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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. Siara Delyn

    This has probably been told already but...
    3 proofs that Jesus was a woman:
    1. He had to feed a crowd at a moment's notice when there was no food.
    2. He kept trying to get a message across to a bunch of men who just didn't get it.
    3. Even when He was dead, He had to get up because there was more work for Him to do.

    November 23, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
    • BLOW ME

      not funny–blow me

      November 27, 2012 at 9:02 pm |
  2. eville11

    as he was on the cross he yelled to John, come here John come here! John fought with the Roman soldiers and was beaten and lost his left arm,he tries again at the urging of Jesus, and is beaten more severely, but managed to break through crawl bleeding up to the foot of the cross, Yes Jesus, I am here.. what is it you have to say?
    "You know John, I can almost see your house from up here... "
    Jokes sometimes are the verbal defensive of issues you actually fear. ( hmmm)

    November 23, 2012 at 8:24 am |
  3. Steve

    This opinion reminds me of an old Qabalistic story...that creation began from God *Laughing!!* Course, God must have been on the floor laughing hysterically at the creation of humanity...just goes to prove...it is our misplaced perceptions that makes any expression of Divinity into a vengeful, sadistic, psychopathic, mentally unstable, if not insane, being. I like the idea that Divinity laughs...enjoys a good joke...has a sense of humor and, is probably far more approachable than our organized religions want us to believe.

    November 22, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
  4. Lebane

    Almost daily there is a horrible story about Texas. Or about some horrible person from Texas. Its awful. I mean, it is the worst place on earth

    November 22, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
  5. Ed

    Present any proven instance of a prayer ever having been answered by a god.

    So far, no one has been able to. Funny, that is.

    November 22, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
  6. Ed

    Present any proven instance of a prayer ever having been answered by a god.

    So far, no one has been able to. Funny, that.

    November 22, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
  7. Stella

    "Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer,
    believe that you will receive it, and it will be yours."

    Mark 11:24

    November 22, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
    • Ed

      Present any proven instance of a prayer ever having been answered by a god.

      So far, no one has been able to. Funny.

      November 22, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
    • End Religion

      Stella, do you mind if I take your temperature? Rectally? Yes, that's my thermometer...

      November 22, 2012 at 8:59 pm |
  8. Shanon

    Lets hear about some other dieties..just for a change of pace.

    Q: What do yo get whan you cross Odin and Bambi.
    A: One good-eyed deer.

    Q: What happened when Krishna forgot his razor?
    A: He became a hairy Krishna.

    Q: Where does Ganesh keep his luggage?
    A: In his trunk.

    November 22, 2012 at 8:59 am |
    • Ed

      Shanon, 3 out of 3 good ones.

      November 22, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
  9. The always astonished agnostic

    I don't know what is more bizarre to me. The fact that Jesus jokes exist, or the fact that those who tell them are the ones who are not religious. In another two thousand years will we have Ghandi jokes?

    November 22, 2012 at 7:46 am |
  10. Pro-active

    Here's another joke about jesus which I found so hilarious and a very good joke. My husband told it to me and I asked him where did you get that from? I was laughing out so loud that my lungs hurt!

    Jesus was black b/cos he called everyone brothers. He liked the gospels & never had a fair trial.

    November 22, 2012 at 7:39 am |
  11. errisss

    Reblogged this on Stoplights and Spotlights and commented:
    To be honest, I laugh at Jesus jokes, sometimes. Some are real fun remarks while some are unhelpful misrepresentations. But they are here to stay, I think. The changing and complex world, the audience of such mockeries, is one with deep longing to a greater sense of reality and a mysterious longing to know a more relatable, more personal god.

    Irreverence, like all sins, points to the grace God has offered. Jesus, during his days, endured various kind of insults and contempt, and ultimately suffered a death undeserved.

    For me, that separates a good laugh from real joy recognized and experienced.

    November 22, 2012 at 1:30 am |
  12. Mark

    Why doesnt CNN have a Santa forum? Because eventually the smart ones figured out there was no Santa.
    Religion is a big business and a means of control for those that have no will of their own, or the drive for one.

    Tax it.
    I dont see any difference than the Church and Amway.

    November 20, 2012 at 11:22 pm |
    • Just call me Lucifer

      What? No Santa? Seriously?

      November 22, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
  13. swallow it

    When you feel the urge to defecate, go to the bathroom immediately; don’t wait until a more convenient time. Stool can back up, leading to increased pressure and straining. Also, schedule a set time each day, such as after a meal, to sit on the toilet for a few minutes. This can help you establish a regular bowel habit.

