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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. Froggie

    For those who want the real explanation...

    http://www.wordonfire.org/WOF-TV/Commentaries-New/Fr–Barron-comments-on-Scientism-and-God-s-Existen.aspx

    November 11, 2012 at 9:51 pm |
  2. fred

    Why are there no jokes about Islam?

    Because the punch line is too long.

    November 11, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
    • John

      Because it's not the cult that's trying to take over the US government.

      November 11, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
    • Mohammad A Dar

      no your a chicken to come out of your mama's basement and say it loud publicly, you know damn well they will blow your head off. Ha ha ha. coward.

      November 11, 2012 at 10:08 pm |
  3. fred

    Why do women love Jesus? He's hung like THIS (stretch out arms)

    November 11, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
    • Mohammad A Dar

      and you stop searching Google for Jesus jokes, Taliban, go back to Pakistan or wherever you come from.

      November 11, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
  4. Mohammad A Dar

    Ahmed, Achmed, Ackmed, all Mo followers are out in force again, playing Jesus-Bashing game, while demanding tolerance, BY FORCE, for movies, koran burning. how typical? correction, how pathetic?

    November 11, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
    • fred

      STFU towel head

      November 11, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
    • godisfake

      All your gods are fake. When you die, you'll just die. There's no heaven, and all the misery you've spread will have been for nothing. There's no reward or punishment, you're just a terrible excuse for a human being. That's it.

      November 11, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
    • Mohammad A Dar

      if god is fake, your free to believe it, no reason to force your belief on someone.

      November 11, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
  5. fred

    Why wasn't Christ born in Mexico?
    Because they couldn't find three wise men and a virgin!

    November 11, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
  6. Chris

    @ catholic soldier wiping out Indians ain't very religious

    November 11, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
    • jemzinthekop

      Or the witch hunt, inquisition, crusades, or the papal blind eye to the holocaust.

      November 11, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
    • Catholic Soldier

      indians????? the CC didn't do anything to the indians. For the past 2000 years the CC has been the most charitable organization donating the most time and dollars to fight poverty in this world– more than any other country or organization!! Have there been mistakes made– sure, just like any other country/organization, and a past pope apologized for the inquisition and other actions of anti-popes.

      November 11, 2012 at 9:51 pm |
    • Catholic Soldier

      and by the way– Mother Theresa was awarded for her service to Indian people....

      November 11, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
    • godisfake

      The Catholic stranglehold over indigenous Latin America, to the point where Bishops were appointed as civic authorities and brutally presided over Native populations' "re-education" into Christian ways? That's pretty much arguable as a genocide, buddy.

      Entire civilizations' cultures fell to Catholic massacres and cultural genocide. Out of hundreds of thousands, we have a handful of Mayan books left, for example - they're the ones that managed to escape the religious purge of "heathen" learning.

      Your Church has a funny definition of "charity."

      November 11, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
    • Catholic Soldier

      Check your sources for south/central america– the spanish monarchy was resposible. Perhaps to the surprise of many on this site–Nowhere in the Catholic magisterial teaching is genocide permitted. Were there anti-popes and others who messed up– Yes. Were apologies issued–Yes.

      November 11, 2012 at 10:22 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Goshers, I'm sure those apologies HELPED A WHOLE LOT.

      November 11, 2012 at 10:24 pm |
  7. fred

    What's the difference between physical Jesus and a picture of Jesus?

    It only takes one nail to hang the picture!

    November 11, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
  8. God's Oldest Dreamer

    Piano tuning is mechanically simple but difficult to master. Turning pins and listening may not seem complicated, but professionals spend a career perfecting their piano tuning skills. You must work slowly. You are probably not going to tune a piano to perfection any time soon. But why not get started?! :)

    Lettuce Let us, G.O.D.

    November 11, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
  9. fred

    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.

    November 11, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
  10. Catholic Soldier

    Our country has freedom of religion and was founded on religious edicts– If you'all don't like it you have the freedom to move out. Period!

    November 11, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
    • fred

      Top Ten Reasons That Beer Is Better Than Jesus:-
      1) No one will kill you for not drinking beer.
      2) Beer doesn't tell you how or who to bang.
      3) They don't force beer on minors who cannot think for themselves.
      4) Beer has never caused a major war.
      5) When you have a beer you don't knock on people's doors trying to give it away.
      6) Nobody has ever been burned at the stake, hanged or tortured over a beer.
      7) You don't have to wait 2000 years for a second beer.
      8)There are laws saying beer labels cannot lie to you.
      9) You can prove you have a beer.
      10) If you are devoted to beer then there are groups who can help you stop.

      November 11, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      We have the freedom to speak out against whatever we please. I'll stay where I am and speak out against the religion of the corpse-on-a-stick, his "virgin" mother, and the strange celibate men and their load of bullshit.

      November 11, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
    • jemzinthekop

      People love the freedom, it is when their tax dollars are used to uphold the mythological beliefs of one group that it becomes a problem. The country was founded to escape religious favoritism, don't be a dummy.

