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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. Sroz

    Let's laugh about Mohammed and watch how that keeps us from killing each other.

    November 11, 2012 at 8:29 am |
  2. Rainer Braendlein

    Mock the pope or Muhammad but don't mock the sacred Jesus!

    I guess when people mock Jesus today they actually only mock a distorted image of Jesus they have. Probably this image rather resembles people like the pope, Muhammad, Jewish Scribes and Pharisees, etc. than Jesus. I guess no reasonable man would mock the real Jesus because the real Jesus was the most loveable man which has ever lived on earth.

    If you would meet Jesus today, I guess that you would love him. Only criminals would not love him because he could get in their way when they want to implement their evil plans.

    Hence, let us mock the pope, Muhammad, people who behave like Scribes and Pharisees, etc. but don't mock the real Jesus who is indeed sacred, and can make you new through the rebirth out of Water and Spirit (sacramental baptism).

    I am a Protestant.

    November 11, 2012 at 8:28 am |
    • Mirosal

      Arrogant little bas'tard aren't you? "Mock the Pope and Mohammed but leave my Jesus alone" ... yeah, like your imaginary friend is any better than the next deluded person's imaginary friend. You're no better than a Muslim extremist. Mock all the others but when it comes to yours, you'll kill over it.

      November 11, 2012 at 8:40 am |
    • Rainer Braendlein

      Mirosal

      The pope is a criminal, and Muhammad was a criminal too. They deserve no respect. In contrast Jesus was honorable, holy and sinless. I praise Jesus from now on and for ever.

      November 11, 2012 at 8:45 am |
    • Shlebs

      I love how your opinion and faith start to immediately bleed into what you think is objective fact.

      November 11, 2012 at 8:55 am |
  3. Jason Bibbs

    Where are the Mohammed jokes cowards ?

    November 11, 2012 at 8:27 am |
    • wondering eagle

      One day every knee will bow, even aethists like you will bow.

      November 11, 2012 at 8:31 am |
    • a dose of reality

      Wondering eagle...u r full of ka ka

      November 11, 2012 at 8:32 am |
  4. behumble

    You first have to be willing to have a personal relationship with Christ. Once you are, no one (or article) will ever change what you will know to be true. All are welcome, but not all will have eyes to see or ears to hear because it requires rejecting the gods of this world. The god of money, power and self desires. I still love you and more importantly, He does too.

    November 11, 2012 at 8:26 am |
    • Blasphemy

      Christ is was and will continue to be an ideal.

      The irony is that Christian organizations do all they can to suppress ideals.

      November 11, 2012 at 8:30 am |
    • a dose of reality

      If u love me, send me cash. U love the church and give them lots. Please share

      November 11, 2012 at 8:33 am |
    • albert

      It also involves listening to what Jesus said and doing Gods will. Pagan customs such as Christmas, Easter, as well as things like "The Rapture" are nowhere to be found in the Bible. These are world teachings and should have no place in a Christians life. Many are turning away from God because of the hypocrisy found in so called Christianity. Unfortunately you have preachers out there making the false clam that all you have to do is be saved, or Born Again. Their is a lot more involved than that. Modern day Christianity is far removed from what the Bible actually teaches; relying more on pagan teachings and Greek mythology.

      November 11, 2012 at 8:44 am |
  5. Rainer Braendlein

    I guess when people mock Jesus today they actually only mock a distorted image of Jesus they have. Probably this image rather resembles people like the pope, Muhammad, Jewish Scribes and Pharisees, etc. than Jesus. I guess no reasonable man would mock the real Jesus because the real Jesus was the most loveable man which has ever lived on earth.

    If you would meet Jesus today, I guess that you would love him. Only criminals would not love him because he could get in their way when they want to implement their evil plans.

    Hence, let us mock the pope, Muhammad, people who behave like Scribes and Pharisees, etc. but don't mock the real Jesus who is indeed sacred, and can make you new through the rebirth out of Water and Spirit (sacramental baptism).

    I am a Protestant.

    November 11, 2012 at 8:26 am |
    • albert

      As a protestant, you also mock Jesus by following pagan customs and greek mythology. Look up Christmas, Easter, the Rapture. None of these teachings/celebrations are found in the Bible. Protestants also use Idols (Cross, Fish. etc.) in their worship. Being a good person in and of itself does not make you a Christian. Nor does simply being baptized.

      November 11, 2012 at 8:50 am |
    • albert

      Based on your own definition, you too have a distorted view of Jesus if you think he condones the Pagan customs, and Idol worship that you subscribe too. But I am sure you preacher tells you its ok. Jesus however in his word, says it is NOT ok.

      November 11, 2012 at 8:54 am |
  6. Blasphemy

    A Christian and a Con artist walk into a bar.

    I found out the Christian was Christian by accident.
    I found out the Con Artist was a Con the first moment I met him when he told me what a great Christian he is.

    November 11, 2012 at 8:25 am |
  7. dale walker

    does any one notice the people that clean the toilets and streets are the ones always thanking god ? you never heard a scientist doctor or lawyer saying thank god for helping me with this ? christianity is false comfort for the poor, weak and down trodden.

    November 11, 2012 at 8:23 am |
    • Mike

      "you never heard a scientist doctor or lawyer saying thank god for helping me with this ?" You are either blind or dumb... Church owned hospitals employ those scientists and doctors. Drug dealing is very profitable, it always has been. Drugs and most organized religion go hand in hand. As far as Lawyers go, well they may not subscribe to God, but they definitely make plenty of money off of what God's little helpers deal. Pharma has been sued for 11B during the first term of the Obama admin (all doctor recommended and oh by the way, they also pay hospitals to say "drugs are good for you"), how many times do doctors get sued? The fact of the matter is this, doctors and lawyers prey upon stupid Christians, unfortunately, the rest of us have to pay for their mistakes by housing them in prisons...

