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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. Buddhist

    All of the world religions are the kinder garden to Buddhism and enlightenment, I dare you all to research.

    November 12, 2012 at 7:28 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      kindergarten

      November 12, 2012 at 7:36 am |
  2. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    November 12, 2012 at 7:20 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      That's the best joke on here...lol.

      November 12, 2012 at 7:30 am |
    • hal 9001

      I'm sorry, "Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things", but your assertions regarding atheism and prayer are unfounded. Using my Idiomatic Expression Equivalency module (IEE), the expression that best matches the degree to which your assertions may represent truths is: "TOTAL FAIL".

      I see that you repeat these unfounded statements with high frequency. Perhaps the following book can help you:

      I'm Told I Have Dementia: What You Can Do... Who You Can Turn to...

      November 12, 2012 at 8:09 am |
    • TrollAlert

      "Ronald Regonzo" who degenerates to:
      "Salvatore" degenerates to:
      "Douglas" degenerates to:
      "truth be told" degenerates to:
      "Thinker23" degenerates to:
      "Atheism is not healthy ..." degenerates to:
      "another repentant sinner" degenerates to:
      "Dodney Rangerfield" degenerates to:
      "tina" degenerates to:
      "captain america" degenerates to:
      "Atheist Hunter" degenerates to:
      "Anybody know how to read? " degenerates to:
      "just sayin" degenerates to:
      "ImLook'nUp" degenerates to:
      "Kindness" degenerates to:
      "Chad" degenerates to
      "Bob" degenerates to
      "nope" degenerates to:
      "2357" degenerates to:
      "WOW" degenerates to:
      "fred" degenerates to:
      "!" degenerates to:
      "pervert alert" is the degenerate.

      This troll is not a christian.

      November 12, 2012 at 8:16 am |
    • Jesus

      Prayer does not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs.`.

      November 12, 2012 at 8:19 am |
    • Mike

      Actually, you may be right. Prayer could conceivably put you into a trance-like state, releasing endorphins into your brain, making you hallucinate and see images of things that don't really exist.

      Which explains so very, very, much.

      Pray on, my friend. Pray on.

      November 12, 2012 at 11:28 am |
  3. Jon

    Hopefully some of these blurbs will catch your eye and make you think. They are teasers only and if they rattle you chain or make you think then by all means Google them, research them etc. Or just ignore them and continue on with your life. Christ taught to those who would listen and not those who wouldn't.

    Many of the comparison jokes I would not consider jokes at all but rather relational comparisons. IOW (He was like me) Granted they are extreme in their comparisons but if it makes a person think then I say good for it!

    Christ sought out those who were thrown away, ministered to those without hope, healed those that were beyond healing all so that he might teach those around him how to live. He was not fair in that he did not heal everyone around him. No, he healed those that provided a teaching moment. If I was going to write a book that would convince you to follow someone falsely wouldn't it be better for me to claim that he healed everyone rather than picking one man from hundreds or thousands and leaving the rest unchanged? That would make for a much warmer and fuzzier read wouldn't it?

    During his ministry Jesus was hunted, harassed, threatened and ultimately killed in the worst way available at that time. If those things didn't affect him then why should I care about some jokes? He accepted these things and moved on with his work so why should I not do the same?

    Belief is a personal thing. One of the few personal things that we can have in this day and age. This might be one of the reasons why some react so strongly to these jokes. In essence you are telling them that something that they hold dear is worthless in your eyes and not worthy of respect. Ergo, they are worth less in your eyes. Here ironically is the trap. By seeking public acceptance or reacting to public rejection you are in affect taking what should be of personal value and a personal experience and making it public. Ironically devaluing its personal worth by allowing others assessed value of that belief to impact your value of that belief.

    A relationship with a spouse should be personal. A relationship with God even more so. What does it matter what others do in the name of God or what others choose to openly claim to believe? What matters is what you do, how you live, and what you believe. God is interested in YOU and not what others think of Him.

    He taught that the world will reject you for believing in him because you are no longer part of the main stream belief system (not part of this world). I would have to say that this thread demonstrates that statement clear as a bell wouldn't you?

    You thought I was going to throw verse at you didn't you? Christ taught from the world and referenced the Bible only when speaking to those familiar with its content. Throwing verse at those that do not value it is like whispering latin at a rock concert. You know what you said but nobody really cares because they can't relate or didn't hear.

    November 12, 2012 at 7:17 am |
    • John Not the Baptist

      Jon
      You paragraph....Christ sought out...and the rest of your post. So where did it all go wromg? Why are Christians so unlike the Christ they profess to worship? Why do so many use the teachings like snake oil to rob the believers? The jokes are about the believers who canot figure out that jesus was just a story, in modern days the Flying Spaghetti Monster is the equivalent, People can't relate in reality to a fiction, they may have some fun dressing up as Harry Potter but know it is not real.

      November 12, 2012 at 7:46 am |
  4. peacefrog

    You know how I know Jesus was gay?

    He work Birkenstocks, was never married, hung out with 12 guys, and was nailed by Roman soldiers dressed like gladiators.

    November 12, 2012 at 7:14 am |
  5. Cameron

    I am a Christian, but I still find the jokes funny - the Jesus jokes and the atheist ones. They poke fun at our humanity, and the funny things we sometimes believe. I expect the Lord is big enough to handle that, and He knows the spirit behind them.

    November 12, 2012 at 7:10 am |
    • Bob

      You couldn't be more wrong.

      November 12, 2012 at 7:17 am |
    • Mike

      You, sir, have a sense of humor I commend.

