There was the one about Jesus asking to be put up for the night, and puns about paedophile priests, but a tale of two men on a bridge that mocks sectarianism has been found the funniest religious joke by readers of a Christian website.
Demonstrating a fondness for black humour about their faith or lack of it, Christians, Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, atheists and agnostics sent 951 religious jokes to the website Ship of Fools (Shipoffools.com). Readers had the chance to vote for the funniest, and the most offensive, and more than 10,000 did so.
The latter category featured the most submitted joke: Jesus walks into a motel, throws a bag of nails on the counter and says: “Can you put me up for the night?”
Gentler humour about the secret sexual habits of nuns and Jesus’s problems with his stone-throwing mum dominated the top 10 funniest jokes.
“We were surprised that Christians sent such offensive jokes. We didn’t think they had it in them,” said the editor, Simon Jenkins. While the site steeled itself for cries of blasphemy from its mostly Christian readership, “heard it” was a more common complaint than “profanity!”.
According to Mr Jenkins, the identity of the joker was all-important in determining the acceptability of the gags, which were debated on the site’s messageboards and performed live at the Greenbelt Christian festival. No Jewish or Muslim jokes were published on the site because it was considered inappropriate for a Christian website to joke about other faiths. “Context – who is telling the joke – is a really important factor. If someone is telling a joke about Catholics and they are a Northern Irish protestant paramilitary, that is very different from a Catholic priest telling a joke against himself.”
Jokes about Catholics proved particularly popular, and not just satirical gags about the sexual peccadillos of some Catholic priests, which dominated the final list of the 10 most offensive jokes. “The Roman Catholic church has been around the longest and Catholicism has got some of the most colourful characters, such as mother superior and the Pope,” said Mr Jenkins. “A lot of stock settings for religious jokes are the convent or the confessional.”
Mr Jenkins said the danger of the bill to outlaw religious hatred was not so much that stand-up comics would be hauled off to prison but that it risked leading to self-censorship among ordinary people. “If the bill becomes law people will be cautious about joking about religion. It is a restriction of free speech by stealth. More than ever, religion needs to be discussed and debated and attacked and defended. It’s got to be in the rough and tumble of public debate.”
The funniest joke
I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump. I ran over and said: “Stop. Don’t do it.”
“Why shouldn’t I?” he asked.
“Well, there’s 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?”
“Wow. Me too. Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?”
“Baptist Church of God.”
“Me too. Are you original Baptist Church of God, or are you 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: “Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915.”
I said: “Die, heretic scum,” and pushed him off.