      November 11, 2012 at 8:32 am |
    • albert

      Perhaps you would like to explain why there are Doctors Scientists, politicians that openly claim that they are Christian. You have a very narrow and distorted view of the real world.

      November 11, 2012 at 9:05 am |
  8. JW

    The reason for this is simple: As public, secular education becomes more prominent and the flow of free ideas continues across borders through the internet, more and more people have access to the bible (Once written only in a dead language and only the priests had access to it.) and its full scripture, more and more people recognize it for what it is: an offensive, hate filled, morally bankrupt, violent and xenophobic bunch of bronze age lies and reworking of ancient myths like Krishna, Mithra and Horus.

    It's a sham, a myth, a lie. Believe it if you must, but you cannot force it upon us any longer. We are enlightened.

    November 11, 2012 at 8:22 am |
  9. janiceanncoyle

    So sad. I'm not laughing...

    November 11, 2012 at 8:22 am |
  10. Colin

    The promising thing about all this is that it's no longer taboo to mock the Christians' favorite sky fairy. I think it is pretty safe to say that this is yet another indicia that we are finally emerging from the Dark Ages superst.itions stapled to the back of Iron Age mythology that we call "Christianity".

    Atheism rising!

    November 11, 2012 at 8:21 am |
  11. Blasphemy

    Religious wackos have become increasing aggressive and in people's face with their particular brands of ritual earthly loyalties.

    So naturally jokes evolve from that.

    November 11, 2012 at 8:20 am |
    • JW

      That's because religion is in its death throes and like all animals, they are fighting for survival.

      Luckily for the world, science, reason and humanism is supplanting them.

      November 11, 2012 at 8:23 am |
  12. Menno

    Good jokes, I'll tell them today in church. : D

    November 11, 2012 at 8:20 am |
  13. Ariel

    Entertaining article but it lost focus somewhere after the first 2 or 3 paragraphs it went rambling in Brownian motion.

    November 11, 2012 at 8:19 am |
  14. Winston5

    jesus IS the joke.

    November 11, 2012 at 8:16 am |
    • good luck

      good luck with that when you stand in front of him and call him Lord

      November 11, 2012 at 8:18 am |
    • rrinbr

      that isn't very nice.

      November 11, 2012 at 8:25 am |
  15. James

    Cowards! Did you hear the one about Muhammad? Because your an atheiest you think its clever to condem what this country was founded on...Same God for Muslims as for Christians....But you won't dare touch that issue...! Why? Go ahead post some Muhammad Jokes? To criticize anyones beliefs is wrong...Its trash like you that seperate this country...If its not what you believe then you knock it...But your a coward because you stick with one religion...Go ahead...Lets hear some Muhammad Jokes....

    November 11, 2012 at 8:16 am |
    • UncleM

      This country was not founded on christianity – another delusion.

      November 11, 2012 at 8:20 am |
    • Tex

      Did you hear the one about Mohammed and the explosive 72 virgins? :))

      November 11, 2012 at 8:20 am |
    • Mirosal

      not a joke, just a fact... Mohammed was a ped-o-phile who liked to marry and diddle NINE year old girls... he must have one seriously puny pe'nis to do that. There, I just offended every Muslim on the planet by blaspheming their "prophet".. let the fatwa be issued!!! Muslim extremists are the cowards. Only a true coward would shoot a 14 yr old girl because she wants to go to school.

      November 11, 2012 at 8:25 am |
    • Mirosal

      yeah.. Muslims believe that blowing yourself up for "the cause" will get you 72 vir'gins in paradise. That's probably true, because he will meet 72 vir'gins JUST LIKE HIM!!!! Hey, no one said that they have to be female vir'gins, right?

      November 11, 2012 at 8:27 am |
    • Vanka

      Mohammed was a pedophile?

      You mean just like Joseph Smith?

      November 11, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • Libertarian Atheist

      In the words of Art Linkletter "it's not 72 virgins...it's one 72 year old virgin.

      November 11, 2012 at 10:00 am |
  16. Buh-Bye

    This article should have been written by people with better senses of humor and who have IQs over 90.
    This is a LAME article and a waste of time to read. Even the comments are lame. Mine included. Time to go! Ta Ta!

    November 11, 2012 at 8:16 am |
  17. infidel

    where are all the Mohhamad jokes..................

    November 11, 2012 at 8:15 am |
    • Mirosal

      look above your post.

      November 11, 2012 at 8:36 am |
  18. barfly

    because it is a hoax, a total joke, top to bottom

    November 11, 2012 at 8:14 am |
  19. rla

    Hmmmm and we all seem to be better off because of this????? I would go back to those good old days in a heart beat as we now live in a culture of needy, minorities and decline.... Thanks a lot liberals

    November 11, 2012 at 8:14 am |
    • sugar

      You... bash minorities then attempt to pass yourself off as longing to return to the better times of.. what? Unregulated hatred and bigotry? How very christian of you.

      November 11, 2012 at 8:33 am |
    • jakef

      Another message of hate.

      Jesus didn't teach you this. (did you know that Jesus wasn't a WASP?)

      November 11, 2012 at 8:42 am |
  20. No belief in belief

    I think each person's belief is specific to them as an individual, even those who seem to have come to a consensus their beliefs differ, however slightly. Of course there are always those of us who dont bother forming beliefs...we either experience something or we dont.

    November 11, 2012 at 8:13 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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.