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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. jonat

    It tells us that Christians have a sense of humor and Muslims don't

    December 16, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
    • Dennis

      Did you here the one about the kid who P'd on allah's mashed potatoes and he thought it was butter?

      Don't eat the yellow snow...

      January 10, 2013 at 6:32 pm |
  2. Michael

    So what was the answer to the author's question? What do all the Jesus jokes mean?

    December 15, 2012 at 1:31 am |
  3. Leif

    The only offensive joke is one that isn't funny.

    December 8, 2012 at 7:07 am |
  4. US Muslim

    This may come as a shocker to all, but I as a Muslim am offended when Jesus is made fun of. Yes – I know – take some time, take a deep breath and read again. A Muslim with regards for Jesus. A Muslim is not a Muslim without believing in Moses, Jesus, Mohammed and many other prophets of GOD Almighty (May GOD's peace be upon them). They came to this world to keep humanity from destroying itself. They came to make sure we do not follow the devil. And yes they came in flesh, because they were human beings. They had miracles with them to convince mankind of their connection with GOD.

    When will people listen. We all are asleep, we wake up when we die. Sad !

    December 6, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
    • Islam: the religion that Goes BANG!!!

      Did you hear the one about Achmed the muslim who detonates his bomb vest in a school bus, massacring 23 children? Well, he goes to paradise and Allah tells him he must have sex constantly with his 72 virgins, or he won't be let in. Achmed readily agrees, and Allah gives him his virgins . . . who are all men.

      And if that doesn't offend you, I hope this does, Mr. Supersensitive:

      December 12, 2012 at 2:11 am |
    • Semper Solicium Fiderre

      Finally! Religious tolerance actually does exist! I thought it was just me. CONGRADULATIONS! You're Officially Awesome!!!

      December 12, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
  5. conniemerie

    Jesus jokes have become popular because american religious leaders are weak, uneducated and misled about God and his rule book, The Bible. Jesus jokes have become popular because Christians have not been taught God's word by their religious leaders; and, rather than putting their faith in God, placed it in their religious leaders. Jesus jokes have become popular because their is an evil presence in the world that is, and has been since the beginning of time, attempting to take adoration away from our Father in Heaven and take it, and God's authority, for his own. Jesus jokes have become popular because America's leaders are godless heathens that have destroyed this country in the name of the almighty dollar and for its corporate profits. Jesus jokes have become popular because the NWO is run by those same godless heathens via the UN and its international courts. Jesus jokes have become popular because ordinary people do not understand, nor do they take the time to educate themselves, that evil is a force as is good; and, that they need to be ever vigilant for good to triumph.

    December 2, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
    • sam stone

      time to adjust the tin foil hat, connie

      December 3, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
  6. farfalla

    I am the mom of three beautiful daughters, wife to a genius, sister to a teacher, sis-in-law to an engineer, daughter to a yankee and a rebel, and a woman chasing God. I love to read, draw and be with my family. If the reading inspires me, then I draw what I read. Almost everything I draw is based around or about Jesus Christ. I attend church at First United Methodist Hillsville. Ronnie Collins is my associate pastor, also a blogger there. I love the Lord with all my heart and I hope that you see the error of your ways.

    November 26, 2012 at 11:58 pm |
    • sam stone

      back atcha, sister

      November 27, 2012 at 8:25 am |
    • sam stone

      i have found god in a handful of magic mushrooms. if it is not the god you envision, i can live with that

      November 27, 2012 at 10:30 am |
    • derp

      I think that you are doomed to an eternity of being back door violated by sasquach because you don't follow the teachings of the flying spaghetti monster.

      You are toast.

      I hope you see the error of your ways.

      November 27, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
    • BLOW ME

      you people cray

      November 27, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
    • jim

      I hope *you* see the error of your ways, farfalla.

      December 12, 2012 at 1:54 am |
  7. Shalom

    Religion is the joke.

    November 26, 2012 at 11:42 pm |
  8. Shalom

    what's a Vishnu ?

    November 26, 2012 at 11:41 pm |
  9. Shalom

    lie down with dogs you get fleas..

