Why are some religiously toned jokes to be considered blasphemous, while others are not?
The short answer is that it would depend on the circumstances!
Before going on with this post, I would just like to point out, that I have never heard the jokes numerate in the question. Blasphemous or not, I personally fell all expect #2 are in poor taste to the mind of traditional Catholics.
Now let us go into the question of blasphemy. What is blasphemy according to the Catholic Church?
Here is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:
I. The Name of the Lord is Holy
2142 The second commandment prescribes respect for the Lord's name. Like the first commandment, it belongs to the virtue of religion and more particularly it governs our use of speech in sacred matters.
2143 Among all the words of Revelation, there is one which is unique: the revealed name of God. God confides his name to those who believe in him; he reveals himself to them in his personal mystery. the gift of a name belongs to the order of trust and intimacy. "The Lord's name is holy." For this reason man must not abuse it. He must keep it in mind in silent, loving adoration. He will not introduce it into his own speech except to bless, praise, and glorify it.⁷⁴
2144 Respect for his name is an expression of the respect owed to the mystery of God himself and to the whole sacred reality it evokes. The sense of the sacred is part of the virtue of religion:
Are these feelings of fear and awe Christian feelings or not? . . . I say this, then, which I think no one can reasonably dispute. They are the class of feelings we should have - yes, have to an intense degree - if we literally had the sight of Almighty God; therefore they are the class of feelings which we shall have, if we realize His presence. In proportion as we believe that He is present, we shall have them; and not to have them, is not to realize, not to believe that He is present.⁷⁵
2145 The faithful should bear witness to the Lord's name by confessing the faith without giving way to fear.⁷⁶ Preaching and catechizing should be permeated with adoration and respect for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
2146 The second commandment forbids the abuse of God's name, i.e., every improper use of the names of God, Jesus Christ, but also of the Virgin Mary and all the saints.
2147 Promises made to others in God's name engage the divine honor, fidelity, truthfulness, and authority. They must be respected in justice. To be unfaithful to them is to misuse God's name and in some way to make God out to be a liar.⁷⁷
2148 Blasphemy is directly opposed to the second commandment. It consists in uttering against God - inwardly or outwardly - words of hatred, reproach, or defiance; in speaking ill of God; in failing in respect toward him in one's speech; in misusing God's name. St. James condemns those "who blaspheme that honourable name [of Jesus] by which you are called."⁷⁸ The prohibition of blasphemy extends to language against Christ's Church, the saints, and sacred things. It is also blasphemous to make use of God's name to cover up criminal practices, to reduce peoples to servitude, to torture persons or put them to death. the misuse of God's name to commit a crime can provoke others to repudiate religion.
Blasphemy is contrary to the respect due God and his holy name. It is in itself a grave sin.⁷⁹
⁷⁴ Cf. Zech 2:13; Ps 29:2; 96:2; 113:1-2.
⁷⁵ John Henry Cardinal Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons V,2 (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1907) 21-22.
⁷⁶ Cf. Mt 10:32; 1 Tim 6:12.
⁷⁷ Cf. 1 Jn 1:10.
⁷⁸ Jas 2:7.
⁷⁹ Cf. CIC, can. 1369.
Since “the prohibition of blasphemy extends to language against Christ's Church, the saints, and sacred things,” jokes would be considered blasphemy if they are intended to ridicule the beliefs of the Catholic Church or the saints she honours as such. As such, the intention to the person who spoke these types of jokes would be called into question.
In general, I would consider jokes 3 though 6 to be in very poor taste and blasphemous in some circumstances. But then the full circumstances in which these words were spoken is not mentioned. And Pope Francis May be trying to bring home a certain point. Number 3 would be an excellent example of this!
A joke is simply a joke, unless one intended to ridicule or show irreverence towards the sacred.
Joke number 2, could be spoken by non-Christians as well as Christians in a manner that does not reflect a religious connotation.
Joke number 1, is simply a very common place sort of joke that is not intended to be perceived as being irreverent.
All this stated, I would not say such jokes in public or private. It bad taste to most Catholics and blasphemy is not far off.
Jokes 3,4,5 and 6 are most irreverent in any discourse and the Church would consider them blasphemy.
I will add to this a few more line about reverence and devotion to God, his Saints and those things that are considered sacred.
Many priests, even in my own diocese ate are referring to saints in a diminutive form I that perceive as lacking genuine reverence, yet not being a form of blasphemy. I can not recall how many times I have heard priests speak about either St. Joseph as St. Joe or St. Patrick as St. Pat’s Day or even St. Paddy. It is simply disrespectful to say the least. Honour the saints as they should be and they will then answer your prayers and work those miracles you ask of them!
In general, Our Lord loves a cheerful giver and not all (religious) jokes are in bad taste or blasphemous! Remember, prudence is a virtue to be followed here.
Jokes within the Catholic Church must be tempered by not being irreverent or disrespectful towards the sacred. Nevertheless, humour has it’s place in within the virtue of religion, even if then Early Church Fathers were generally opposed to it.
St. Teresa of Avila had a sense of humour in her own way and is noted in various biographies!
If we were to picture a medieval cloistered nun, we’d probably think of a woman kneeling in a church, head bowed and hands folded in prayer. Someone with a great sense of humor wouldn’t quickly come to mind.
That’s why it is delightfully refreshing to hear about the good humor of the 16th-century saint and Doctor of the Church Teresa of Avila.
A famous story perfectly sums up her spirited character.
As St. Teresa … made her way to her convent during a fierce rainstorm, she slipped down an embankment and fell squarely into the mud. The irrepressible nun looked up to heaven and admonished her Maker, “If this is how You treat Your friends, no wonder You have so few of them!”
When teaching her nuns what it meant to be a faithful religious, Teresa put an emphasis on having a good sense of humor. She wrote, “A sad nun is a bad nun … I am more afraid of one unhappy sister than a crowd of evil spirits … What would happen if we hid what little sense of humor we had? Let each of us humbly use this to cheer others.”
Her sense of humor also allowed her to recognize her own faults and need for grace. She writes at the beginning of her autobiography, “Having virtuous and God-fearing parents would have been enough for me to be good if I were not so wicked.”
But Teresa wasn’t just a good jokester. She also was a fierce reformer, who didn’t have any time for false piety. She once said, “From silly devotions and sour-faced saints, good Lord, deliver us!”
Teresa remind us that sometimes laughter really is the “best medicine.” A healthy sense of humor will keep our head on straight, and make us able to see the beauty of the world. God never said we need to be “sour-faced” to be holy. So if you want to become a saint, maybe the first step is to lighten up! -
Medieval nuns weren’t usually this funny.
Modern tastes have definitely changed over the centuries, where as most Church Fathers discouraged making jokes, especially coarse jokes.
Here is what St. Benedict has to say about silence:
Let us do what the prophet says: “I will take heed of my ways, so that I do not sin not with my tongue. I have watched my mouth, dumb and humbled, and kept silent even from good things” (Ps 38:2—3). If we ought sometimes to refrain from useful speech for the sake of silence, how much more should we to abstain from evil words because of the punishment due to sin? So, considering the importance of silence, permission to speak should be seldom given to perfect disciples, even for good and holy conversation, for it is written: “If you talk a lot you shall not escape sin", [Prov. 10:19] and “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” [Prov. 18:21]. The master may speak and teach, the disciple should be silent listen. So if you have to ask the Abbot a question, you should do it with all humility and respectful submission. Coarse jokes, idle words and anything that provokes laughter, we condemn to eternal exclusion and we do not permit the disciple to open his lips for such speech.
For those interested, these following articles may be of interest: