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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. al fahredd ekh makj

    صلى الله عليه وسلم

    November 11, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
    • FreeFromTheism

      whatever, dude.

      November 11, 2012 at 11:32 pm |
    • Plumbline

      ﺃﺷﻌﻴﺎء 53:3-5

      Arabic Bible: Easy-to-Read Version (ERV-AR)

      3 احتَقَرَهُ النّاسُ وَتَرَكُوهُ.
      هُوَ رَجُلُ آلامٍ كَثِيرَةٍ،
      وَخَبِيرٌ بِالمُعاناةِ.
      احتَقَرَهُ النّاسُ كَمَنْبُوذٍ
      يَخَبِّئُونَ وَجُوهَهُمْ لِكَي لا يَرَوْهُ،
      وَنَحنُ لَمْ نَهْتَمَّ بِهِ.
      4 لَكِنَّهُ رَفَعَ اعتِلالاتِنا،
      وَحَمَلَ أمراضَنا.
      وَنَحْنُ ظَنَنّا أنَّ اللهَ يَضرِبُهُ وَيُذِلُّهُ.
      5 لَكِنَّهُ جُرِحَ بِسَبَبِ مَعاصِينا،
      وَسُحِقَ بِسَبَبِ آثامِنا.
      وَقَعَتْ عَلَيهِ عُقُوبَتُنا فَنَعُمْنا بِالسَّلامِ.
      وَشُفِينا بِسَبِبِ جُرُوحِهِ.

      November 11, 2012 at 11:36 pm |
  2. fred

    A man is taking a walk in Central park in New York. Suddenly he sees a little girl being attacked by a pit bull dog. He runs over and starts fighting with the dog. He succeeds in killing the dog and saving the girl's life. A newspaper reporter who was watching the scene walks over and says: "You are a hero," tomorrow you can read it in all the newspapers: "Brave New Yorker saves the life of little girl." The man says: "But I am not a New Yorker!" "Oh, then it will say: Brave American saves life of little girl" – the reporter answers. "But I am not an American!" – says the man. "Oh, what are you then?" The man says: "I am a Muslim!" Then next day the newspapers says: "Islamic extremist kills innocent American dog."

    November 11, 2012 at 11:24 pm |
    • Carl

      If you want to fabricate stories, maybe these are more likely...

      "Muslim man afraid to touch 'unclean' dog, watches as little girl is killed"
      "Muslim man saves girl from dog, then throws acid in her face when he sees her school books"
      "Girl killed by dogs when Muslim father insists she leave school during evolution lesson"
      "Muslim man teaches religious nonsense to daughter, then goes on Internet demanding respect for muslims"

      November 11, 2012 at 11:34 pm |
    • fred

      you must be new here

      November 11, 2012 at 11:37 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Why would he say he was a Muslim if the reporter was trying to ascertain where he was from? Muslim is not a place and American is not a religion (well, maybe for some people it is).

      November 11, 2012 at 11:42 pm |
    • fred

      whatever–it's a joke. laugh, have a beer, mastrurbate

      November 11, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
  3. Catholic Soldier

    @ Fred: Fred– sounds like we have alot in common. I fully agree about travesty of money being spent, about suffering/poverty/starvation. For me, that's one of the greatest aspects of my faith– it holds us accountable and responsible for helping others. The gospel according to Mother Theresa can be summed up in five words "You Did It To Me". There is indeed evil in this world and in the spiritual world. My view– there is a battle we all are called to partake in. There are many casualties of this battle. The greatest casualties aren't of material poverty, but of spiritual poverty.

    November 11, 2012 at 11:19 pm |
    • fred

      I just don't like the suffering. Like I said before, god is at best an absentee landlord.

      November 11, 2012 at 11:21 pm |
    • FreeFromTheism

      promiscuous teleology is nonsense..

      November 11, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
    • You are all so wrong.

      I lost my own child to cholera. Why? Why.

      November 11, 2012 at 11:24 pm |
    • fred

      I think the guy with the dead kid is pulling our leg.

      November 11, 2012 at 11:25 pm |
    • FreeFromTheism

      @You are all so wrong., because it had cholera.

      November 11, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
    • t3chn0ph0b3

      You did a pretty good C.S. Lewis impersonation there. Kudos.

      Thing is, we do live in a material world. The "spiritual" feel the spirit in themselves, but it's something that's subjective.

