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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. rsone1

    What did Jesus say to Mohommad?

    Lighten-up. You're always blowing things out of proportion.

    November 12, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
    • Great White Horse Prophecy FAIL = Mormons no longer blogging

      lol

      November 12, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
  2. James B

    I think Thomas Jefferson was right when he said that about religion.

    November 12, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
  3. James B

    "Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions."

    November 12, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
    • ME II

      Thanks. I was looking for that one.

      November 12, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
  4. John not the Baptist

    "The Christian right made such a moral spectacle of itself that it practicly begged to be mocked." I will bet that even the Chad was tempted to mock the Jimmy Swaggerts and Jim Bakers of the USA, admit it Chad you were tempted!

    November 12, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
  5. chaz

    No mention of Jesus on Family Guy?

    Whats the difference between Jesus and a picture of Jesus?

    it only takes one nail to hang up a picture of Jesus.

    I can say the because the Lord and I have a relationship...Jesus Saves only because of the nails

    November 12, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
    • Brimstone

      Woooow, that one might be the worst one I've heard yet!

      Of course, that also makes it the funniest...

      November 12, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
    • Great White Horse Prophecy FAIL = Mormons no longer blogging

      Rusty nails su c k

      November 12, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
    • Great White Horse Prophecy FAIL = Mormons no longer blogging

      Without the nails and the cross, the trend and fab thing might have been to walk around with a noose on your neck.

      November 12, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
  6. Harold

    galatians 6 7

    November 12, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Cult logic

      November 12, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
    • chaz

      Blessed ARE the cheesemakers...

      awesome movie

      November 12, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
    • Great White Horse Prophecy FAIL = Mormons no longer blogging

      Actually gods are mocked all the time...santa, toothfairy are mocked. Get over your delusion.

      November 12, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Chaz,

      Thanks...."but it's not to be taken literally".

      November 12, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
  7. Great White Horse Prophecy FAIL = Mormons no longer blogging

    What did Jesus say to God?
    .
    Nothing...they dont exist

    November 12, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
    • Vic

      "FATHER"

      November 12, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
  8. Conrad Shull

    J – "Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone".
    SsssssssssssBONK!!
    J – "MOTHER!"

    November 12, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      His mother was an adulterer, so she's far from sinless.

      November 12, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
    • Great White Horse Prophecy FAIL = Mormons no longer blogging

      You can see where jesus got the gift of gab from..she convinced Joseph to stay and raise her bast a rd son lol

      November 12, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • No Gods, No Masters

      His mother was an adulterer, but she was an unknowing adulterer.

      His father on the other hand was a spirit rapist.

      November 12, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
  9. Great White Horse Prophecy FAIL = Mormons no longer blogging

    What did Jesus say up on the cross?
    .
    Nice view.

    November 12, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
  10. Bootyfunk

    jesus supported slavery - not exactly "all-loving".

    Luke 12:37-38
    37 "Blessed are those slaves whom the master will find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will gird himself to serve, and have them recline at the table, and will come up and wait on them.
    38 "Whether he comes in the second watch, or even in the third, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.”

    November 12, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
    • sockpuppet1984

      wow I have never heard anyone interpret those verses with such complete ignorance. Jesus was speaking about His second coming, He was saying that followers of Christ would be blessed for being prepared and waiting for His arrival, and taht when He arrives, HE will serve THEM. But nice weird idea about Jesus supporting slavery.

      November 12, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
    • derp

      "wow I have never heard anyone interpret those verses with such complete ignorance. Jesus was speaking about His second coming"

      Did Jesus tell you that?

      Or was that the opinion of some preacher trying to obfuscate the obvious references to acceptable slavery throughout the bible?

      November 12, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
    • God's Oldest Dreamer

      John 18:36 Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world"

      Jesus, the very first of many 'elemental beings' was in the Beginning an elemental king of all the elemental gods. Jesus, in His cunning, did thru Chaos' manuevering, established the gravimetrical waves for the elementals to gather in broods thusly was formed the beginnings of celestial nebulas.

      As time did force the nebulas to progressively surround the gravimetric oscillations where at did come about galactic formations of the elemental soundness. As systems of photonic elementals, the infinitesimal finite Gods did shower the solarized systems with their beings. And in the Now, we are but made from the photonic stillnesses, the stardusts of the Ages.

      November 12, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
    • sockpuppet1984

      No derp, it's called reading comprehension. See, you can't just take one or two sentences out of the middle of a paragraph and understand the context or meaning. Once you read the entire paragraph, heck try the whole chapter, then you know what he is talking about. No preacher had to interpret that.