    November 26, 2012 at 11:40 pm |
  10. Jack Gillespie

    All I can tell you is that the First Amendment gives Americans the right to make Jesus jokes, as it should for Mohammad jokes and Vishnu jokes and Buddha jokes, etc.

    And historically speaking, Jesus definitely wasn't white.

    November 26, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
    • sam stone

      It does for Mohammed jokes, Vishnu jokes, Buddha jokes, Michael Jackson jokes, etc

      November 26, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
  11. Nietodarwin

    T H E P E T I T I O N S I T E has one to remove Marco Rubio from the science committee

    November 25, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
    • ECassious2

      "it was a shock to the people of the 19th century when they discovered, from observations science has made, that many features of the biological world could be ascribed to the elegant principal of natural selection. It is a shock to us in the 20th century to discover, from observations science has made, that the fundamental mechanism of life cannot be ascribed to natural selection, and therefore were designed. But we must deal with our shock as best we can and go on. The theory of undirected evolution is already dead, but the work of science continues. "

      Michael J Behe "Molecular Machines" Cosmic Pursuit,

      November 27, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
    • derp

      "It is a shock to us in the 20th century to discover, from observations science has made"

      Could you please cite on peer reviewed published observation that scientifically disputes the principles of natural selection?

      And don't waste time with any of that irreducible complexity crap.

      November 27, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
  12. malaka

    where was jesus and god last night as hundreds of people died suffering in that factory fire in India?

    November 25, 2012 at 10:49 am |
    • TJ

      Why do you feeble-minded atheists always resort to such stupid questions? Do you think God was supposed to give us a "perfect" world, after mankind had spit on Him? Do you think YOU have earned some special favor just by breathing?

      And do you think this life is all about YOU, all about HERE, and all about NOW? How foolish you are, as mindless as they come, with no depth or clarity of thought beyond a nickel-deep mud puddle.

      November 26, 2012 at 1:14 am |
      • Ken

        Wow, that is one venomous response. I think you should check yourself, get your perspective back.

        December 13, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
    • Sam Stone

      why do you feeble minded theists think you speak for god?

      November 26, 2012 at 5:21 am |
    • sam stone

      How do you spit on a being that has no body?

      November 26, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
    • Shalom

      excellent question.

      November 26, 2012 at 11:40 pm |
    • ECassious2

      Sam Stone

      Jesus had a body. We Christians beleive Jesus was God in the flesh. He was spat upon.

      November 27, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
    • derp

      "Jesus had a body. We Christians beleive Jesus was God in the flesh"

      You also believe in talking snakes, magic apples, and virgin births.

      November 27, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
    • derp

      "where was jesus and god last night as hundreds of people died suffering in that factory fire in India?"

      They were busy lighting it.

      November 27, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
    • sam stone

      ECassius: Does Jesus have a body now?

      Is your god so petty that he would punish everyone because some people spat on him/his son?

      November 27, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
    • sam stone

      ECass: As far as what you believe....as a famous person once said "So what?"

      Believing it don't make it so, and the claim that people spit on god is yet another one of those overblown Christian claims

      November 27, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
    • Leif

      TJ: Why do feeble minded believers thank God for their sports victory?

      December 8, 2012 at 7:05 am |
    • Leif

      They were taking bets on how many fools would enlist with them based upon a text written in the bronze age by the scientifically illiterate ancestors of the current GOP.

      December 8, 2012 at 7:18 am |
  13. malaka

    PINGA EN EL CULO MARICON

    November 25, 2012 at 10:45 am |
  14. Irreligious not atheist

    Much like the atheists I have no one to pray to that the atheists will hear what I have to say and truly consider it. As much as I have a distaste for religion, I am bothered by censorship to an even greater extent. I truly hope those pushing for irreligion will consider how valuable freedom of expression is to us all.

    November 25, 2012 at 8:29 am |
    • End Religion

      just because I may treat the religious with scorn and derision, it doesn't mean I would move for it to become illegal.