      What is OBjective is that we have the technology to bring clean drinking water to everyone who needs it on the entire planet for about $20 billion per year. Any idea how many people die of waterborne illnesses every year? How many have a 50/50 shot at dying as a punishment for trying not to dehydrate to death? Know what percentage of the global economy that amount of money is? It's less than 0.02% of the global GDP. We, as people, could do that without blinking. If we could do it that easily, without even breaking a sweat, how easy would it be for a loving, active God to do?

      Why doesn't he? The most logical answer is that He is a figment of our imagination. We need to take responsibility for the direction of the human race, not shunt ultimate responsiblity for the battle of "good versus evil" onto a deity.

      November 11, 2012 at 11:43 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Catholic "soldier": The catholic church has millions, if not billions of dollars worth of treasures that they hoard. Their pope lives a life of luxury in a palace, yet millions of families live in poverty, many of them catholic. Christ preached poverty. He preached selling earthly goods and giving to the poor. So why does the pope think he's better than Jesus?

      In Brazil, an 8 year old girl was rap.ed repeatedly by her step father, eventually becoming pregnant with twins. Rather than allow this small child to die or or be permanently damaged by the physical and mental stress of this forced pregnancy, her mother and doctors decided that an abortion was the only option. Despite the fact that this decision probably saved the life of that little girl, the Brazilian bishop excommunicated the mother and the doctors. The rap-ist, though in prison, remained in good standing with the church. Why does your church elevate dogma over simple human decency?

      Of course, the catholic church really doesn't have the best record when it comes to how it treats children. If it did, it wouldn't protect pedophiles. If it did, church leaders wouldn't try to blame the victims.

      I'm sorry. Your church is a sham. It's not just spiritually hollow. It's morally empty.

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

      Yes there is obviously evil in all places in the world and in people everywheres– including in a small minority of Fr. Sandusky's who the Church was wrong to play hot potato with– and, everyone involved should go to prison. The church of the world is human and has made grave errors. BUT, the majority of priests are good. Many have died for the poor. Have you worked with lepers, people with TB, or other communicable diseases? Many Priests and Nuns have died for bringing hope and happiniess to the defined underclass human beings living under doormats in this world.

      November 11, 2012 at 11:58 pm |
    • Catholic Soldier

      and by the way– I also agree that clean drinking water is a huge issue in the third world. Go to the "Food for the Poor" website and you can buy a water well for a central american town the way I recently did for just $200.

      November 12, 2012 at 12:00 am |
    • Catholic Soldier

      As for the pope– why don't you google image the bedroom he sleeps in. Simple and small. The vatican is the heart of the magisterium– without that as the foundation the church can't reach out and be the single largest charitable agency in the world. do you critique Obama and past socially conscious presidents for living in the white house?

      November 12, 2012 at 12:05 am |
  4. fred

    Dora the Explorer has got a little Muslim friend called Doda-The Exploder.

    November 11, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
  5. aa

    Guy walks into a bar with a Vacuum cleaner...
    Bartender says to him...,"You know what REALLY sucks?"
    The guy says....Mohammed and them Mooselimb retards?
    Bartender says, yup, what kin I git for ya.

    November 11, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
  6. You are all so wrong.

    I have lost a child. For no good reason. My baby girl, 9 years old. Looked into my eyes and said why mommy? I don't want to die. Why is God mad at me? Fuck you all. And FUCK God.

    November 11, 2012 at 11:09 pm |
    • FreeFromTheism

      there is no god

      November 11, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
    • You are all so wrong.

      Whatever Fuck you too.

      November 11, 2012 at 11:15 pm |
    • Catholic Soldier

      So sorry– I couldn't even imagine. how horrible..

      November 11, 2012 at 11:17 pm |
    • fred

      to Catholic Soldier: why do innocent children get cancer and suffer, and many die. I worked in a inner city area myself, and most people would not believe the problems that exist. In my view, if I was an omnipotent god, I would stop most of the preventable suffering in this world, such as hunger. I read today where the presidential elections spent 4 Billion dollars on advertisements. THAT is criminal.

      November 11, 2012 at 11:19 pm |
    • Commenter

      fred,
      "presidential elections spent 4 Billion dollars on advertisements."

