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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 • Opinion

soundoff (5,750 Responses)
  1. Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

    Jesus walks into a motel, puts some spikes down on the reception counter, and says to the manager, "Can you put me up for the night?"

    November 11, 2012 at 8:44 am |
  2. Name required

    It's not much different than cracking jokes in Harry Potter or the Twilight vampires. Characters in books don't magically receive protection from mockery and lighthearted jokes because that particular book may be more popular than the next.

    November 11, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • Duh

      Whatever! So many people believe Harry Potter or the Vampire dudes are their saviors! Get a clue. Your moronic expression is one of the reasons atheism is so despised!

      November 11, 2012 at 8:54 am |
    • Sane Person

      At least Harry Potter and "the Vampire dudes" stories were accurately told by thier author. Your fables were told, translated, retold, edited, told again, etc, so many times, that you've no idea what you believe. You just sit and wait for your preachers to tell you. (Cause they have magical powers, and are able to decipher the mystical texts better than you do) Oh and please drop a few bucks in the box on the way out. thanks!

      November 11, 2012 at 9:00 am |
    • George

      So, how about all these jokes about Mohammed that cause embassies to be attacked and people killed? At least one character gets protection from jokes but others do not?

      November 11, 2012 at 9:18 am |
    • LakeRat1

      2000 years from now, Harry Potter will be "the savior", and Jo's books will be the "absolute truth".

      November 11, 2012 at 9:34 am |
  3. Tony

    I think that the so-called "Jesus jokes" are an insult. It just shows how evil this society has become.

    November 11, 2012 at 8:42 am |
    • Atheist Life

      Yeah, they should make jokes about somebody else's delusional beliefs!
      lol

      November 11, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      Calling jokes "evil" simply shows how scared followers of the religion industry are of the truth.

      November 11, 2012 at 8:45 am |
  4. Hoboken

    At least it's not an article by that moron Alan Miller.

    November 11, 2012 at 8:42 am |
  5. Mona

    Jesus loves you, but I'm his favorite.

    November 11, 2012 at 8:42 am |
  6. john thomas

    Get over it, the whole story was made up from hellinic romance novels from the day. Jesus may have been there but so was many guys named Jesus.It is very doubtful that things happened, the way described in the bible,but
    It does make the story better.

    November 11, 2012 at 8:41 am |
  7. Lou

    The Order of Creation

    Genesis 1:11-12 and 1:26-27 Trees came before Adam.

    Genesis 2:4-9 Trees came after Adam.

    Genesis 1:20-21 and 26-27 Birds were created before Adam.

    Genesis 2:7 and 2:19 Birds were created after Adam.

    Genesis 1:24-27 Animals were created before Adam.

    Genesis 2:7 and 2:19 Animals were created after Adam.

    Genesis 1:26-27 Adam and Eve were created at the same time.

    Genesis 2:7 and 2:21-22 Adam was created first, woman sometime later.

    November 11, 2012 at 8:41 am |
    • Moby Schtick

      That's a handy list for those who claim to believe the "whole" bible.

      November 11, 2012 at 8:46 am |
    • Hebrew

      It's because it's Hebrew poetry. Don't let a myopic view of the world keep you from seeing what's right in front of you.

      November 11, 2012 at 8:49 am |
    • Moby Schtick

      LOL, if it's "poetry" than it should NOT be believed. You don't "believe" poetry. And if some of it's poetry and not to be believed then there's no reason believing in any of it. The bible doesn't come with headings of what is poetry and "not to be believed" and what is "truth" and to be believed.

      But in a way, you are correct. The whole book is mythical poetry just like Beowulf or some other origin myth.

      November 11, 2012 at 8:55 am |
  8. If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

    It's simply that religious indoctrination is losing its grip on people .. like when you're waking up and blinking a few times to get used to the light.

    November 11, 2012 at 8:40 am |
  9. Lou

    EPHESIANS 1:4-5 Despite all of Jesus’ instructions to accept him as savior, Jesus also says God "predestined" those will be saved according to His pleasure.

    November 11, 2012 at 8:39 am |
    • Lilith

      I've advised you to worship me, but you haven't. I've predestined you not to listen to my advice, does that not make me God?

