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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. Anth

    The REAL Truth About Religion And Its Origins, only 26 minutes, test your faith http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=88GTUXvp-50

    November 12, 2012 at 12:26 am |
    • Christian

      "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." Jesus

      Anything that disagrees with this is a distraction to lead you off course.

      November 12, 2012 at 12:36 am |
    • Cal

      Christian
      And Mitt Romney’s said that his new jobs plan would create 12 million jobs. People say lots of things, but it doesn't always mean that they're right.

      November 12, 2012 at 12:41 am |
    • Christian

      Cal, When was a bible prophesy wrong? Never. Ezekiel 36 said that Israel would be regathered from all the nations and put back into the land. In May 1948 that is what happened. Jesus said before the generation ended that saw this happen he would return. If you are wrong you are going to go through the tribulation and either experience the horror of the anti-Christ or get marked and never enter heaven. Anyone that takes the mark of the anti-Christ is lost forever. The time to except Jesus is right this moment. Just say a pray and say "I accept Jesus as my savior and I repent of all my sins."

      November 12, 2012 at 1:03 am |
    • Bob

      Christian, that's totally bogus. Anyone can say bad stuff will happen, and enough bad stuff does happen over time that eventually they'll be right. Present prophecies with specific recent dates in the prophecies, and then show how the predicted events came to pass on those dates.

      If you can't do that, your whole prophecy claim should be retracted and thrown out (that is, if you are honest and have any guts).

      November 12, 2012 at 10:10 am |
    • Cal

      Christian
      Here's a few from the very long list of failed Bible prophecies. Did Nebuchadnezzar destroy the city of Tyre as per Ezekiel 26:7-14? No, it didn't actually happen. Has Egypt ever been laid waste, or the Nile dried up as per Ezekiel 30:12? Again, no. Ezekiel 28:26-24 predicts that Israel will live in peace with its neighbors. No, that IS a joke.

      Off of Ezekiel, did Jesus fulfill all of the prophesied expectation of the expected messiah? Did he descend from the House of David? Not if Joseph isn't his natural father. Matthew 21:4 and John 12:14-15 claim that Jesus fulfills the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9, but they're just cherry picking. Zechariah 9:10-13 shows that the person being referred to is actually a military king that would rule "from sea to sea". Clearly not Jesus. Jesus failed to fulfill biblical prophecies that he would build a third temple (Ezekiel 37:26-28); that he would gather all Jews back to the land of Israel (Isaiah 43:5-6); that he would usher in an era of world peace (Isaiah 2:4) and that he would unite humanity as one (Zechariah 14:9).

      I know, you want to play the "but these are predictions of the future" card, but that doesn't cut it. The Messiah was supposed to be a man, just a man. Everything predicted about him was understood by Jews to happen within his lifetime. The NT writers did the best they could, and even managed to spin Jesus' being hung from a tree as something other than a disqualification per prophecy, but they didn't cover all of them.

      November 12, 2012 at 10:28 am |
  2. mmi16

    If Jesus was as uptight as the religious right would have him be – there would not be any Christianity in the 21st Century as everyone would have been driven away from the faith.

    November 12, 2012 at 12:25 am |
    • Christian

      "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it." Matthew 7:13

      November 12, 2012 at 12:29 am |
    • Cal

      Christian
      As the Religious Right is so fond of saying, they are a majority here in America, and a majority is "many" where the rest of us are "few". Hmm, maybe Jesus' wisdom and powers of prediction aren't to be underestimated after all. :-)

      November 12, 2012 at 12:44 am |
    • Christian

      Cal, The size of the American electorate does not make something true. It does not stop you from going to hell. Going to church will not stop you from going to hell either. Please take the time to watch this video.

      [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9gzpjzS2GIc&w=640&h=390]

      November 12, 2012 at 12:49 am |
    • Cal

      Christian
      Hmm... Its a video called 23 minutes in hell, but it's actually 43 minutes long? Do they add enough commercials to make sit-coms into hour long shows in hell?

      Good night.

      November 12, 2012 at 1:16 am |
    • tallulah13

      I bet Christian doesn't realize that some people will say anything in order to make money. I bet Christian doesn't realize (or doesn't care) that there isn't any evidence that Mr. Wiese ever experienced anything other than the revelation that evangelical types will believe in (and pay for) just about anything that tells them what they want to hear. I bet Christian doesn't care that Bill Wiese is more concerned with profits than prophecy.

