In The Laugh Judgment competition, more than 4,000 people voted on 700 religious jokes sent in to the satirical Christian website ShipofFools. The ten funniest and ten most offensive will be performed today at the Greenbelt Christian arts festival at Cheltenham racecourse by the comic James Carey, a scriptwriter for radio comedy shows.
Some of the jokes were so offensive that they do not bear reproduction. One of the worst, a masturbation joke about Jesus, so upset the Church in Denmark, where it was first told, that religious leaders raised money to send the comic responsible to Israel to educate him. He gave the money to charity.
But this joke was voted only the second most offensive, by 69 per cent of respondents. The most offensive, voted for by 72 per cent, was about a paedophile priest who was preparing to assault a child who had just lost both parents in a seaside clifftop tragedy. The ten most offensive jokes were about Christianity.
The jokes voted the funniest were mainly about Christianity although other religions were mentioned in some. The joke voted the funniest by 65 per cent of respondents, about a suicidal Baptist Christian, was an illustration of the extremes of religious sectarianism.
The contest was started to highlight potential problems with the Governments new religious hatred legislation.
Religious leaders from churches across the denominational spectrum, as well as secularists and comics such as Rowan Atkinson, are united in opposition to the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill, which had its third reading in July.
The Bill, which will now go to the Lords, where it is expected to arouse strong opposition, recommends a maximum seven-year jail sentence for anyone convicted of intending to stir up religious hatred. More than 1,000 church leaders have petitioned Downing Street urging Tony Blair to abandon it.
Steve Goddard, of ShipofFools, said that he did not know whether anyone who told any of the winning jokes would be liable for prosecution under the new legislation. Ministers have offered repeated reassurances that the aim of the Bill is not to limit legitimate freedom of speech. But those opposed to it fear that self-censorship could make some subjects off limits.
Simon Jenkins, the editor of ShipofFools, said: There is a lot of talk about religious offence but not enough specific discussion on the boundaries. Ridiculing some religious beliefs, criticising absurd religious practices and offending religious people was a way of life for Old Testament prophets. Its not a freedom so much as a responsibility.
The Anglican churchs first black archbishop has criticised its leaders for failing to tackle institutional racism within the organisation. Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop-designate of York, says in the forward to a new book Rejection, Resistance and Resurrection, that institutional racism persisted because of the failure by organisations openly and adequately to recognise and address its existence and causes by policy, example and leadership.
Walking across a bridge, I saw a man on the edge, about to jump. I ran over and said: Stop. Dont do it.
Why not? he asked.
Well, theres so much to live for!
Are you religious?
He said: Yes.
I said: Me too. Are you Christian or Buddhist?
Me, too. Are you Catholic or Protestant?
Me, too. Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?
Me, too. Are you Baptist Church of God or Church of the Lord?
Baptist Church of God.
Me, too. Are you original Baptist Church of God, or Reformed Baptist Church of God?
Reformed Baptist Church of God.
Me, too! Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915?
He said: Reformation of 1915.
I said: Die, heretic scum, and pushed him off.
Jesus came upon a small crowd who had surrounded a young woman they believed to be an adulteress. They were preparing to stone her to death. Jesus said: Whoever is without sin among you, let them cast the first stone.
An old lady at the back of the crowd picked up a huge rock and lobbed it at the young woman, scoring a direct hit on her head. The young lady collapsed dead.
Jesus looked over towards the old lady and said: Do you know, mother, sometimes you really p*** me off.