      November 11, 2012 at 8:43 am |
  10. Lou

    EXODUS 2:12 Moses saw an Egyptian beating up a Hebrew. He looked around, saw no witnesses, killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.

    November 11, 2012 at 8:38 am |
    • Rainer Braendlein

      I praise Moses because he killed an Egyptian criminal. At this time Moses himself was an Egyptian prince because a daughter of the Pharaoh had adopted him. As a prince Moses had the full right to kill the criminal.

      November 11, 2012 at 8:41 am |
    • GetReal

      Ranier.....Only with the full knowledge by the Pharoah......That's why Moses left...

      November 11, 2012 at 8:46 am |
  11. dragosurfer

    Hey, did you here the one about Jesus being just a myth? Yep, there is zero, absolutely zero, evidence that Jesus ever lived, or if he lived, that he did any of the things attributed to him by the Christians.

    P.S. Ancient writing of an primitive culture is Not proof. It's just very old writings.

    November 11, 2012 at 8:38 am |
    • Shlebs

      Actually, there is a bunch of evidence that he lived. Just none that he could do all that magical stuff. Do a little more research next time, bro.

      November 11, 2012 at 8:46 am |
  12. Jonathan

    Yeah stopped reading at "The first jokes of Jesus began in the 1970s" Hahha get a clue. They were making fun of your insane religion LONG before the 1970s because it's hilarious you folks actually believe this stuff.

    November 11, 2012 at 8:37 am |
    • Shlebs

      I don't believe in Christianity either, but taunting those who do make you sound pretty insecure about something.

      November 11, 2012 at 8:48 am |
  13. Blasphemy

    Am I seeing some Muslim envy in these comments?

    They really think terror and intimidation is enviable? And these wackos wonder why the sane hold them in contempt.

    November 11, 2012 at 8:36 am |
  14. bob

    I laugh at them all because they are all a joke and people have lost their minds.

    November 11, 2012 at 8:35 am |
  15. shoos

    I have to agree with another's comment, all these belief blogs are about Christianity because there is no punishment for your opinion. If you dared question other faiths with more extreme, less tolerant believers (ie Islam), you'd be threatened with death. The Jewish faith is an older faith that is still waiting for a messiah (to put it succinctly), so people make fun of the jewish believers not the god they believe in.
    In the US, I think people are more opt to defend their civil rights (protections against extreme government) then their religious beliefs, we are more individual because of this governance. We also believe in freedom of religious beliefs, unlike other extreme countries around the world. We are lucky because we can question openly faith as an issue because we don't force our beliefs on others here to the extreme as other countries do.
    We are lucky we live in such a great country with such important personal freedoms, we don't question the right for someone to question, laugh at, or deny a right not to believe. It's a great thing. So this article is missing the point. Be true to your real reason why there are Jesus jokes. Your philosophical views are completely wrong.
    The real point of this article should be, be thankful you live in a country that can talk about these things without getting publicly beheaded or tortured or brutalized to force you by fear to live a certain way. Our individual freedoms in this great country are what make this country one of the greatest on earth. I really believe this.

    November 11, 2012 at 8:34 am |
  16. Jesus

    Coming from two ....... It's no wonder

    November 11, 2012 at 8:34 am |
  17. Blasphemy

    I finally got my Parents to take a cruise.

    As Christians that was a big step for them. They had been hesitant out of fear of sailing over the edge of the world.

    November 11, 2012 at 8:33 am |
  18. Rainer Braendlein

    Mock people which use religion as a smokescreen for their malice: pope, Muhammad, Jewish leaders, but don't mock the holy Jesus who died for the sake of your soul's health.

    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 8:32 am |
    • Sane Person

      I did meet a Jesus a few years ago. I wouldnt call it love, more like a 2 week fling. He was hot tho! Love those latin men.

      November 11, 2012 at 8:34 am |
    • Tony

      "can make you new through the rebirth out of Water and Spirit (sacramental baptism)" That's a pretty Catholic comment there, Rainer.

      November 11, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • Jesus

      My friend, just try mocking a Moslem or a Jewish person, just a normal person, and watch yourself from there on. But to do the same with CHRIST is ok. That's because we, Christians, are weak an numb. We must not confuse"turn the other cheek" with weakness . Remember what Christ said.... Humble as a dove, but wise as a snake. He knew what time it is and what time it will be soon. Hang on bro!!!