      November 12, 2012 at 1:31 am |
  3. fred

    JESUS SAVES

    (By clipping coupons and shopping wisely)

    November 12, 2012 at 12:25 am |
    • fred

      No, Jesus has saved the eternal soul of all who would call upon His Holy name. Yes, even those that would make a joke out of the greatest love a man has ever shown towards others.

      November 12, 2012 at 12:29 am |
    • post

      grand theft auto 1, 2, and 3 - to save the game, enter the church. outside a sign reads "Jesus Saves'
      good stuff haha

      November 12, 2012 at 12:34 am |
    • tallulah13

      I've always liked "Jesus saves, but Gretzky gets the rebound and SCORES!!!!!"

      November 12, 2012 at 12:36 am |
  4. Infinite Love

    Anyone who takes the time to study the good book(Or even better – listen to the dramatized audio version for the full effect) can probably attest that Jesus was a very casual and easy going guy in just about everything he did. He considered himself our brother and viewed each and every of us as his equal. He understood that he was created by the same Father(GOD;The Universe; All that is; – whatever you choose to call it) just like each of us.

    Personally I think he'd be a little more concerned with how we treat each other. I mean, wasn't that the whole point? To teach love, compassion and forgiveness? How to work together and accomplish tasks through compromise? Do we not joke with one another in each other's presence? Is it not, in many instances, considered a form of affection?

    Watching people get all worked up over Jesus jokes kind of reminds me of that over-protective boyfriend that annoyingly goes out of his way to keep what he thinks belongs only to him(his girlfriend), sectioned off and isolated to himself.

    Good luck with that!:)

    With love for each of you,
    Infinite Love

    November 12, 2012 at 12:22 am |
  5. GO_GOP

    Remember people HE died for our sins. He was sent to earth by our Lord in heaven to save us. You insult him at your own risk. Hell will be far worse than you can imagine.

    November 12, 2012 at 12:20 am |
    • matilda

      maybe you should learn how to spell. also i personally do not believe that there is a god. i belieave n facts, and i have yet to see any proof besides a book that some idiot could have written and said it was by “God”

      November 12, 2012 at 12:21 am |
    • GO_GOP

      Matilda: Which spelling are you talking about? Care to show. And yes hell will be far worse.

      November 12, 2012 at 12:25 am |
    • tallulah13

      The funny thing about that hell/redemption thing is that the whole concept is a product of the bible. Since there is no proof to indicate that the bible is anything more than a collection of middle-eastern mythology, it is rather pointless to take seriously any of the supernatural promises and threats within it's pages.

      However, if it makes you happy to believe that an innocent man was tortured to death so that you don't have to be responsible for your own actions, that's your problem.

      November 12, 2012 at 12:40 am |
  6. matilda

    I dont understand why you choose to believe in a person that NO ONE has ever seen, heard, or touched the only “proof” you have is the bible, you believe it because the bible says it? then why dont you believe that any of the other 5 million books ever written? why isnt Snow White your god? or Frotto or hell! why not pinocchio?

    November 12, 2012 at 12:20 am |
    • post

      the bible contains eyewitness accounts of people who saw, touched and smelled – do you not believe in anyone who is not in your line of vision? or who lived before your short days?

      November 12, 2012 at 12:36 am |
    • tallulah13

      So it never once occurred to you that these "witnesses" might simply inventions of the authors, put into the story to make it more believable? Do you have proof that these individuals actually existed and were present at the events described?

      November 12, 2012 at 12:53 am |
    • End Religion

      There is not a single eyewitness account. Aside from that, we know today that eyewitness accounts are unreliable.

      November 12, 2012 at 12:54 am |
  7. w42

    the world can make fun of our lord and savior,Jesus christ. but in the in the end he will be our judge. the bible says it is appointed unto man to die, after death comes the judge ment

    November 12, 2012 at 12:20 am |
    • matilda

      the bible talks a lot of nonsense

      November 12, 2012 at 12:21 am |
    • Athy

      How could anyone believe that crap?

      November 12, 2012 at 12:30 am |
    • tallulah13

      The bible says a lot of stuff, but there's not a single shred of evidence to support that any of the supernatural aspects actually occurred.

