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.
Here's an idea. Drop religion and put it into the realm of mythology where it belongs. Then people don't have to resort to jokes "to keep from killing one another."
How about the mythology of progressives????? They worship nothing except their own pleasure and arrogance
you crack me up when did a Christian murder someone for not becoming Christian? Never, they have been murdered for not denying Christ but never have they killed anyone to convert.
Next, science says intelligence is expanding daily now, so please tell me now that we are so smart is the world safer?
rla: That's Ayn Rand you're talking about. Not a progressive. And, as for killing each other, I was quoting the article . . .
@ughh: Charlemagne killed people for not converting. Lots of them. And I'm sure there were other cases in history. TODAY Christians don't kill people for not converting, but saying they NEVER did is not correct.
Never ... killed anyone... um.. okay, Spain vs. the original south americans. The crusades. The bible is just chocked FULL of instructions for how and when to kill people and it's frequently because they aren't accepting of "the lord". The shame of it? You probably believe your own words. Jesus is probably rolling in his grave. (get it? rolling in his.. ah never mind)
No offense but this seemed less like a explanation of why mocking Jesus has become OK and more of an opportunity to relive past laughs.
The truth, the reason why people can mock Jesus is because Christians don't threaten to blow them up if they do. Christians hold reverence of God in their hearts. Honestly we don't expect unbelievers to do anything less than mock Jesus. We don't like it and we certainly don't endorse it but 1 Peter tells us to be prepared to suffer for Christ.
1 Peter 4:12-14
12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.
If we're warned in the Bible about our own possible sufferings in the name of Christ how much more can we expect Christ's name to be defiled.
To suffer in the name of your "god" .. And your "god" lets you suffer ... your god is a sadist. He gets off on your sufering. It pleases him that you suffered for him... look for "god" to star in the new (revamped) BDSM soap opera "All my (suffering) children"
It's because western religion has been de-fanged by secularism and science. If Christianity still had it's way, we'd still have inquisitions and the dark ages. There's nothing more to it than that. Western religion has been dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century by science. Religion fought every step of the way, too.
No, no. You're no better than the other religions you look down upon for being violent. You're every bit as bad as they are. It's we, the humanists and the secularists and the atheists who have reigned you in.
We deserve the credit, not you.
In case you missed this on p. 1:
Now, now, now, let us be fair as we bring equal time to Mohammed at the risk of having CNN's headquarters blown up:
"Yo Mohammed so stupid, I told him to makeup his mind and he put lipstick on his forehead.
Yo Mohammed so cross-eyed he threw a bolt of lightning at the Earth and missed.
Yo Mohammed so poor he eats cereal with a fork to save milk.
Yo Mohammed so ugly cartoonists are afraid to draw him."
A terrorist blows himself up and goes up to Heaven where he sees St. Peter at the Pearly Gates and says, “Are you Mohammed?”
St. Peter says. “No, he’s further up.”
He walks up further and sees Jesus. “Are you Mohammed?”
Jesus says, “No, he’s further up…”
Walks on further and sees God with a big beard. “You must be Mohammed!”
“No,” says God, “I’m God, take a seat. Would you like tea?”
The terrorist sits down and says, “Yes, please, I’d love some tea.”
God calls out loudly “Mohammed! Two teas now and make it quick!”
You can tell one without being imprisoned, stoned or killed.
Don't count on it.
Its only very recently you can do that. Not long ago christianity was MORE extreme than islam.
Philippians 2:9-11 (NIV)
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
^^ Why I don't joke about our Lord and Savior. He came to teach us about the Kingdom and to suffer and die on a cross, taking on all of our sins so that we might have everlasting life. I'd say that's an act worthy of the utmost respect.
Except for it being fiction, written by a human. And repeated over numerous religions, long before yours was invented.
From Professor JD Crossan in his book, Who is Jesus-
"Moreover, an atonement theology that says God sacrifices his own son in place of humans who needed to be punished for their sins might make some Christians love Jesus, but it is an obscene picture of God. It is almost heavenly child abuse, and may infect our imagination at more earthly levels as well. I do not want to express my faith through a theology that pictures God demanding blood sacrifices in order to be reconciled to us."
Of course, the assumption is that there is a god.
It's just make believe, like the snake oil salesmann telling you if you rub it on your head, the oil will cure baldness, or if you drink the oil it will improve your labido. Stop believing in myths, set your mind free.
This article can't go well for the comments section. I hope they shut it down quickly!
