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.
They don't have a choice....
Does this word "spaying " exist in your divine language. If not, why do animal lovers, secu lair, American Lucifer s, denier of truth absolute Allah, spaying their skunks? Tell me why, atheist goons.
very elegantly stated
I wonder if these young Islamist men understand that the ultimate goal is not a shoe bomb, or an underwear bomb, but the true bomb of Allah is the ass bomb.
Many cultures cannot get past their idiosyncrasies and detest the eating of their 'pets' as they do in China and other such countries. So much wasted meat being thrown away.
Someone should have spayed your mother before she conceived you.
It is obvious that Mo ham head was a liar, he said the opposite of what Jesus said, saying to seek revenge, when Jesus said to forgive. You are wasting your time bowing and praying to dirt. The gravel does not understand you.
And thus was Cindy Lou begotten and besotten and the invisible pink unicorn poked and stroked. And Jesus wept.
i bet you soil your magic panties
my invisible pink unicorn soils Cindy Lou and tells me she likes celestial showers
Cindy....Cindy....where, are you Cindy. I think I know, in the shadow of your soul, come out and say hello Cindy.
whats one thing the christopher reveves family will never see? Christopher walkin
text me magic.....lets talk
With the intelligence level that is routinely displayed on this forum, it's no wonder we elected a pathological liar to be president again. Voted into office by "useful idiots". Right out of Rules for Radicals, and they don't even know it. Sad.
was blind....i love you!
my invisible pink unicorn was blind, but now does Santa centaur style... and Jesus wept
The Jesus jokes tell us Christians are tollerant.
Not usually when it comes to gays and being pro-choice.
It's tolerant. Sigh!
Spaying is a general term used to describe the ovariohysterectomy of a female animal. Neutering is a general term used to describe the castration of a male animal. However, neutering is often used in reference to both genders. The surgical procedure, performed by a veterinarian, renders the animal incapable of reproducing. :(
Love Let Us,
Did they take your balls?
I am sorry to hear you have taken another's name. In vanity perhaps? Maybe to make a mockery of? Or could it be you just love the name itself and feel better using another's name? Just remember to take your meds tonight A.B. before you turn out your lights.I'll be watching you!
Serious issue John, the animals of our inner cosmos do us no harm, The paradigm must be changed to move the animal kingdom and the celestial place in our multi-verse to a beastacity realm of a new consciousness. :(
Move along fair Apple Bush, you knoweth not what you do. ;)
old-Multi-Universe is just another discredited notional hypothesis, once John Bell proved Probabilities to be non-deterministic; just another baeless assertion. Relativity and Quantum Mechanics, the alternative to an infinite nuimber of parallel universes, are alive and well as Theories; demonstrable and repeatable.
JPT – " Relativity and Quantum Mechanics, the alternative to an infinite nuimber of parallel universes, are alive and well as Theories; demonstrable and repeatable."
But only in this present universe, JPT. Before that, we have no idea what the nature of "before" was, therefore conjecture about it is just that.
To answer the question posed by the author(s) of this piece:
What do all those Jesus jokes tell us?
Answer: That Jesus (and every other religion) are to be laughed at.
im attracted to you in a weird way.....call me
im excited because i know you voted for romney
@Cindy Lou Who: I couldn't vote for Romney, I'm allergic to nuts.
is that why they had to take your nuts?
I am powerless against your witty repartee...
thank you for your concession
Jesus jokes tell us a simple truth...
...Jesus is/was/always will be...
be warned...obama is satan
Well done. That's the best joke so far.
thank you casual observer....can you type with only one hand?
strike that.....observer is satan
What a compliment, Observer! An idiot thinks you're Satan!
Another joke, I know but, hear me out please;
One day Jesus was walking by the pearly gates when St Peter asked him to watch the gates for a few minutes. Jesus agreed and in a few minutes he saw an old old man approach.
This man was OLD. He walked very slowly, had a halting gait, long white hair and a beard. When Jesus asked if he could help, the old man said that he was looking for his son. Jesus wanted to help but didn't think he could because there were millions of people there.
"I know I can identify him," said the old man, "because he has holes in his hands and feet!"
Jesus looks at him in shock and says, "Father? Is that you?"
The old man looks at Jesus and says, "Pinnochio?"
Why would Jesus have been a great porn star? He was so well hung.
If you are planning to be a porn star, don't forget to bring a towel!
I love christians....
Well done, with a little A-1 and a side of garlic mashed potatoes.
Dude, don't ruin a good Christian by over-cooking it and pouring on A-1. Enjoy the natural juices.
If you are going to enjoy some Christians, don't forget to bring a towel!
As food prices skyrocket in light of a drought in the US, and a gaping budget deficit leaves politicians on the defensive, one of America's largest agricultural lobby groups is going against the grain by calling for an end to direct farm subsidies.
It's a counter-intuitive policy for a lobby group to try and limit direct cash payments to its members, but Jon Doggett, spokesman for the National Corn Growers Association, said now is not the time for the US federal government to be spending $5bn per year directly subsiding corn farmers, regardless of prices or yields. :(
It is as though some of these politicians don't get that Archer Daniels Midland are Carluci's (Waste Management) partners. Of course the ethanol subsidy will continue.
I know John, it is ridiculous. :(
Even worse, we currently spend millions on anti-smoking campaigns, yet provide subsidies to tobacco farmers.
Indeed, our perplexed multi-plex finds rational policies abhorrent and renders upon us only neurtalist chaos in an otherwise heliocentrict and benign market place.
Another joke, I know, I can't help it. So...funny, I will tell you this one, Why...can't Jesus....eat Skittles? Well, it is because they keep falling, through, his hands.
"The Jesus jokes not only reveal how tangled our religious, racial, economic and political positions have become..."
Right there! It's been said. I have a suggestion; untangle them and keep them separate.
They won't. If you took a look at their positions they ALL want more involvement with politics. Not less.
Jesus saves. Satan spends!
That equates to jeebus being bad for the economy. Thank you.
But Sidney Crosby gets the rebound and sticks it in the top corner!
It's "Jesus saves, Moses invests". Atl east get the joke right!
Jesus and Moses are sitting in a boat fishing and Jesus says to Moses, "I want to do a miracle like in the good old days!" and Moses says, "Sure!"
So Jesus gets up and says, "I think I will walk on the water, that was always a good one!" So Jesus walks over to the edge of the boat stands on the water and sinks like a stone.
Moses drags Jesus back into the boat and revives him. Moses then says, "What happened?"
"I think it's the holes in my feet!" Jesus replied.
This is the best subject for Comedy... I'm rollin' and peein'...
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.