      Good to see it.

      November 12, 2012 at 11:29 am |
  6. pdog

    if a virgin mary has a baby what does that make her

    November 12, 2012 at 6:30 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      A liar.

      November 12, 2012 at 6:34 am |
  7. Hawk

    Interesting that the author makes a mention about "white" and "black" Jesus. Considering that we are talking about a Middle-Eastern man, 2,000 years ago, he would have had more of a brownish coloring to his skin. He definitely would not have been white, with long blonde hair and blue eyes.

    November 12, 2012 at 6:30 am |
  8. richunix

    He probably did, he was a mortal man...only foolish men made him dvine..

    November 12, 2012 at 6:06 am |
  9. er

    Q: Why does President Obama think its good that gas prices have fallen?
    A: Because now people can afford to drive the cars they're living in!

    November 12, 2012 at 5:22 am |
  10. Dooomed

    Q: How do you make an atheist appreciate life? A: Break his legs.

    November 12, 2012 at 5:17 am |
    • Hawk

      How very "Christian" of you.

      November 12, 2012 at 6:31 am |
  11. er

    Q: Can Barack Obama's economic policies create millons of new jobs? A: Yes, but they are all for Afghani soldiers!
    Q: Why is it a bad sign that our camp in Guantanamo Bay is closing?
    A: The economy is so bad now that even the terrorists are losing their homes!

    November 12, 2012 at 5:16 am |
  12. Jim

    An atheist was rowing at the lake, when suddenly the Loch Ness monster attacked and grabbed him from his boat.

    He panicked and shouted "God help me!", and suddenly, the monster and everything around him just stopped.

    A voice from the heavens boomed "You say you dont believe in me, but now you are asking for my help?"

    The atheist looked up and said: Well, ten seconds ago I didnt believe in the Loch Ness Monster either!

    November 12, 2012 at 5:12 am |
  13. Jim

    Q: Why can’t atheists solve exponential equations?
    A: Because they don’t believe in higher powers

    November 12, 2012 at 5:11 am |
  14. Dooomed

    Q: What is so ironic about Atheists? A: They’re always talking about God.

    November 12, 2012 at 5:07 am |
    • sam stone

      we are talking about reason.

      November 12, 2012 at 5:08 am |
    • Dooomed

      An atheist was rowing at the lake, when suddenly the Loch Ness monster attacked and grabbed him from his boat. He panicked and shouted "God help me!", and suddenly, the monster and everything around him just stopped. A voice from the heavens boomed "You say you dont believe in me, but now you are asking for my help?" The atheist looked up and said: Well, ten seconds ago I didnt believe in the Loch Ness Monster either!

      November 12, 2012 at 5:10 am |
  15. Dooomed

    An atheist buys an ancient lamp at an auction, takes it home, and begins to polish it. Suddenly, a genie appears, and says, “I’ll grant you three wishes, Master.” The atheist says, “I wish I could believe in you.” The genie snaps his fingers, and suddenly the atheist believes in him. The atheist says, “Wow. I wish all atheists would believe this.” The genie snaps his fingers again, and suddenly atheists all over the world begin to believe in genies. “What about your third wish?” asks the genie. “Well,” says the atheist, “I wish for a billion dollars.” The genie snaps his fingers for a third time, but nothing happens. “What’s wrong?” asks the atheist. The genie shrugs and says, “Just because you believe in me, doesn’t necessarily mean that I really exist.”

    November 12, 2012 at 5:05 am |
  16. Dooomed

    How many atheists does it take to change a light bulb?
    Two. One to actually change the bulb, and the other to videotape the job so fundamentalists won’t claim that god did it.

    November 12, 2012 at 5:02 am |
  17. Dooomed

    Hahahaha nice one.

    November 12, 2012 at 4:53 am |
  18. FedUpwithLA

    As always, our perception of Jesus really does not tell that much about Him, but of us. In many ways, he's like a Rorschach test: What do you see in Him? For the faithful, he is their Savior. For the uninitiated, He might as well join the rest of the passing parade on CNN, YouTube, and your cell phone. By gosh, this has been going on for some two thousand years, hasn't it? For those born yesterday, He is something new, and like the new kid at school, is subject to ridicule and finger pointing, if not jokes, also. The only question which remains is, as He asked Peter, "Who do you say that I am?" Your choice to answer that, as there are many, perhaps too many, choices to make in America.

    November 12, 2012 at 4:31 am |
    • Ted

      The sooner forgotten, the better.

      November 12, 2012 at 11:33 am |
  19. worldcares

    Anyone who has studied world religions, learns and attains to rise above the lower consciosness level.
    It's simply about focus.

    November 12, 2012 at 4:28 am |
    • Ted

      Just try to focus on your typing.

      November 12, 2012 at 11:34 am |
  20. mucker

    Ppl aren't laffin at a dead Hebrew prophet. They'r laffin at the sanctimony and hypocrisy of his so called followers. The meanest & most hateful bigots I've known in my life have been christians, who, by the way are always the first to cry Victim. If they really believed in their prophet, no amount of jokes or legislation could shake their faith. A shallow belief system is very fragile. Ask any rioting Muslim you happen to meet.
    And by the way, he was Irish because he lived at home til he was 30, he was a carpenter, and died believing his mother was a virgin. So there! AMEN

    November 12, 2012 at 4:23 am |
    • sam stone

      i agree....we are not ridiculing jesus, we are ridiculing those who claim to follow jesus

      November 12, 2012 at 5:10 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.