The article seems pretty pointless to me.
But why do you feel an urgency to silence everyone about it?
Like any CNN story's comment section goes well.
The article is lame and has no substance. The comment section, on the other hand, is highly illuminating and occasionally hilarious.
Christians are no better or different than muslims.
Possibly worse, at least the muslims show a little strength in their baloney beliefs.
Not true. You are not required to become a Christian under penalty of repression or death.
@gg today in the US, no, but read the history of christianity, in the past you were. Research the history of the anglican church and see how extreme christianity was.
You haven't really awakened the Christians yet. Too full of love.
All men are corruptible, even Christians. The Church disavowed its political ambitions.
An Orthodox Jewish man goes to his rabbi for guidance.
"Rabbi, I don't know what to do, my son has become a Christian."
The rabbi replies: "I don't know what to say. The same thing happened with my son."
"Really! What did you do?"
"I prayed to G-d."
"And did G-d answer?"
"Well... what did He say?"
"G-d say He didn't know what do do either. The same thing happened with His son."
"Religion is a necessary fiction for those who are too stupid to have developed morals on their own, and need the threat of hell and the promise of heaven to lead a moral life."
One day closer to your own death, but not any smarter.
Yes, today led everyone on earth, 1 day closer to thier death. As will tomorrow. And the day after. See! You guys are smart!
" havnt developed morals on their own...."
And I suppose the writer of that must believe the "morals of their own " for any one of the 6.5 billion people is as legitamate or as good as the "morals of their own " for any other one of the 6.5 billion people.
Anyone who could believe such a thing is greatly deluded. How shall we agree to live under a system where morals (and presumably many of the laws of any land are based on these morals) have been developed each his own....talk about a vicious, hate promoting society that would be. Folks who believe such a thing or sort of do have not an understanding of humanity...every parent of any IQ level knows you cannot just let your children behave/operate according to their morality of the moment.
CNN how about attacking the muslim faith for a change?
in what way did this article attack Christianity?
How was that an attack?
The problem with organized religion, aside from corruption and the like, is that you suspend thought as part of the faith.
Try thought. The article is a discussion piece, not an attack.
Because Islam is a great and true religion, as revealed by the prophet Mohammed, blessings and peace be upon him.
Nobody needs to do that, the muslims have convinced everyone all by themselves.
religion is ancient myth and folklore. There are no gods, demons, deities, unicorns, dragons, etc.
THATS RIGHT ! PEOPLE WHO BELIEVE IN THOSE SORT OF THINGS REALLY GOTTA STRETCH THERE IMAGINATION, OBVIOSLY WE CAME FROM SLIME AND MUTANT CREATURES THAT SPONTANIOUSLY APPEARED.
If I scream REALLY REALLY LOUD I can dismiss all evidence and facts that are contrary to my beliefs.
And Jesus has a joke for us:
"There's good news and bad news from the historical Jesus.
The good news: God says Caesar sucks.
The bad news: God says Caesar is us."
~ John Dominic Crossan
So you are saying invisible beings-that dont exist-pass judgement on us? Very rational.
There isn't anything funny about Jesus. Jesus jokes? How disrespectful of CNN to have this article! Jesus is the Son of God who died for our sins. This is very serious. We should be concerned about the immorality of this nation and get closer to God!
No he's not, jesus is a lie.
its all myth and ancient folklore. Learn the history of the bible. It's folklore morphed and changed to fit men's needs over many centuries.
Stop blaming "CNN". It is two religious historians editorializing.
Or Jesus was a person. There is evidence of that.
Jesus is a lie, there is no sins that we are born with. are you stupid? How can you believe such rubbish? There is nothing offensive except the fact that you hold your ancient mythical beliefs to be uncontested facts that are not to be challenged. Shame on you and shame on religion. There is nothing moral about the bible, the catholic church, or Christianity? How can believe it is okay to order the murder of another man's son? Religion is foul and disgusting. More importantly it thrives with the well-wishers who are afraid to open their eyes to the truth but have no problem closing their eyes to injustice.
If this was an article about Islamic jokes there would be burning cars in the middle east. Interesting...
I suggest you restart taking your meds.
You have not understood this article. It's not meant to be disrespectful. It's about the jokes. My complaint is that it's too superficial. It should go much deeper into why some tell Jesus jokes. Humor can be abstract understanding. The article should be expanded to more fully explain the history and it's psychology and sociology as it affects today's societies.