      November 11, 2012 at 8:45 am |
    • Rainer Braendlein

      @Tony

      Sacramental baptism belongs to the doctrine of the Protestant Church too. Sacramental baptism was not insti-tuted by the lousy pope but by Christ himself. Praise to Jesus.

      November 11, 2012 at 8:49 am |
    • Moby Schtick

      @Jesus

      So what's your solution? Start killing people who "mock your prophet?" How much good has that done the muslims? And "jewish people" are mocked all the time--have been for for the past 30 years.

      November 11, 2012 at 8:51 am |
  19. John Stefanyszyn

    For man, Christ may be a laughing matter.
    But for Christ, man is not a laughing matter.

    But soon, man will not laugh but will weep and will be angry when his way of self-rights,his desire to serve and magnify himself (XES), will be put to an end.

    November 11, 2012 at 8:31 am |
    • John

      You are retarded.

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

      Makes perfect sense that a deity would want us on our knees weeping, begging for mercy. Weird how deities and scary guys with guns seem to want the same thing.

      November 11, 2012 at 8:36 am |
    • Edward

      Why should God be angry? He chose a desert people in 2000 years ago before the printing press, video cameras, internet to deliver his all important message. When people choose to ignore the bible and its message, its not that they are choosing to ignore God, they are ignoring a man made, man promoted product. There are millions of messages in millions of formats, just because one group of people say its contents was inspired by God does it make it so. The book of mormon isnt inspired, the koran isnt inspired, so many holy books, so many believers.

      November 11, 2012 at 8:39 am |
    • Atheist Life

      You are delusional, seek help.

      November 11, 2012 at 8:46 am |
    • Shlebs

      This sounds exactly like the plot to Halo 4. Awesome graphics, bro.

      November 11, 2012 at 8:50 am |
  20. John

    It is time we start calling those who "believe"what they are. Retarded.

    November 11, 2012 at 8:31 am |
    • good luck

      ok smart guy simple question for your little mind, if intelligence is what will lead us to a better life then why do we not live in a perfect life now? Science claims we are increasing our intellegence levels every day but yet we are not more moral

      November 11, 2012 at 8:35 am |
    • Mirosal

      The Christian churches held humanity back for over 1000 years, we're still playing catch-up. That's why.

      November 11, 2012 at 8:42 am |
    • Sane Person

      Well, you certainly prove the inability for religious folks to reason. "Perfect" is the goal. Obviously, intelligence, through science has made life better today than it was. We have heat in our homes. We are able to feed more people than folks in 1AD could even conceive of. We have conquered diseases. We, typically, dont nail people to crosses and watch them die anymore. We ended slavery. We let women vote. (I dont recall many books in the bible speaking for women's rights, slave's rights, and a host of other crazy issues considered normal in the bronze age). Intelligence is not morality. Try a dictionary. Also, religion is not required for morality. Religion simply tells people unable to define thier own morality, how to live.

      November 11, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • Damocles

      @good luck

      Right back at you, fella. If religion is the way to peace and harmony, why haven't we achieved it?

      I'll make it easy for ya. The reason is simple: Humans. We have the capacity to do good and evil. Science can't teach you to do good any more than a religion can. What you CAN do is raise your kids to have respect for themselves and others. Note that respecting others does not mean you have to agree with what they believe, just the understanding that they aren't the same beliefs you hold near and dear to your heart.

      November 11, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • Stoneaxe

      Turn your question around John. Why is there such wickedness in the world being delivered by "moral" religious people? Religion breeds intolerance against "unbelievers" and.....even against their own.

      November 11, 2012 at 8:49 am |
    • nzwp4q

      Hey John, apparently you believe something, right? So are in you the "retarded" group as well? Of course not! If you believe it, it must be true!

      November 11, 2012 at 8:52 am |
    • Shlebs

      Yeah, I'm an atheist, but Christians aren't retarded. You sound like you have a pretty small vocabulary, and you confuse your atheism with actually being smart.

      November 11, 2012 at 8:53 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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.