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Faith, God, and Religion on House, MD

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Caveat: Mild spoilers ahead for the February 16 episode (but only in the first paragraph)!

The next episode of House, MD, airing Monday night on FOX, features a priest embroiled in controversy. Seeing visions of Jesus, he comes to the ER, where his dismissed by Cameron as an alcoholic or drug abuser. House takes the (non) case primarily as a diversion for Taub and Kutner while he concentrates on issues between 13 and Foreman, which have, in House’s words “broken the department.” I’m not revealing anything else about the episode (not that I know much more; and certainly no more than is available in the four episode clips available at the Official Fox site), so “spoilerphobes” are safe to read on.

House has tackled the issues of faith, belief, and religion several times during the show’s four-and-a-half-year run, and this new episode, titled “Unfaithful,” is certain to hit on those themes once again —  in one way or another. House is a self-described atheist, loudly decrying religion as nonsense, its adherents as fools. He’s a scientist, rational to the core; to House, science is almost a religion itself. House is quick to mock and ridicule religious hypocrisy (“House vs. God,” season two) and blind faith (his rants to Cole in season four about the Mormon faith).

But that is not to say House isn’t curious about God, our place here on Earth, or even what the world’s religions teach us about human nature. He has clearly studied the world’s religions and is reasonably knowledgeable about several.

For a medical mystery series, one that isn’t about religion or faith, we know quite a bit about the religious attitudes of most main characters in one way or another. Chase is a Catholic, having studied for the priesthood before becoming a doctor. He clearly is influenced by his beliefs, connecting strongly with the nun in season one’s “Damned if You Do;” giving communion to a dead newborn in “Forever” (season two).

Cameron describes herself as an atheist, yet House calls her “the most naïve atheist ever” in the season one episode “Role Model,” as she explains to him why people “thank God.” Foreman is the product of a home in which everything was about God. He resents his father’s God-centeredness, yet when he is on the brink of death in season two (“Euphoria I”), Foreman agrees to pray with the equally religiously disengaged, but also-dying cop.

Of the new team, we know little about their religious beliefs, except for Taub, who is Jewish. Taub is portrayed as a secular Jew who is at first embarrassed by the Orthodox Jewish couple in season four’s “Don’t Ever Change.” He views their strict adherence to their faith and observances as misguided, quaint, and out-of-place in 21st century American life. But as the episode goes on, Taub is drawn to them, questioning his own preconceptions about the validity of their practices and beliefs. By the end of the episode has a greater understanding of them… and perhaps himself.  

Wilson and Cuddy are, like Taub, both Jewish — and apparently — secular. Wilson’s Judaism is made explicit in the very first episode as it figures into the diagnosis. Finding the decidedly NOT Kosher ham in the refrigerator Rebecca Adler (who is supposedly Wilson’s cousin); Foreman proclaims that Adler couldn’t possibly be Wilson’s cousin as she clearly eats religiously-forbidden meats. Wilson laughs at Foreman, telling him that “keeping Kosher” is not necessarily true of all Jews — and that Jews often have non-Jewish relatives. 

Cuddy’s Jewishness has come out via oblique quips from House about J-Date (a Jewish adult dating service) and her artifacts (which I find endlessly fascinating about all of the House characters). She keeps a chanukia (a nine-branched candleholder used during the Jewish festival of lights) on her office shelf. It’s there all year-round, not just at Chanukah.  Her living room (which seems to have been re-designed for this year) did contain items of Judaic art, although they seem to have gone missing this season. And Monday night’s episode may explore one facet of Cuddy’s religious practices.

So those are the nuts and bolts of the characters’ overt religious attitudes. But for a character (and for a series focused on a character) so adamantly an atheist, House knows a great deal about religion and the Bible — and is ever-exploring, testing, and trying to understand the universe. Some of the most intriguing House episodes explore that intersection between House’s cynicism, his intellectual curiosity and religious belief.

The sick nun in “Damned if You Do” really pegged House early-on when they debated the existence of God. Arguing that although she lives in the real world, she feels God’s love in her, and that God loves her no matter what she does. Wondering about the presence of God’s love in the suffering of crack babies and violence against innocents, House tells her that he has a problem with belief in general. But the patient, noting House’s anger and cynicism, counters that it’s impossible both to “be angry with God and not believe in Him.” I have always thought that House approaches belief in God and belief in humanity from the position of a “disillusioned idealist.” That is the place from which most cynics arise. Either his life in general or a series of blows has landed House in the realm of cynicism and non-belief in a “greater” power.

House has told patients that “this is it;” that there is no “better life” on the other side. Perhaps that is why he so tenaciously and consistently “chooses” life when his own life has hung in the balance. In the brilliant first season episode “Three Stories,” House describes to a packed auditorium the visions he experienced when hovering between life and death at the time of his infarction.