The only thing I see from reading all of these comments is that everyone who isn't defending Christianity is really just intolerant. Shows how you fair without religion. Christians are still the most persecuted religion throughout the world, including the United States. So really people, do we need to resort to name calling and telling people that they what they believe is untrue. Grow up and show us you have an IQ above 10 and a little more tolerance. It is called faith for a reason.
A reprobate and Biblically illiterate culture criticizing Christianity is about as smart as trying to sink the Rock of Gibralta, by ramming it with that wooden boat you made in your garage.
tee hee. It's Gibraltar.
and you referenced illiteracy in your comment?
I feel very sorry for all the commentators who have nothing better to do than to vomit out all this vitriolic rhetoric against Jesus. Jesus left a very clear and simple message – to love God with your whole heart, mind and spirit and to love your neighbor as yourself. It was and is that simple. And what is God? He is the Creator and all of His Creation. Anything that has been added to Jesus' message is just debris and should be ignored, but to ridicule Jesus in the way that some of you do is to show your lack of knowledge of what he was about. Go read the Gospels and learn of his compassion for all human beings, even those like you.
jesus is a lie, never existed, was created to brainwash rubes and make money.
the problem isn't Jesus, it's the arrogance and vitriol of way too many of his most "devout" followers
Lighten up. If he could see all the fuss everyone is making about him he would be rolling.
He did his job, he's dead, and thats all there is to it.
Lets see, "god" impregnantes Joe's wife mary, demands a follower prove himself by killing his own child, evicts 2 jobless folks from thier home, is all loving and forgiving, except, in order to forgive you, he allows, neigh, commands, his child to be tortured and murdered. Likes cannibalism imagery. Is all powerful, yet only able to communicate via small brushfires and stone tablets. Makes all humans in his own image, well, except those gay ones. Prefers the USA cause, it really was the best country in 1BC. Is too frightened to be seen... ever. And best of all, plagiarized all his stories from the religions that came before his! Yup, sounds legit to me.
The silly and pathetic jokes on the Deity that I read on some of these posts only serve to display the lack of refinement of the writer. When I think of humor I think of the wise words of Mark Twain who said that "genuine humor is replete with wisdom". Take for instance this famous parable of Jesus and see how it is filled with good humor and wisdom:
"Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces."
My favorite is:
"Yea, though the dogs verily feed from bowls, feed them savory snacks as a special treat on the morrow of the sabbath."
~From "Jesus loves dogs."
And he saith, those that really believe this tripe, I would sell the Bridge of Brooklyn to.
Atheist, I think l prefer this one:
"people’s heart is waxed gross . . . and their eyes they have closed."
The gods offer no rewards for intellect. There was never one yet that showed any interest in it.
- Mark Twain, Notebook
MR BLUM AND HARVEY,I WONDER WHY ARE YOU GUYS SO SMART AND CLEVER MAKING ARTICLES AND FUN ABOUT JESUS BUT NOT ABOUT MAHOMMA...? YOU ARE NOT SO BRAVE TO DO IT AH? WHY DONT YOU MOCK THE MUSLIMS...WHY JESUS?...BECAUSE YOU ARE "AFRAID" OF CONSECUENCES....SHAME ON YOU SMART PEOPLE.SHAME ON CNN ALWAYS ATACKING CHRISTIANITY.
Because the article was about jesus?
Okey, two muslims walk into a bar, the bartender says what do you want?
One of them says, 72 virgins.
The bartender looks at them and says, I don't have anything like that.
The other says, we will now, and pulls the string on his jacket.
After fulfilling his muslim duty and dying a martyrs death the muslim approached his beloved prophet Mohammed. "Good job my son" said Mohammed. :Now as promised here are your 72 virgins...this is Ted...this is Albert...this is Edward...this is..."
What is going on in the world fits perfectly with end time events. As Jesus asked.... "will I find faith when I return?" This may be one of the most profound questions in all of scripture. Think on it...often. And remember that "faith" is not just some sort of mental assent that there was this person Jesus.....rather, it is a core beleif that Jesus is the Son of God, equal to the Father....and that faith is (for the general reader herein so they have a sense of reality) living by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God....which of course is an impossibility for one not born again (i.e. one who has not the imparted divine love of God)
Good one, hey, have you heard about the Tooth Fairy?
No one knows the day or the hour niether the angels in heaven or the son, but ONLY the FATHER. Jesus and the fathe are equel n Knowledge wisdom an power, then why would he say that only the FATHER KNOWS THE DAY AND THE HOUR ?