      November 25, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
    • sam stone

      religion is too much fun for it to be illegal

      November 26, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
  15. GodsBigParty.com

    I suggest checking out the GodsBigParty website. It's for non-believers and believers alike. Simple, straightforward, yet robust.

    November 25, 2012 at 7:24 am |
    • malaka

      sounds like a bise-xual website

      November 25, 2012 at 10:47 am |
  16. everett66

    I HAVE BELIEVED IN GOD, HIS SON, AND THE HOLY SPIRIT FOR FORTY YEARS–THAT FAITH IS UNCHANGEABLE; MY CHIRCH WAS IS AND WILL BE EPISCOPAL

    November 24, 2012 at 11:41 am |
    • End Religion

      But can you point to the bible verse that teaches us about plasma cutters by Thermal Dynamics?

      November 24, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
    • malaka

      at least learn hot to spell, you dolt

      November 25, 2012 at 10:47 am |
    • sam stone

      "hot to spell"?

      November 26, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
    • ECassious2

      End Religion

      I would love to have a scientific debate with you. Shall we?

      November 27, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
    • sam stone

      ECass: Does that offer apply to all, or just End Religion?

      November 27, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • sam stone

      of course, my question would be more of a philosophical/logical one than a scientific one.....but, ECass, if you feel up to it, put on your big boy pants and let's talk

      November 27, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
    • Leif

      MY CAT IS A GINGER CAT!!! HE LIKES FISH!!!!!! ??? !!!*&*^^%

      December 8, 2012 at 7:10 am |
  17. Leif

    Jesus has a sense of humor.

    November 24, 2012 at 6:42 am |
    • malaka

      and he's a good gardener too

      November 25, 2012 at 10:48 am |
    • Sam Stone

      .....and a pretty good 2nd baseman

      November 27, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
    • Leif

      Just my opinion, but I think Jesus would prefer to play short stop, the kingliest of all positions.

      December 8, 2012 at 7:12 am |
    • tom

      And he's gay!

      December 12, 2012 at 1:56 am |
  18. Sue

    Well if God is a Man Jesus is a Woman than who should we "REALLY FEAR "

    November 23, 2012 at 10:35 pm |
    • End Religion

      You're saying the Trinity is a hermaphrodite?

      November 24, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
  19. kindness

    This is my experience... Thank you.

    MY personal testimony.
    A thought to consider without an ego response

    I Accepted Jesus christ as my lord and saviour. You never know how soon is too late. Transcend the worldly illusion of enslavement.
    The world denounces truth....

    Accepting Jesus Christ (for me) resulted in something like seeng a new colour. You will see it .....but will not be able to clearly explain it to anyone else..... Its meant to be that way to transend any selfism within you.

    Also... much the world arranges "surrounding dark matter into something to be debated" in such a way that protects/inflates the ego.

    The key is be present and transcend our own desire to physically see evidence. We don't know anyways by defending our own perception of dark matter.

    Currently.... most of us are constructing our own path that suits our sin lifestyle. Were all sinners. Knowing that we are is often an issue. But both christians and non are sinners. Even once we are saved by christs merciful grace we will still experience adversity to mold us to adhering to the truth.
    We will slip... But not fall of the ship ...carrying us onward to perfection in christs grace.

    We don't like to Let go and let god. We want control to some degree. This is what Jesus asks us to do. "Follow me".
    It's the hardest thing to do... but is done by letting the truth of scripture lead you (redemptive revelation)... as I said .

    Try reading corinthians and see if it makes sense to you. Try it without a pre conceived notion of it being a fairy tale.
    See the truth...
    do we do what it says in todays society... is it relevant... so many have not recently read and only hinge their philosophy on what they have heard from some other person...which may have been full of arogance pride or vanity..

    Look closely at the economy ponzi, look at how society idolizes Lust , greed , envy, sloth, pride of life, desire for knowledge, desire for power, desire for revencge,gluttony with food etc .

    Trancsend the temporal world.

    Just think if you can find any truth you can take with you ....in any of these things. When you die your riches go to someone who will spend away your life..... You will be forgotten.... history will repeat iteslf.... the greatest minds knowledge fade or are eventually plagerzed..... your good deeds will be forgotten and only give you a fleeting temporary reward . your learned teachings are forgotten or mutated..... your gold is transfered back to the rullers that rule you through deception. Your grave will grow over . This is truth .