      November 12, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
    • Great White Horse Prophecy FAIL = Mormons no longer blogging

      "His second coming"
      .
      disgusting

      November 12, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
    • UncleBenny

      "Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ. "
      (Ephesians 6:5 NLT)

      OK, it's not Jesus, but it is Paul, the self-appointed World's Greatest Expert on Christ (although he never actually MET Jesus face to face and gained all of his knowledge about him through a hallucination on the Road to Damascus, but why quibble?) and actual founder of what we now know as Christianity.

      November 12, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
    • derp

      "No preacher had to interpret that"

      So you are claiming to have actually spoken to jesus?

      November 12, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
  11. John not the Baptist

    funny

    November 12, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
  12. NOT MY CHAIR

    Why do women love Jesus? cause he is hung like this *stretches arms out like i was crucified*

    November 12, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
  13. Mohammud

    Two heathen Christan pigdogs walk into a bar, a man blessed by ALLAH MOST HIGH blows them up with a suicide bomb.

    November 12, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
    • John

      I want a toi let with a picture of Mo ham head at the bottom of the bowl. I would worship him all the time then.

      November 12, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
  14. derp

    Jesus walks into a bar....

    Then a unicorn and bigfoot walk into the same bar.

    November 12, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      LOL!!!

      best joke i've seen so far!

      November 12, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
  15. purplestikypunch

    Why is a painting better than Jesus? You only need one nail to hang a painting!

    November 12, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
  16. John not the Baptist

    Chad, exactly.
    "I am not intrested in, nor do I think it is an effort worth expending...."
    That is just why we belive you are a christian apologetic that has his subject down pat and cares little of a contrary opinion, right or wrong. If you did manage to take the time to study the faiths of the other 5 billion souls on this planet it may broaden your perspective. To steal a line; the reason I believe you are also an atheist is that I believe in one less god than you do, when you can figure out that you will undestand why I do not believe in yours (paraphrase).

    November 12, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
    • God's Oldest Dreamer

      Is God to be made a mockery by those who tend to instill leveraged pragmatisms? Are we to believe in the godless who care little about the piecemeal subjectives' ordinates?

      November 12, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
    • darshe

      People made god because they needed hope.

      You did the mockery thing yourself by turning a spiritual idea into an oppressive genocidal machine of conquest and dominance.

      Though I guess /you/ technically didn't do it but you get my point.

      November 12, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
    • God's Oldest Dreamer

      darshe,

      The 'blame games' cannot be played without others' reasonings to be blamed no matter the Will of God. Do I blame atheists for being ungodly? It is their choice to be ungodly people.

      November 12, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • UncleBenny

      God's Oldest Dreamer, I want some of whatever it is you're smoking, dude.

      November 12, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
  17. Dave

    It's interesting to note how many references of these Jesus jokes were made with the method of delivery being through the Jewish media.

    November 12, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
    • evad

      For example?

      November 12, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      the Jewish media?

      which one is that?

      November 12, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
    • darshe

      He must be talking about Israel's official media. Though I can't be sure as I don't read it, and I doubt many here do. But even then I also doubt they frequently make Jesus jokes.

      November 12, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
  18. Bill D.

    Why did Jesus cross the road? To get to the other side. HA HA HA HA HA. I'm a comedian!!!!

    November 12, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      The punchline "because he was nailed to a chicken" is much funnier....

      November 12, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
    • derp

      Because he was riding an equally plausible magic unicorn that decided to cross a road.

      November 12, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
  19. huh

    I can honestly say that i've never heard a jesus joke until this article. Could it be that only Jesus followers are telling these jokes? They are pretty lame afterall. When you are immersed in a subject, you tend to get a little nerdy and joke about it. I could say that is true for every phsicist and statistician I know. So maybe the reason for the jokes is that these people just read the bible a lot and tell them amongst friends which essentially means there is no meaning to the jokes.

    November 12, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
    • God's Oldest Dreamer

      My "Physicist" knows very well the quantum physicalities of natured atomic stimulations. I call this "Physicist" God. He has strewn His Sea of Nothingness with 'photogenitisms' or the stillness of the photons creating all manner of the first materials needed to become thru timeliness all members of our declared Periodic Table of Materialized Photogenitism.

      November 12, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
  20. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    See my prayers be proven at saladandchips.com

    November 12, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      actions cause change; prayer wastes valuable time.

      unclasp your hands, get up off your knees, think for yourself, go outside and put those hands to use helping others.

      congratulations - you're now a better person.

      November 12, 2012 at 1:25 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.