled with the ends of earth worms and an ozzy
      smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole, with nothing to sit down on or to eat; it was a hobbit hole, and that means comfort."

      From the book of Bilbo, 1:1

      November 11, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
    • sam stone

      henry: you DO know tha people cannot fear retaliation from a being in which they do not believe, don't you? let me break it down for you. your empty proxy threats are nonsense. threats indicate a weak argument

      November 11, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
    • was blind, but now I see

      Did it ever dawn on you that he is not trying to scare you? Maybe he is trying to enlighten you? Why do you always have to reply about how you are not scared. Nobody told you to be scared. Maybe you are letting your inner self slip out a bit???????

      November 11, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • sam stone

      still blind: did if ever occur to you that no one has the authority to speak for god? maybe it is YOU who is projecting?

      November 12, 2012 at 5:04 am |
  12. locutus

    jesus, allah, yahweh, etc. and the religions they represent are all a joke and a bad one at that.

    November 11, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
  13. Brampt

    “On this account I say to ​YOU, Every sort of sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the spirit will not be forgiven. For example, whoever speaks a word against the Son of man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the holy spirit, it will not be forgiven him, no, not in this system of things nor in that to come. Matt 12:31,32

    November 11, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Holy Spirit is an asshat.

      November 11, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
    • sam stone

      wow, brampt.....a quote. you don't get more convincing than that, no siree

      are you trying to be convincing or are you just preaching?

      make you feel like god, does it?

      November 11, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • was blind, but now I see

      @sam stone "wow, brampt.....a quote. you don't get more convincing than that, no siree. are you trying to be convincing or are you just preaching?"

      What are you doing????

      November 11, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
    • sam stone

      Still Blind: I am not quoting a book as if it had some authority.

      i am trying to intject reason into brampt's blatherings

      November 12, 2012 at 5:07 am |
  14. Robert

    The first comedy routine involving a satire of religion (specifically Christianity) was on "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" and would probably have been in 1968. (Of course, I assume Bill Cosby's "Noah" routine pre-dates the particular sketch I saw, but "Noah" is not really satiric toward religion.) I unfortunately do not remember the performers involved with the Smothers Brothers' sketch; I think they were guests and not part of the show's cast or group of writers. I thought the sketch, which took the form of a sermon, was funny, but I recall being shocked by it. (I WAS ten years old at the time.) Looking back on it now, I am amazed at how much the culture has changed in the intervening years. ("The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" was essentially censored into cancellation because the show's writer's had the temerity to satirize government policies and politicians. Of course, such was not the reason GIVEN by CBS.) In most ways, I think that the culture has changed for the better, but I am certain that a large but, thankfully, ever shrinking percentage of the population disagrees with me.

    November 11, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
    • God's Oldest Dreamer

      The 'overall culture' this societal globalism seems to concern many folks. It concerns many folks who so globalism with blinders on. I too am concerned whenever the news brings issues of social globalism's shortcomings leaving open for many to mull over. China is this New Age leader. The U.S.A. has for sometime been playing second fiddle where fiscal securities are concerned.

      November 11, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • God's Oldest Dreamer

      It concerns many folks who see

      November 11, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
  15. God's Oldest Dreamer

    Who can ask for a panini when many declared paninis are nothing more than ham sandwiches pressed in a George Foreman grill? In Italy, panino is the word for a sandwich made from bread other than sliced bread. The precursor appeared in a 16th-century Italian cookbook. The sandwiches became trendy in Milanese bars, called paninoteche at that time. Are we not allowed to have a panino rather than a sandwich someone crushed with a hot brick? Italian chefs knows better.

    Bon appetite! :)

    Love Let Us,
    Love Lettuce,
    G.O.D.

    November 11, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
    • God's Oldest Dreamer

      Lucifer's, atheist call a salad shooter, consti tution of America, but it is the word for a camel with bad diarrhea, ignorant Dreamer

      November 11, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • God's Oldest Dreamer

      Oh do tell! :)

      November 11, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
  16. Moe Ha Med

    Jesus Christ walks into a hotel. He hands the inkeeper three nails and asks...

    "Can you put me up for the night?"

    November 11, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • Gordo

      good one, even tho I've heard it before.

      November 11, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
    • Joker

      Three persons all claiming to be Jesus appear on the old game show, "To Tell The Truth." After being questioned and the panelists making their choices, the MC says, "Now, will the REAL Jesus please rise!"

      November 11, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
  17. Lou

    5000 yr old goat herder fairy tales have no place in humanities future. That being said I believe the bible should be taught in schools, as mythology, alone side every other religious texts the exist. Knowledge is power

    November 11, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
    • k

      Your grammar aside (alone side?) ... there is quite a good deal of knowledge one can gain from theology, philosophy, etc. Knowledge of this sort (and the power you claim comes along with it) is an illusion. And you think Catholics are the ones deluding themselves.

      November 11, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
    • Rudy1947

      A breath of fresh air. Most texts were written at a time that does not relate at all to today. Take out god, sons of god, and events, and deal with the ethical works, we will all benefit.

      November 11, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • Gordo

      Yes. Catholics are deluding themselves.

      November 11, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      I agree with Lou. Give people the unvarnished facts about the major religions – this will help even more people that all religions are mythical. ALL of them.

