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My Take: What all those Jesus jokes tell us
The authors note that Jesus jokes have become popular just since the 1970s.
November 10th, 2012
10:00 PM ET

My Take: What all those Jesus jokes tell us

Editor’s note: Edward J. Blum is a historian of race and religion at San Diego State University. Paul Harvey is a history professor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and runs the blog Religion in AmericanHistory. They co-authored “The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America.”

By Edward J. Blum and Paul Harvey, Special to CNN

Did you ever hear the one about Jesus being Mexican? Well, he was bilingual; he was constantly harassed by the government; and his first name was Jesus.

Or, perhaps Jesus was Irish? He loved a good story; he never kept a steady job; and his last request was for a drink.

Or maybe it’s possible that Jesus was Californian? He never cut his hair; he was always walking around barefoot; and he started a new religion.

You may not have heard these Jesus jokes, but you’ve heard others. They represent a comedic trend that has animated the United States since the 1970s. More and more comedy gimmicks hit on Jesus, his ethnicity and his relationship to politics. Laughing with (and at) the Lord is now fodder for major motion pictures, barroom comedy tours, graphic novels, t-shirts and bumper stickers.

How is it that a figure sacred to so many Americans has become the punch line of so many jokes? And why is it acceptable to poke fun at Jesus when other sacred figures are deemed off limits or there is hell to pay for mocking them?

The explanations are as numerous as the laughs.

Immigration shifts from the 1960s changed the ethnic and religious faces of the country so no tradition dominates today. The Christian right made such a moral spectacle of itself that it practically begged to be mocked. The emergence of “spiritual, but not religious” sensibilities left many Americans willing to denounce or laugh about traditional faith. The public rise of agnosticism, atheism, and secularism led to aggressive mockery as a form of persuasion.

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If we pause to consider why we’re laughing, we find that the comic bits delve into some of our thorniest and unresolved problems. The jokes reveal much more about us than they do Jesus. They speak to how our society has changed, how it hasn’t, and what we’re obsessed with.

The first public jokes about Jesus were heard in the 1970s. There had been religious jokes before this, but none about Jesus had become widely popular because organized Christianity held such authority. As the economic recession and problems of urban decay collided with civil rights exhaustion and new immigration, however, some Jesus jokes emerged.

Archie Bunker on “All in the Family” was the white racist and misogynist you loved to hate and hated to love. On one occasion, his son-in-law challenged Bunker’s rampant anti-Semitism with the claim, "Jesus was Jewish." Archie shot back immediately: "Only on his mother's side."

The “All in the Family” spin off “Good Times” featured a black family that lives in an inner-city housing project, probably Chicago's infamous Cabrini Green. On the show's second episode, the oldest son J. J. astounded everyone by painting Jesus as black. The younger son loves it, and says he learned all about Christ’s blackness from the local Nation of Islam.

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As the family debates whether this black Jesus should be hung on the wall in place of their white Jesus, they “miraculously” receive $140 from the Internal Revenue Service. Feeling blessed, the family placed the painting on its living room wall, and the elated J. J. shouted his tagline, "Dyno-mite!”

From the 1980s to the present, the number of prominent Jesus jokes has multiplied like loaves and fishes:

• In “Talladega Nights,” Ricky Bobby and his family debated which Jesus to pray to (“baby Jesus in golden fleece diapers,” “grown-up Jesus,” “ninja Jesus”). Their overall hope is that Jesus will help them continue their extravagant lifestyle.

• “South Park” featured Jesus as a weak-kneed host of a local talk show who boxes the devil.

• “Family Guy” had Jesus perform magic tricks that wowed his ancient audience.

• “The Colbert Report” placed a gun in Christ’s hand and had him defend conservatives against the liberal “War on Easter.”

• “Saturday Night Live” let Jesus chastise Tim Tebow for using the Lord’s name in vain and ended the bit by declaring that the Mormons have it right.

One unforgettable scene in the rather forgettable recent film “21 Jump Street” may explain why Jesus has become such a joke.

Before Jonah Hill’s character returns to high school as an undercover cop, he prays to a small, crucified “Korean Jesus.” Down on his knees, he says: “Hey Korean Jesus, I don’t know if you only cater to Korean Christians or if you even exist, no offense. I’m just really freaked out about going back to high school. It was just so f***ing hard the first time. … I just really don’t want to f*** this up. Sorry for swearing so much. The end? I don’t really know how to end the prayer.”

The hilarity of the moment only makes sense in our time. Hill's character is unchurched and agnostic, but wants spiritual power to guide him. We can laugh at how agnosticism and being “spiritual, but not religious,” leave him uncertain of what to say, how to say it, and even how to end.

We can also laugh at how ethnic factors color his approach. By wondering if Korean Jesus cares only about Korean problems, Hill pokes fun at the issue which was made a media spectacle in 2008, when the Rev. Jeremiah Wright could be heard preaching that “Jesus was a poor black man” as part of his support for Barack Obama. What good is a God who only cares for those who look like him?

The Jesus jokes not only reveal how tangled our religious, racial, economic and political positions have become, but also how many outlets there are for the jokes. In these tense times, when presidential hopefuls point fingers at one another and families unfriend one another over political and cultural differences, laughing may be one way to talk about the problems without killing one another.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Edward J. Blum and Paul Harvey.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Entertainment • Jesus • My Take • Opinion

soundoff (5,750 Responses)
  1. Doomed

    Atheists have an obsession about God, wherever there is a discussion about religion, you bet you will find them there.

    November 12, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
    • Farheed

      f u

      November 12, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
    • Gawd

      The weak-minded people are getting defensive.

      November 12, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
    • sybaris

      Yes we do, because so many people use their god to justify the harm they do to their fellow man.

