Steve Tompkins, a veteran of three seasons with The Simpsons during the mid-1990s, is one of the most distinctive voices for values in Hollywood, but he is wary of being identified as a Christian, in part because the label can be the kiss of death for a comedy writer. "The two are seen as antithetical," he says, perplexed by the notion that a self-described class clown should have to choose between the kingdom of heaven and a successful writing career. "I do believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that he was crucified and that he rose again."

Tompkins grew up Episcopalian in an upscale Massachusetts town, attending the same church as the novelist John Updike. He remembers a childhood of watching Davey & Goliath, an early animated show produced by Lutherans, before leaving for church on Sunday mornings. Tompkins drifted from faith in his 20s. Tompkins had what he calls a "reconversion experience" while writing for The Simpsons, though he emphasizes it was unrelated to his work.

Tompkins showed clips from Simpsons episodes when he spoke as part of Fuller Theological Seminary's Reel Spirituality series last fall. His topic: "Does God Have a Sense of Humor?" Writing for Homer, Marge, Bart, and Lisa was a challenge. "There were some rabid atheists at The Simpsons," he says, but "no matter how twisted the story, no matter how profane the jokes, goodness wins, goodness prevails. No matter how much those writers pride themselves as being atheists, probably deep down they're not.

"At The Simpsons you are reined in," he says. "You can't stick your neck out and do anything that's overtly religious on its face. You must undercut it. There's a gag reflex in comedy writers to undercut any honest religious sentiment. It is easier to pass a ...

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