      November 12, 2012 at 12:56 am |
  8. american

    Interesting how liberals and left wing media can opine on how acceptable it is to make fun of Jesus, yet none of you dare to make the same kind of jokes about allah. What a bunch of Cowards and Hippocrates!

    November 12, 2012 at 12:19 am |
    • Athy

      Why do you capitalize coward and hippocrates? And what is a hippocrate anyway? A box used to hold a hippopotumus?

      November 12, 2012 at 12:25 am |
    • tallulah13

      I guess you weren't paying attention when "fred" made about 10 jokes about Mohammed. Either that, or you are making stupid accusations from the typically ignorant, arrogant christian position.

      November 12, 2012 at 12:57 am |
    • FYI

      Hippocrates was an ancient Greek physician.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hippocrates

      November 12, 2012 at 12:59 am |
    • UncleBenny

      So we're all ancient Greek physicians? I don't get it.

      November 12, 2012 at 7:02 am |
  9. culo

    I feel your jokes are crass at best and some are blasphemous. I guess you don’t believe in Jesus but there ARE MANY of us who do. I know you feel that it’s your 1st. amendment right to say or do what you want. I wonder if it was something or someone that you held in esteem and loved dearly, would you appreciate the crass or crude jokes being made.

    November 12, 2012 at 12:19 am |
    • End Religion

      Another member of the American Taliban heard from....

      November 12, 2012 at 12:57 am |
    • tallulah13

      Actually, it IS our first amendment right to mock your religion.

      November 12, 2012 at 12:59 am |
  10. manila

    Historical facts seem to point out that jesus most likely didn’t exist.

    November 12, 2012 at 12:19 am |
    • Catholic Soldier

      show me the data

      November 12, 2012 at 12:20 am |
    • End Religion

      There is no proof a Jesus, son of god, existed.

      November 12, 2012 at 12:59 am |
    • tallulah13

      I think the lack of data IS the data.

      November 12, 2012 at 1:00 am |
  11. fred

    What do you call a man who dies, but comes back to life. Talking about eating his flesh and drinking his blood.
    I would call him a zombie,

    Christians would call him Jesus.

    November 12, 2012 at 12:16 am |
    • fred

      Do you not understand figurative language common to Eastern cultures?

      November 12, 2012 at 12:20 am |
    • fred

      don't take my name dolt. That's ID theft. a federal crime

      November 12, 2012 at 12:22 am |
    • fred

      Better than taking the Lords name in vain.

      November 12, 2012 at 12:24 am |
    • fred

      to fake fred: S T F U. let me know if you need clarification.

      November 12, 2012 at 12:26 am |
  12. Frank

    This christian stuff has only been around for 2000 years. It’s a new pagan cult. Talk about gods, we should be back worshipping the original gods that have been around for more than 5000 years. And all those gods got along without killing each other to convert. Unlike these new gods christians and Muslims who want everyone to workship them, every 7th day or 5/6 times a day (really insecure gods by the way). And these gods are always asking for money, are they that poor? And these gods want you to live with them, die for them and kill for them. That’s more of a cult following to me. Christians within themselves can’t even see eye to eye. Mormons, Cath, Bap, etc, etc. Same with the Muslims, Sunnis , whatever etc. Always killing for your gods, makes it hard for the rest of world to live in peace. If you all knew dead was dead, no afterlife prize. You might take life more serious and stop the killing and hating.

    November 12, 2012 at 12:15 am |
    • post

      maybe you haven't heard, but there's a strong connection between Christianity and Judaism, which has been around a bit longer than your 5,000 year threshold. Jesus himself identified as the perfector and continuation of the Judaic relationship with God.
      as the article failed to point out, these cracks at Christ are indicative of an issue that was also played out in the election, that people in American culture of the day are more than willing to form strong opinions about subjects while remaining almost completely ignorant of them.

      November 12, 2012 at 12:23 am |
    • UncleBenny

      Actually, Judaism is probably only about 3000 years old. The Hebrew Bible in roughly its present form was complied and edited during the Babylonian captivity in the 500s BCE. A great deal of the earlier "history" contained in the scriptures is probably fanciful. E.g., there is no evidence of a worldwide flood, no evidence of an great exodus from Egypt or a 40 year wandering in the desert of Sinai, no evidence that the walls of Jericho ever fell as described, no evidence that Moses or Abraham or any of the other patriarchs ever lived.