      November 12, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
    • Farheed

      bs. It's all make believe. you sheep

      November 12, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      The vast majority of the world's atheists — about a billion Chinese — NEVER think about God, let alone being obsessed with the Invisible Sky Daddy.

      November 12, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Well you Christians keep inviting us, if you would keep your mouth shut so would we.

      November 12, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • Doomed

      Thank you Sybaris, at least the truth about atheists obsessive personality came out from the mouth of an atheist.

      November 12, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
    • OpposingView

      RichardSRussell… That's funny. So you know what those billion Chinese are thinking, right? And those billion Chinese atheists never ever get together to discuss their common interests, such as their disbelief in God, right?…

      Just what I thought….

      November 12, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
    • fintastic

      @OV....... I really have to thank you. Honestly, you are providing so much entertainment!.... keep it up please! I'm really enjoying it!.....

      November 14, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
  2. Jesus

    What's the difference between me and my picture?

    It takes only one nail to hang my picture.

    November 12, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
  3. Paul Sartre

    So, where is the rest of the article where it explains why Jesus jokes are okay, but Mohammed jokes are racist? Or were they afraid some peace-loving imam would put a price on their heads, and they'd get whacked?

    November 12, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      This article was about Jesus jokes, not Mohammed jokes.

      November 12, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
    • Big CULO

      one lick, on the head, just one lick. I promise

      November 12, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
    • Farheed

      Paul: is that you. is the rash gone from uranus. i want to bang you again, if it is

      November 12, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
    • Jesusisthegreatest

      Jesus is just cooler than mohammed, he knows what's up and is moar fun at partah time

      November 12, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
  4. Gayola

    akmed, call me. I have some important news

    November 12, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
  5. Clyde

    Jesus walks into a posh five star hotel.
    He goes up to the Concierge, throws four nails on the counter and says,
    "So, can you put me up for the night?"

    November 12, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
    • Jesus

      you're going to hell

      November 12, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
    • God

      No, son, for verily I have forgiven him and predestined him to be mine from before the foundation of the world. Clyde, I have chosen thee.

      November 12, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
    • Matt

      Isn't it only 3 nails anyway [one for each hand, and one going through both feet]?

      November 12, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
  6. Maricon

    "Nephilim" (נְפִילִים) probably derives from the Semitic root npl (נָפַל), "to fall" which also includes "to cause to fall" and "to kill, to ruin".[citation needed] The Brown-Driver-Briggs Lexicon gives the meaning as "giants"[1] Robert Baker Girdlestone[2] argued the word comes from the Hiphil causative stem. Adam Clarke took it as passive, "fallen", "apostates". Ronald Hendel states that it is a passive form "ones who have fallen", equivalent grammatically to paqid "one who is appointed" (i.e. overseer), asir, "one who is bound", (i.e. prisoner) etc.[3][4]

    November 12, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
  7. Dana

    People tell Jesus jokes because all of that fairy tale, absurd, magical religious nonsense is so funny. Talking snakes, earth created 6,000 years ago, man created with some kind of magic wand or something, woman created from a rib, etc. It's hilarious!

    November 12, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
    • Maricon

      I need a bj

      November 12, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
    • Jesusisthegreatest

      no they tell them to lighten the mood, something that you need desperately

      November 12, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
  8. Maricon

    I need an Obama phone.

    November 12, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
  9. Maricon

    where ebrysdfiu?

    November 12, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
  10. yo mama

    What would Jesus do in a gay bar?

    Get Nailed.

    November 12, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
  11. yo mama

    what yall dont realize is that the contractor is charging you full price on what he does to your house. then he turns around and pays Lopez, Pedro, Manuel and garcia $20 for 10 hours of work. you get the bill like he paid Tyler Smith and all his benefits. Wake up you STRONZI.

    November 12, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
  12. yo mama

    Jesus is coming!
    and we have to clean it up

    November 12, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
    • HappyG

      What did Jesus say to Joseph when he told him to quit making birds from clay? " I don,t have to!" You aren't my dad!...

      November 12, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
  13. solex

    How do we know jesus was jewish?

    He lived at home until he was over 21
    He worked in the family business
    He thought his mother was a virgin
    and she thought he was god

    November 12, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
  14. yo mama

    How many times did young Jesus scream at Joseph, "Yeah, well, you're
    not my real dad!" ?

    November 12, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
    • realbuckyball

      Yeah, he should have told that to Matthew. Matthew spends all of Chapter one establishing the Davidic line, through Joseph, then has his "Maurey moment", and says Joseph was NOT the father.

      November 12, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
  15. yo mama

    If Jesus really was a Jew, what's up with the puertorican name?

    November 12, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
  16. yo mama

    Jesus, save me from your followers

    November 12, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
  17. yo mama

    I NEVER BELIEVED THAT SOMEONE CAN CURE THE BLIND 2000 YEARS AGO.

    November 12, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
  18. yo mama

    Jesus Lopez cuts my grass

    November 12, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
    • solex

      And yet you'd rather he was in Mexico. Cut our own grass then...

      November 12, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
    • yo mama

      I want white poeple cutting my grass

      November 12, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
  19. yo mama

    What did Jesus say when they removed his hands from the cross?

    *waves arms frantically*
    Quick.....GET THE FEET!!

    November 12, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
  20. yo mama

    "Any more lion food, Julius?"

    "No, just a load of Christians, that's all!"

    "That's okay, They'll do. Take the crosses of 'em though, 'cause we don't want the lions to choke!"

    Read more: http://thetfp.com/tfp/tilted-humor/94466-offensive-jesus-jokes.html#ixzz2C3a34rME

    November 12, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.