Oh no!!!! not the "end times!!!!" so after waiting for 2000 years they are finally here huh? Wow ... I better lok at my calendar.. oops hey you're right, it stops at Dec. 21st!! How 'bout that!! So, tell us more about our "end"... you seem ot have all the info.. so what did your "god" tell you when he magically appeared at the foot of your bed at 3 this morning? Or is he a modern deity and tweeted you?
I'm almost postive no Christians believe that the end times are when the Mayans stated they are. Mock if you will, it is your right. Just like it is others to believe what they want. How about you find a better past time that mocking someone's religion because it makes you feel better about yourself.
I'm fairly certain Mirosal mocks religion for the same reason I do. Ridiculous ideas merit ridicule...plain and simple. If that upsets the sensibilities of believers then so be it. Not our problem they have abandoned reason for superstition.
Rather than inculcating our children with the primary-color simple Sunday school legends and myths most people do, might I suggest the following ten comandments to enable them to think for themselves.
1. DO NOT automatically believe something just because a parent, priest, rabbi or minister tells you that you must.
2. DO NOT think that claims about magic and the supernatural are more likely true because they are written in old books. That makes them less likely true.
3. DO analyze claims about religion with the same critical eye that you would claims about money, political positions or social issues.
4. DO NOT accept it when religious leaders tell you it is wrong to question, doubt or think for yourself. It never is. Only those selling junk cars get frightened when you want to "look under the hood".
5. DO decouple morality from a belief in the supernatural, in any of its formulations (Christianity, Judaism, Islam etc.). One can be moral without believing in gods, ghosts and goblins and believing in any of them does not make one moral.
6. DO a bit of independent research into whatever book you were brought up to believe in. Who are its authors and why should I believe them in what they say? How many translations has it gone through? Do we have originals, or only edited copies of copies of copies– the latter is certainly true for every single book in the Bible.
7. DO realize that you are only a Christian (or Hindu or Jew) because of where you were born. Were you lucky enough to be born in the one part of the World that “got it right”?
8. DO NOT be an apologist or accept the explanation “your mind is too small to understand the greatness of god” or “god moves in mysterious ways” when you come upon logical inconsistencies in your belief. A retreat to mysticism is the first refuge of the cornered wrong.
9. DO understand where your religion came from and how it evolved from earlier beliefs to the point you were taught it. Are you lucky enough to be living at that one point in history where we “got it right”?
10. DO educate yourself on the natural Universe, human history and the history of life on Earth, so as to be able to properly evaluate claims that a benevolent, mind-reading god is behind the whole thing.
I sometimes think that, if we first taught our children these simple guidelines, any religion or other supernatural belief would be quickly dismissed by them as quaint nostalgia from a bygone era. I hope we get there as a species.
You used the word evolved so i take it you believe in evolution.Answer me this if we evolved from monkeys how come there are still monkeys?
Oh Harry, you fvcking simpleton, we didn't evolve from monkeys. No evolutionary biologist thinks that. Google H.omo Erectus or H.omo Habilis or h.ominid. Next time, before you shoot your mouth off, you might like to learn a bit of middle school natural history. Now shoo, back to your trailer park.
Harry, that is TOO stupid to honor with a serious reply. Please learn some science and biology before asking stupid questions and making yourself look even more pathetic
Harry, we didn't. Any child knows that. You are clearly very poorly educated to think that nonsense. Still think the Earth is flat?
Harry, you might want to read a science book because you are talking like a fvcking moron.
Like it or not, we really are in a New Age, and religion is part of the old. It amazes me how religious fiction lasted so long. Yet
people were certain the world was flat for thousands or millions of years. They even had "proof": stand on any beach, and as
far as the eye can see, is a long flat horizon line. The ancients also knew the world couldn't be round, because "you would fall
Get rid of religion, and teach ethics instead.
In terms of evolution, survival of the fitest, self preservation, etc., what are ethics?
Whose ethics? What makes any person's ethics authoritative?
THERE IS ONE WHO IS DWELLING " ABOVE THE CIRCLE OF THE EARTH " ( ISAIAH 40:22) THE CONCEPT OF A FLAT WORLD WAS TAUGHT BY RELIGIOUS LEADERS WHO WERE IGNORANT OF BIBLE TRUTHS.
Heaven forbid that a circle be flat...ever heard of a pizza?
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