In a nearly courtroom-like exchange, Wilson, Foreman, and Cameron (who have been sitting in on the lecture) debate what those visions meant to him, and how they fit into his cynic’s worldview. Wilson wonders whether House thinks “those experiences were ‘real.’” House argues that while the experience itself was “real,” the term is subjective. House says that he chooses to “believe that the white light people see… are all just chemical reactions that take place when the brain shuts down,” and death approaches.

Arguing that although there is no conclusive science to what he believes, like everyone else, he chooses the explanation that is “more comforting.” Finally, an incredulous Cameron asks House how he can find it more comforting to believe that “this is it.” That there is no “better place,” no “world to come.” Simply and flatly, House confesses, “I find it more comforting to believe that this isn’t simply a test.”

House has suffered a great deal during his life: emotionally at the hands of his parents and Stacy (and her great betrayal of trust), and physically (the infarction, the shooting, the bus crash, etc.). Hugh Laurie, who plays House so meticulously as a complex blend of cynicism and vulnerability, has said that House is and “old soul” and someone “who has seen a great deal of human suffering in his life.” Does House mean by his assertion in “Three Stories” that suffering is not intended as a test of one’s mettle for some greater prize in the world to come?  Or, that if a person somehow doesn’t measure up, the difficulties in this life will merely extend into the next. Either way, this point of view resonates strongly with his debate with the “Damned if You Do’s” nun about God’s love and how it manifests.  In House’s view, God, if God does indeed exist, is a God disengaged with humanity.

Fundamentally a scientist, House observes life and relationships through a lens that demands proof. But you can’t prove or disprove the existence of God; people have been trying to do that unsuccessfully for millennia. That’s what faith is all about. However, the ever-curious House can’t resist testing whether there lies “something beyond.”  

Whenever House revisits the idea of belief seriously, I’m always reminded of Fox Mulder’s poster in the classic 1990s television series The X-Files.  It reads “I Want to Believe.”  I think in House’s case, the poster might instead read “I Want NOT to Believe.” I do think that House the scientist keeps trying to prove to himself (at least) that there may be something greater “out there.” Or conversely, that there is nothing out there.

In season four, (“97 Seconds”), House can’t resist testing (and trying to prove to Wilson) that only nothingness awaits us on the “other side.” I think he is also trying to prove to his patient (too late) that he shouldn’t try to continue “almost killing himself” to experience some sort of Nirvana-like near-death ecstasy. Risking his own life to do it, House clearly experiences nothing in this experiment. However, in the season finale, “Wilson’s Heart” House submits himself to a risky experimental treatment to recover memories lost in the “House’s Head” bus crash. Again nearly dying (the man certainly has enough lives, doesn’t he?), he slips into a coma where he ponders giving up and following Amber into that white light. “I can stay here with you…,” suggests the dying House to the dead Amber. The setting is certainly inviting. “I’m not in pain here,” House tentatively suggests, pleading his case for not “going back” to the land of the living.

Would House still argue after this most recent experience that the “white light and visions people see” are simply misfired synapses as the brain stops functioning? Or would the inquisitive, curious scientist pause to wonder if there may indeed be a beyond. And a greater power? Perhaps Monday’s episode will shed some light.

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics, (blogcritics.org). Her debut novel, called "Anne Rice meets Michael Crichton," The Apothecary's Curse The Apothecary's Curse comes out October 11 from Pyr, an imprint of Prometheus Books. Her book on the TV series House, M.D., Chasing Zebras is a quintessential guide to the themes, characters and episodes of the hit show. Barnett is an accomplished speaker, an annual favorite at MENSA's HalloWEEM convention, where she has spoken to standing room crowds on subjects as diverse as "The Byronic Hero in Pop Culture," "The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes," "The Hidden History of Science Fiction," and "Our Passion for Disaster (Movies)."
  • marie

    Excellent as usual Barbara,House is facinating when he is up against religion of any faith , I get the impression that he DOES believe in God but it embarrasses him as a true scientist so he has to keep trying to prove it to himself and thats why when he has a patient of a religious nature he takes a more “hands on ” interest , just my opinion , he always looks like he is waiting for his epiphany on God when he is talking to them , of couse Hugh is such a terrific actor that just from an expression a viewer can read what ‘THEY THINK’ is going on in his mind ,which in reality could be what they believe and WANT House to believe, also Hugh is such a complex character himself as far as religion goes,maybe that is why he truly does look so interested and involved , maybe it not ALL ACTING .just a thought !!!! thanks again Barbara I do so enjoy your views xx

  • barbara barnett

    Thanks marie. Of course I forgot one very important episode which explored House vs. God in an even more pivotal way than House vs. God. “Human Error.” House did find his rational explanation, despite the fact he was thrown for a loop mid-episode.

    And of course in Fetal Position where religion (or rather God) was addressed in a more oblique way–Fetal position, when House’s amazment at the baby’s tiny fingers was pretty cool. But was he amazed at the wonder of God or the wonder of science?