      The key word there is "spent". They did not burn the money, or eat it. They paid printers and graphic designers and ad-makers and media outlets and many others along the chain who might have otherwise been out of a job. I am a stockholder in a small town radio station which depends partially on political advertising to help keep 25+/- local people employed.

      November 12, 2012 at 12:04 am |
  7. Kat

    Just the fact that people are laughing @ junk like this disgusting!

    November 11, 2012 at 11:09 pm |
    • Chozo

      Do you mean at the jokes or at religion? Sometimes both are pretty funny.

      November 11, 2012 at 11:22 pm |
    • You are all so wrong.

      Yes, stupid Christians, laugh. Your God is a hideous malformed creature of death. Worship it all you want.

      November 11, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
    • tallulah13

      I admit that some of the material is old, but some of the jokes are pretty funny.

      November 11, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
  8. Eliminate hinduism, Atheism, Secular ism. way of animals, not human.

    my personal Jesus joke – Jesus means nothing else but an atheist goon from Dark Age, criminal self centered, secular, no one like to use his name more than Allah, Theen or Thick, criminal self centered or atheist.

    November 11, 2012 at 11:07 pm |
  9. Catholic Soldier

    I still don't get the Athiest argument. Sure– I say yes, they say no. There's nothing more to talk about.

    November 11, 2012 at 11:05 pm |
    • FreeFromTheism

      What's the atheist argument, that they don't believe in a god?
      I'm not sure what there is to argue there.

      November 11, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
  10. Christian

    Please consider watching this video:

    Little Boy Visits Heaven (Glimpse of Heaven)

    November 11, 2012 at 11:05 pm |
    • Jeff

      Dreams are dreams and this kid could be on drugs. god/jesus isn't real so this kids views are pointless.

      November 11, 2012 at 11:08 pm |
    • aa

      any p o r n o s?

      November 11, 2012 at 11:10 pm |
    • Kat

      This is true! Wake up everyone!

      November 11, 2012 at 11:12 pm |
    • Anth

      because it's what he believed, that's why he saw what he saw .. as you believe so shall it be (unto you) not everybody else, just you .. what you believe will be measured unto you .. not whatever you believe shall be measured unto others .. now do you understand?

      November 11, 2012 at 11:12 pm |
    • Mohammad A Dar

      this kid could be on drugs!!! you're a hobo jack.

      November 11, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Yeah, I read about this kid. I honestly don't think he's lying or that his parents went into this trying to profit from their child's near-death. I do think that what this child experienced was a combination of the natural effect from trauma combined with things he heard his parents say. Children are capable of the most astonishing connections.

      For example: A kid hears his grandpa is dead. His mother tells him grandpa is with Jesus. The kid has a near death experience, and the chemistry in his brain gives him an illusion of seeing people. While the kid recovers, he overhears that he was dead for a minute. Hmmm. So if he was dead, those people he thought he saw must have been grandpa, who is also dead, and Jesus, who is with grandpa.

      This story might be compelling, if the child in question had been raised in a hindu household with no exposure to christianity.

      I don't believe he has any real recollection of what he thought he experienced. I think he says and believes what he has been encouraged to believe. After all, his parents wrote a book, and people pay attention to him when he tells this story.

      November 11, 2012 at 11:20 pm |
    • Chozo

      There is no doubt that the brain goes through various random memories and dreams during shutdown. This kid was lucky to be revived, and then remember what his mind generated during his shutdown experience. I do not doubt that his experience was strongly colored by the things he was told earlier in his life. So what? His experience in this near death dream state doesn't make god real.

      November 12, 2012 at 12:06 am |
    • Apple Bush

      Arrest these parents for child abuse. Now.

      November 12, 2012 at 1:15 am |
  11. fred

    Knock, knock.
    Who’s there?
    The Prophet Muhammad.
    The Prophet Muhammad who?
    *Dynamite belt explodes*

    November 11, 2012 at 11:04 pm |
  12. t3chn0ph0b3

    Does my plastic Ecce Ho-mo count as a Jesus joke?

    November 11, 2012 at 11:04 pm |
  13. fred

    to Catholic Soldier: I read your reply on the other page. But, I do have a problem with things that can be controlled, such as medical issues (why do innocent children get cancer and suffer, and many die). I worked in a inner city area myself, and most people would not believe the problems that exist. In my view, if I was an omnipotent god, I would stop most of the preventable suffering in this world, such as hunger. I read today where the presidential elections spent 4 Billion dollars on advertisements. THAT is criminal. oh well, I might as well go back to writing jokes, because nothing will make a difference.