      November 12, 2012 at 7:08 am |
  13. fred

    An Indian man dies and arrives at the Pearly Gates. “Yes, how can I help?” asks St Peter. “I’m here to meet Jesus,” says the Indian man. St Peter looks over his shoulder and shouts, “Jesus, your taxi is here!”

    November 12, 2012 at 12:08 am |
  14. Cj

    As a Christian, I'm disappointed in people who make fun of Mohammad. We should strive to be above such childish behavior and live our lives doing what Christ should have us do.

    November 12, 2012 at 12:07 am |
    • fred

      S T F U

      November 12, 2012 at 12:09 am |
    • Catholic Soldier

      I fully agree. Insulting one religion is just like insulting any other– rude!

      November 12, 2012 at 12:09 am |
    • fred

      What did Jesus say when they removed his hands from the cross? *waves arms frantically* QUICK, GET THE FEET!!

      November 12, 2012 at 12:11 am |
    • MaryM

      You're missing the point. Nobody should be so self-obsorbed as to be offended by all attempts of humor aimed at them. Everyone gets joked about, and a real person can see the humor in a joke about them because none of us is perfect. I know that I do some funny things, and a Jesus, or Muhammad who can't take a joke wouldn't have been able to make anyone laugh either, and what's so great about anyone who couldn't make people laugh?

      November 12, 2012 at 12:23 am |
    • Catholic Soldier

      MaryM– read thru the near 3000 comments today. There have been many insulting things written, which, may not even be left up. This is beyond joking.... it's some (not all) sick people spinning webs of hatred and venom at people of all faiths.

      November 12, 2012 at 12:28 am |
    • Athy

      Since all religions are ridiculous, they should all be ridiculed.

      November 12, 2012 at 12:42 am |
    • Catholic Soldier

      since the laity is a part of my religion– you ridicule people. how becoming of a human being???

      November 12, 2012 at 1:06 am |
    • End Religion

      So, Jesus and Mohammed were taking turns butt fucking each other. When they were just about spent Jesus said, "Hey, you bacon eating fool, nail me again!"

      November 12, 2012 at 1:06 am |
  15. fred

    What did Jesus say when he was up on the cross?

    "This was one Hell of a way to spend my Easter vacation."

    November 12, 2012 at 12:06 am |
    • fred

      We must be getting close to the End of Days. The end will come when the last soul that could be saved is redeemed. Fred, I don't find jokes about what Christ did on the Cross for mankind funny. It is sad that you have such little respect for the greatest sacrafice known to man. May God bring peace to you while there is still time.

      November 12, 2012 at 12:17 am |
    • MaryM

      I thought he said "I guess I'll just hang out here for a while"?

      November 12, 2012 at 12:24 am |
    • End Religion

      It is unfathomable to me how you see any redeeming qualities in a human sacrifice. It's barbaric, and reveals the neanderthal qualities still evident in the religious people of the world.

      November 12, 2012 at 1:09 am |
  16. BigBird Johnson

    It tells us that many Americans are bigots.

    November 12, 2012 at 12:06 am |
  17. Dave

    Jesus walks into a hotel, places three nails on the counter, and says to the clerk, "Can you put me up for the night?"

    November 12, 2012 at 12:01 am |
  18. Reality

    And to continue the equal billing:

    A young Arab asks his father, “What is this weird hat that we are wearing ?”
    “It’s a ‘chechia’ because, in the desert, it protects our heads from the sun.”
    “And what is this type of clothing that we are wearing?”
    “It’s a ‘djbellah’ because, in the desert, it is very hot and it protects your body”
    “And what are these ugly shoes that we have on our feet ?”
    “These are ‘babouches’, which keep us from burning our feet when in the desert”
    “Tell me, Papa…”
    “Yes, my son ?”
    “Why are we living in Melbourne and still wearing all this sh-it ?”

    —————–

    November 12, 2012 at 12:00 am |
  19. fred

    The good Lord didn't create anything without a purpose, but mosquitoes and sand gnats come close

    November 12, 2012 at 12:00 am |
    • MaryM

      Without mosquitoes how would the Lord spread his malaria?

      November 12, 2012 at 12:27 am |
  20. fred

    It is easier to preach ten sermons than it is to live one.

    November 11, 2012 at 11:59 pm |
    • JamesK

      My pastor's sermons are so boring a single one feels like it takes a lifetime.

      November 12, 2012 at 12:29 am |
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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.