    Trancsend your egoism and free yourself from this dominion of satan. Understand you are a sinner and part of the collective problem of this worldly matrix... Repent.... Repent means knowing (to change) The Holy spirit (within) will convict you beyond what you think you can do by yourself. Grace is given to those who renounce the world. That are" in" the world but not "of " the world.

    Evidence follows faith. Faith does not follow evidence..... Faith ....above reason in Jesus Christ.

    Faith comes by Reading or Hearing the word of god from the bible . Ask Jesus in faith for dicernment and start reading the new testament... You will be shocked when you lay down your preconceived notions and ....see and hear truth ... see how christ sets an example ... feel the truth....

    Read Ecclesiastes. Read romans or corinthians.

    You cant trancend your own egoism by adapting a world philosophy to suit your needs. Seek the truth in Christ.

    Sell all your cleverness and purchase true bewilderment. You don't get what you want ....you get what you are by faith above reason in christ.

    I promise this has been the truth for me. In Jesus christ .

    Think of what you really have to lose. ...your ego?

    Break the Matrix of illusion that holds your senses captive.

    once you do . you too will have the wisdom of God that comes only through the Holy Spirit. Saved By grace through Faith. Just like seeing a new colour.... can't explain it to a transient caught in the matrix of worldly deception.
    You will also see how the world suppresses this information and distorts it

    You're all smart people . I tell the truth. Its hard to think out of the box when earthly thinking is the box.
    I'ts a personal free experience you can do it free anytime . Don't wait till you are about to die.. START PUTTING YOUR TREASURES WHERE THEY REALLY MATTER >
    Its awsome and It's just between you and Jesus

    my testimony

    Romans 10:9

    "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved

    Last eve I passed beside a blacksmith’s door,
    And heard the anvil ring the vesper chime;
    The, looking in, I saw upon the floor
    Old hammers, worn with beating years of time.
    “How many anvils have you had,” said I,
    “To wear and batter all these hammers so?”
    “Just one,” said he, and then with twinkling eye,
    “The anvil wears the hammers out, you know.”
    And so, thought I, the anvil of God’s Word,
    For ages skeptic blows have beat upon;
    Yet, though the noise of falling blows was heard,
    The anvil is unharmed – the hammers gone.

    Truth is..exclusive

    November 23, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
    • Godcrusher Two Point Oh

      F UK your stupid religion and your cut and paste posts, dumb fu k

      November 24, 2012 at 11:03 am |
    • malaka

      F U

      November 25, 2012 at 10:46 am |
    • Which God?

      kindlesness, your truth, is shear nonsense. Religion and faith are tootal man-made contructs. Faith is delusional at best. You are delusional. You have a weak mind, subject to addictions, in this case religion. You don't believe you are anything with out your jeebus or a fake goD.

      November 27, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
    • Choir Loft

      Did not Our Lord warn us not to cast our pearls before pigs. They will certainly stomp them into the ground and attack you – for your kindness.

      but that's just me, hollering from the choir loft...

      November 29, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
  20. Siara Delyn

    I think it's irresistible to poke fun at pompous people and.... er... the Christian right...

    November 23, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • Sam Stone

      yeah, poking fun at evangelicals is like hunting dairy cows with a high powered rifle and a scope

      November 23, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • End Religion

      "hunting dairy cows with a high powered rifle and a scope"

      If you use real ammo that's only fun for a short while, but if you use a BB gun it can be laugh-riot making them moo all day by continually shooting them in the rear.

      November 24, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
    • ECassious2

      It is almost as fun as exposing the house of cards that is evolution.

      November 27, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
      • UncleBenny

        Really? No one has succeeded in doing so yet. Except to the ignorant.

        December 13, 2013 at 6:34 pm |
    • Which God?

      Well Ecass, please prove to me, and others, that creationism is a scientifically proven fact. Peer reviews and all, please.

      November 27, 2012 at 3:36 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.