    November 20, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
  14. Franque

    I do know why the homasessual went to church. He heard there was a guy there hung like this (extend hands in a crucifixion position such that it makes it look like the schanzstucker is several feet in mouthwatering length).

    November 20, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
    • swallow it

      Most hemorrhoid symptoms improve dramatically with simple, at-home measures. To avoid occasional flare-ups, try the following.

      Get more fiber. Add more fiber to your diet from food, a fiber supplement (such as Metamucil, Citrucel, or Fiber Con), or both. Along with adequate fluid, fiber softens stools and makes them easier to pass, reducing pressure on hemorrhoids. High-fiber foods include broccoli, beans, wheat and oat bran, whole-grain foods, and fresh fruit. Fiber supplements help decrease hemorrhoidal bleeding, inflammation, and enlargement. They may also reduce irritation from small bits of stool that are trapped around the blood vessels. Some women find that boosting fiber causes bloating or gas. Start slowly, and gradually increase your intake to 25–30 grams of fiber per day. Also, increase your fluid intake.

      Exercise. Moderate aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking 20–30 minutes a day, can help stimulate bowel function.

      November 20, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
  15. Rob

    "What all those Jesus jokes tell us"
    Christians wont kill each other over a joke?
    BAM WE RELIGION OF PEACE NOW!

    November 20, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
    • Sam Stone

      bam? well, thanks for the insight

      November 20, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
  16. Henry

    Here we have SAM STONE and SAROJ, a couple of shameless mouth defecators stuck in the papio ursinus state

    November 20, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
    • Sam Stone

      Gee, Henry....it's almost a compliment coming from you

      Get back on you knees, you snivelling jesus svckig slave

      November 20, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • End Religion

      Is papio ursinus a red state or a blue state?

      November 20, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
  17. Calcommuter

    Found a great Christmas card. Two guys are sharing a meal with Jesus. One guy says "It must really suck that your birthday is on the same day as Christmas"...

    November 20, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
    • swallow it

      youre going to hell

      November 20, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
    • Pro-active

      That's a great one as well.

      November 22, 2012 at 7:57 am |
  18. DP

    Sam – When the truth has set you free and been revealed to you through God's love in Christ you want to share that with others. If you know the truth and understand its eternal consequences of rejecting it – and receiving it – you want to encourage and tell others about it. It is a demonstration of love for others. The same love that God showed us in sending Christ as a payment for our sins.

    November 20, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • Sam Stone

      DP: To see the truth for yourself is fine. To preach that you have the absolute truth smacks of hubris

      November 20, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
    • End Religion

      DP, you've confused "truth" with "fervent belief". Please don't lie, as it is one of the 10 rules you hold so dear.

      November 20, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
    • Franque

      Please tell me DP stands for double penetration.

      November 20, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
  19. The Janissaire

    Hey let's tell jokes about you mom and see how 'funny' those are. With response to slamming Christians, Christ etc in movies – I'm sick of it – let's see you do it to Muselims, Hindu's etc for a change and we'll see what kind of reactions you get. Making fun (slamming) of people's religion and masquerading it under the terms of 'entertainment' just isn't funny nor should it be marketed as such.

    November 20, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      Are you suggesting that Christians should follow the example set by the muslims and kill people for making Jesus jokes? Because if you think it's a good idea to kill people for drawings and words, then you're extremely fvcked up in the head. And mo'ham head can go fvck himself with his own rolled-up photo. Happy now?

      November 20, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
    • sam stone

      Plurals do not call for an apostrophe

      "Hindus", not "Hindu's"

      Why shouldn't ridiculing someone else's belief be entertainment? Isn't that what people push those beliefs for?

      November 20, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
    • End Religion

      Why did Roman-era Christians make Commandment #9 "do not bear false witness"?

      Cuz they're afraid of lion.

      November 20, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
    • Franque

      S'am S'tone: you are an as'hole

      November 20, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
    • Sam Stone

      How so, Franque?

      November 20, 2012 at 9:12 pm |
  20. KM

    This article is about what? His conclusion is what? Sounds like a guy who just like to talk about stuff he doesn't know or understands. The reason there are so many making jokes about Jesus is that there are so many religious bigots that have the liberal media protecting them while accusing everyone else of hate speech.

    November 20, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
    • sam stone

      "The reason there are so many making jokes about Jesus is that there are so many religious bigots that have the liberal media protecting them while accusing everyone else of hate speech."

      No, KM, the reason that there are so many making jokes about Jesus is because the faithful will not be happy just keeping their faith to themselves. They have to evangelize, and try to get their religious beliefs codified into our secular laws. That, and the stories are so absurd

      November 20, 2012 at 3:42 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.