    November 11, 2012 at 11:02 pm |
    • t3chn0ph0b3

      Today, the jokes are what make the difference. Ridicule of the ridiculous is the best way to expose it.

      If you are good at joke writing, keep on keeping on.

      November 11, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
  14. remoteDef

    Hey, if you guys want people to leave your messiah alone, just do what the Muslims do: threaten murder.

    Oh wait, I forgot, most Christians are civilized.

    November 11, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Nah. Christianity is simply toothless. Back when they had power, they killed all sorts of people: Accused witches, non-believers, jews, indigenous populations who wouldn't convert (and even some that did) and anyone with thoughts considered heretical. These days, christianity has very little official standing. You'd have to go to Africa to find chistians killing accused witches, these days.

      November 11, 2012 at 11:07 pm |
  15. fred

    •A priest, a rabbi, and the Holy Prophet Muhammad walk into a bar. The Prophet Muhammad beheads the priest and the rabbi, and burns down the bar.

    November 11, 2012 at 10:50 pm |
  16. tony

    Free will does not exist. Most of the Tsunami deaths were of innocents, including many young children and their mothers, who just happened to be living in coastal villages.

    November 11, 2012 at 10:48 pm |
    • Catholic Soldier

      Tony, in all seriousness (as I said to fred), because I've seen all those things you describe working in the city of Detroit–kids and pregnant women being shot, etc. I've come to the beilef that bad things are allowed to happen for a pre-ordained greater good. Christ became human to fully empathize with human suffering to the point where he cried on the cross– "my god my god, why have you abandonned me". On our liturgical calendar easter sunday is alway preceded by good friday. There are horrific things that happen in this world due to free will, but also just due to no reason at all. I realize there are no facts that can make anyone on this page believe in God– bottom line is, it all comes down to faith. But for any reading this post– if you ask to know God better, that prayer will come true and will always be answered.

      November 11, 2012 at 10:58 pm |
    • Chozo

      Faith is what it takes for children to believe in santa. It's useless for adults with god because it doesn't make god real.

      Fear of death is the primary reason for belief in god. The fact is, your belief doesn't change reality: if there is no god then there is no god. Don't live a good life expecting an afterlife reward, do good because it's the right thing to do. Then if there is a reward you will have earned it (but don't hold your breath). If there is no life after death then it won't matter to you when you don't get there. The idea provides great comfort for those in mourning, but it is still only a delusion. As hard as it is, it is better to face the truth as an adult than to keep believing in something that is no more real than santa claus.

      November 11, 2012 at 11:56 pm |
  17. fred

    Did you hear about the Muslim family living in the US who are making every effort they can to integrate themselves into the local community, thereby contributing to worldwide peace and harmony and a greater understanding of their faith?
    Nope me neither!

    November 11, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
  18. Eliminate hinduism, Atheism, Secular ism. way of animals, not human.

    Have you seen my Mohammad? he was with his male goat. I am very worried about HIS goat.

    November 11, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
  19. TGood1234

    Tom Tom, Do you have anger issues?

    November 11, 2012 at 10:41 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Not at all. I do have a lot of difficulty not laughing out loud when I read posts like yours, though.

      November 11, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
    • Eliminate hinduism, Atheism, Secular ism. way of animals, not human.

      Tom, Tom, have ever banged male goat?

      November 11, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Have you ever banged anything at all other than your sister's underwear?

      November 11, 2012 at 10:49 pm |
    • Eliminate hinduism, Atheism, Secular ism. way of animals, not human.

      I have banged my sisters, all of them, it's legal and accepted by my muslim religion to marry sisters. come up with something new.

      November 11, 2012 at 10:55 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Sorry, bub, I'm not here to entertain you.

      November 11, 2012 at 11:00 pm |
    • Eliminate hinduism, Atheism, Secular ism. way of animals, not human.

      no, goon, I'm here to entertain YOU, can I be your Altar boy tonight, skunk.

      November 11, 2012 at 11:10 pm |
  20. fred

    What’s the definition of a virgin in Iran?
    A very fast goat!

    November 11, 2012 at 10:39 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.