      November 11, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
    • Catholic Soldier

      Therein lies the slander– our country protects religious freedom and hateful actions and comments impinge upon that freedom.

      November 11, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
    • godisfake

      yeah, tell it to my birth control access, you goober. your god will never be more important than my rights.

      November 11, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
    • Catholic Soldier

      to birthcontrolrights– Our church ain't telling you what to do with birth control. THe pope even stated last summer that condoms are acceptable for non catholics in africa to prevent the HIV spread. Sure, there are fanatical people who want rules for catholics to be applied to all others. Abortion, that's a different issue because we're talking about a second life not a mystical blob in a woman's uterus. If you don't like the catholic message to catholics– don't listen!!

      November 11, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Catholic Soldier/SOC: No one is required to spare your feelings. Tough noogies if you are offended by anti-Catholic posts. Get over it.

      November 11, 2012 at 10:12 pm |
  11. jemzinthekop

    Jesus is on the cross. He calls out to Peter: "Peter, Peter my humble servant, your Lord bequeaths you, come honour your Lord" So Peter starts climbing Mount Cavalry but the Roman soldiers stop him and cut off his leg and roll him down the hill. Once again Jesus calls out "Peter, Peter my humble servant, your Lord bequeaths you, come honour your Lord" So Peter starts hopping up Mount Cavalry and the Roman soldiers stop him and cut off his other leg and roll him down the hill. Once again Jesus calls out "Peter, Peter my humble servant, your Lord bequeaths you, come honour your Lord" So Peter starts rolling up Mount Cavalry and the Roman soldiers stop him and cut off his arm and roll him down the hill. Once again Jesus calls out "Peter, Peter my humble servant, your Lord bequeaths you, come honour your Lord" So Peter starts rolling up Mount Cavalry and the Roman soldiers stop him and cut off his other arm and roll him down the hill. Once again Jesus calls out "Peter, Peter my humble servant, your Lord bequeaths you, come honour your Lord" So Peter starts rolling up Mount Cavalry and the Roman soldiers figure at this point what damage could be done? So they let the stumpy figure of Peter roll to the foot of the cross. Peter then says "Yes my Lord, I have suffered greatly but I am here, what does my Master wish of his humble servant?" And Jesus calls out "Peter, Peter my humble servant, I can see your house from up here"

    November 11, 2012 at 9:34 pm |
  12. fred

    Why did Hitler cry when he got to heaven?
    Jesus gave him his gas bill.

    November 11, 2012 at 9:33 pm |
  13. fred

    How do you stop a gay from drowning?

    Take your foot of his head!

    November 11, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
    • jemzinthekop

      Jesus jokes only Fred.... this is for people to laugh at fairy tales, not to insult people that actually exist.

      November 11, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
    • fred

      What sways from side to side?
      Jesus on a rubber cross!

      November 11, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
  14. fred

    Jesus is coming!

    and we have to clean it up

    November 11, 2012 at 9:29 pm |
    • ThereIsNoGod

      He already did! In fact he comes every week to mow my lawn. I tell him: Apurate pinche Jesus o si no no te pago. LOL

      Bla bla bla...Santa Claus is also coming on December 25th.

      November 11, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
    • fred

      I think you stopped reading my post?

      November 11, 2012 at 9:33 pm |
  15. fred

    Sure Jesus loves you, but does he swallow?

    November 11, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
  16. awe

    I am not sure if the most tasteless jokes would be politically correct to write to this crowd.

    I am from Sweden (rivals of Norway) We have jokes about them, they have about us.

    When the dumbest in Sweden moved to Norway the IQ level became higher on both sides of the border.
    (sounds better in swedish though)

    k, i have one really tasteless joke but it is against the blacks and i do not wish to sound like a racists.

    November 11, 2012 at 9:25 pm |
  17. ThereIsNoGod

    If prayer changes things then:

    Let's all pray for the end of Religion.

    November 11, 2012 at 9:23 pm |
  18. Chandra

    Muslim and Allah is only real religion in entire universe, don't joke

    November 11, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
    • ThereIsNoGod

      Really is that a fact? How many places in the universe have you been to?

      November 11, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
    • John

      If you can figure out what Mo ham head is, you win the prize and can worship Allah.

      November 11, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
    • godisfake

      Your god is as fake and made-up as all the others. And he treats women like garbage, so bite it, buddy.

      November 11, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
  19. rinsac

    Jesus would be the first one to laugh at these jokes, and The Prophet, Mohammad, certainly had a sense of humor, too be his followers lost theirs.

    November 11, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
    • godisfake

      "if he ever existed, jesus would laugh..."

      there, fixed it for you.

      November 11, 2012 at 9:46 pm |
  20. Bertha

    Go texans!

    November 11, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
    • Eliminate hinduism, Atheism, Secular ism. way of animals, not human.

      with capital T, hindu, ignorant.

      November 11, 2012 at 9:32 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.