      November 11, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
    • John

      There is a verse set where God tells the priest to take 2 birds, kill the one in front of the other, and mix the blood of the dead one with hyssop and then dip the other bird in it then go around the room with the terrified bird. To you this seems like a barbaric made up ritual that makes no sense. But if you check, hyssop is a fungicide and it kills the fungus in the room. The terrified bird is a great way to spread the hyssop around the room... to kill the fungus. You're left with it being nonsense, others realize God was right. It's your choice, God set it up to be such... believe him, or don't, your choice.

      November 11, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
    • Answer

      "But if you check, hyssop is a fungicide and it kills the fungus in the room."

      So you need an idiotic ritual to accomplish this? Some common sense like maybe getting some leaves and paint the surfaces.. wearing a mask..

      Your god..works mysteriously. LOL

      November 11, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      John, if that's the best example you can come up with, I feel sorry for you. What a complete crock.

      November 11, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
    • was blind, but now I see

      Don't let these minions get you down, John. They are led about by the exact same spirit that demanded Barabus be released instead of Jesus. Sad.

      November 11, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
    • John

      If you bother to read and understand, you then realize that God will turn his back on people that don't want him to exist, they'll be blind to it all, obvious stuff won't be obvious... hard to understand... all kinds of stuff to trip over and reject it. You got what you wanted.

      November 11, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      @John

      Is the bird/blood/hysop song the only one you can sing, because it's not that interesting a tune, and you've played it before. It's just not evidence for any sort of god,either.

      November 11, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
    • John

      Tom, there are all kinds of things you can research, but if you don't want God to be there... you got what you wanted.

      November 11, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      It has nothing to do with "research," John. Your ridiculous tale reeks of superst ition, like most of the "proof" people like you cite. There's nothing in it that proves there's an omniscient, omnipotent sky-fairy. It's no better than any other old folktale.

      November 11, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
    • John

      Moby, it's an execellent example, easily checked, today, and it shows that God left it in a manner to be quickly dismissed as barbaric nonsense... yet actually very inventive for the time... an automatic sprayer of hyssop to kill fungus in a room. You got what you wanted though, there are all kinds of things to trip over in the bible... so if you don't want to believe God... that's your choice.

      November 11, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
    • John

      Tom, anything I do or say today, will never prove that I exist. What I typed is long gone later and you can't force anyone to believe I even talked to you, or for that matter, that God told them what to do.... what was correct to do... yet left to look like barbaric nonsense until it could be proven. No one told me about the hyssop, I figured it out, I checked... anyone can... you for instance. But if you don't want God to be there, you will trip all over the verses in the bible... and you get what you wanted. You can even write me off as never existing either... once this blog vanishes whevever the page goes away... or the server dies... data erased. And poof... I never existed either... you can't prove I exist. Oh well. But I was here, and God exists.

      November 11, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      John, you can't even manage to write a coherent sentence, much less make a cogent argument. The day you are bright enough to do so is the day I'll start to pay attention. I don't suffer fools and the uneducated gladly or otherwise.

      November 11, 2012 at 10:18 pm |
  18. Moe Ha Med

    Jesus dies and goes up to Heaven. The first thing he does is look for his father, as he has never met the man before and is curious as to what he looks like, and whether or not Jesus looks like his mother or father, etc. He looks high and low but cannot find him.

    He asks St. Peter "Where is my father?" But St. Peter says he doesn't know.

    He asks the archangel Gabriel "Where is my father?" But Gabriel doesn't know.

    He asks John the Baptist "Where is my father?" But John does not know. So he wanders Heaven, impatiently searching.

    Suddenly he sees out of the mist an old man coming toward him. The man is very old, with white hair, stooped over a little. "Stop!" Jesus yells. "Who are you?"

    "Oh, please help me, I am an old man in search of my son." Jesus is very curious. Could this be his father? "Tell me of your son, old man."

    "Oh, you would know him if you saw him. Holes in his hand where the nails used to be, he was nailed to a cross, you know..."

    "Father!!!!!" Screams Jesus.

    "Pinocchio!!!!!!!" yells the old man.

    November 11, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • Total fail.

      your joke is a total fail

      November 11, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
    • Gordo

      Your fail is a total fail.

      November 11, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
    • tallulah13

      I think this is my favorite joke so far today.

      November 11, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
  19. God's Oldest Dreamer

    So much for John 18:36 Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world". Whether the door remains open or get's closed is how I see you people who cling upon any religious Pharisees all-knowing and unaltered sublimations meant more to confuse then to enlighten. The mobs will one day tke a stand from religious aberrations.

    November 11, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • God's Oldest Dreamer

      The mobs will one day take a stand from religious aberrations.

      November 11, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • Gordo

      Religion has always been a mob thing. And the religious mobs have often been murderous.

      November 11, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
    • Brampt

      “Come, I will show you the judgment upon the great harlot who sits on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, whereas those who inhabit the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication.”
      And he says to me: “The waters that you saw, where the harlot is sitting, mean peoples and crowds and nations and tongues. And the ten horns that you saw, and the wild beast, these will hate the harlot and will make her devastated and naked, and will eat up her fleshy parts and will completely burn her with fire. For God put [it] into their hearts to carry out his thought, even to carry out [their] one thought by giving their kingdom to the wild beast, until the words of God will have been accomplished. And the woman whom you saw means the great city that has a kingdom over the kings of the earth.”
      Rev 17:1,2,15-17

      November 11, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
  20. Moe Ha Med

    What did Jesus say as he was being crucified?

    "Ahhhhhhhhhhh...!"

    November 11, 2012 at 5:11 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.