    In my experience, they are not mutually exclusive. The knowledge and the ability to learn, overcome obstacles and think, create and innovate–and imagine had to come from something. Is it random chance? Is it a higher power?

    Who’s to say whether Charles Darwin was touched by a spark of the divine. By all accounts, he was a religious man–most naturalists of his day were.

    I have professional training both in hard science and in religion–and have been a working professional in both areas. I’m always amazed at the people who find religion and science incompatible!

  • Nate

    As I’ve said before Barbara, your site is the best, and the fact that you took on one of the most interesting subjects in the show, proves it even more.
    I agree with Marie, as well as you. House is a cynic, an atheist, and someone who worships logic, and scientific fact. In a way, I think that his cane is a metaphor for more than pain and a struggle physically. He claims to be an atheist, someone who operates on his own terms. But, it’s the scientific fact that gives him guidelines for his weekly puzzle.
    As Wilson said in House vs God, House doesn’t want to believe in God because if there is a supreme being, He could squash him like a bug. But, if the world was run by abstract rules, House could maybe learn them, and protect himself.
    I think this is a very important thing we learn, because it shows that scientific fact is his crutch. House wants to believe, and commit to the idea of something after, but just like how he can’t run, or scale stairs without pain, he cannot commit to anything. It is this way with relationships, faith… everyday life.
    In every aspect of his life he is crippled. The cane is a metaphor for his inability to change, even though he wants to. I think he wants to believe in something, even atheists have to question the possibility of something occasionally. House is not an atheist, he is just unable to commit.
    If he and Cuddy get together, it will only be temporary. If he were to believe in God, it would only be temporary. House’s only real belief is in what can be proven.

  • ann uk

    I think the most significant thing House says about religion is in “One Day , One Room ” ( such a crucial episode for the understanding of House )when he says to Eve ,” If God exists He must be inconceivably cruel ” ( I think I’ve got that right ).
    And in ” Wilson’s Head” to Amber’s “ghost”,
    ” Life shouldn’t be random ”

    House has an intense sense of justice and he finds himself in an amoral universe entirely indifferent to humanity’s concern with right and wrong.Where suffering and death are inflicted randomly and where all creation grows out of destruction.

    He himself wages a Quixotic fight against death. If he did believe in God he would rebel and defy him like Satan in “Paradise Lost “.

    He is enraged by some people’s uncritical religiosity, not just because it offends his scientific rationality, but because of the moral double think it involves.

    Thanks, Babara, for another interesting discussion- it’s nice to rejoin the club !

  • barbara barnett

    He claims to be an atheist, someone who operates on his own terms. But, it’s the scientific fact that gives him guidelines for his weekly puzzle.

    This is how I characterize House rather than as an atheist, and I know I’m making a fine distinction here. I think that House is searching…for answers all the time. Not necessarily searching for some representation of God, and certainly not for a religion. But he’s searching.

    People ask me all the time if I think God really exists. (It’s my field, so it’s a given.) God isn’t tangible, isn’t definable. God isn’t a person or a symbol. God is (to me, anyway) in everything…in our good selves and in our less good selves. The God I think is out there isn’t a puppet master tweaking the strings and crushing people. The way people often use and abuse religion is horrifying to me. It’s often simplistic and makes me crazy.

    House doesn’t believe; doesn’t want to believe. Whatever. It really doesn’t matter, because if he encounters one of those things that amazes him, or causes wonder in him, it does affect him, no matter what he may call it.

    He himself wages a Quixotic fight against death. If he did believe in God he would rebel and defy him like Satan in “Paradise Lost “.

    I think House is always waging war against death. I love this literary analogy. Ann, I agree with much of what you say. I think House has seen what “faith” and religion have accomplished both for himself and in the world around him and he rejects that. Blind, unquestioning faith (in anything) scares the Hell out of me, so to speak. House sees hypocrisy and the cruelty around him and also rejects a God who would allow that.

    The BBC film God on Trial is a fabulous film surrounding a group of Auschwitz inmates who put God on trial for being silent and doing nothing about the slaughter of so many millions of innocents.

    More later.

  • eli

    “For a character (and for a series focused on a character) so adamantly an atheist, House knows a great deal about religion and the Bible — and is ever-exploring, testing, and trying to understand the universe. Some of the most intriguing House episodes explore that intersection between House’s cynicism, his intellectual curiosity and religious belief.”
    Great article.. as usually!
    Loved the parallel between House and Fox Mulder, my second favourite character.

  • Orange450

    Barbara, thanks for another thought-provoking article!

    I think House personifies the struggle with belief that many people experience – the stuggle between the very human need/desire to know, and the absolute inability to know for sure. It’s an especially hard struggle for House – given that a primary raison d’etre of his personality is to find answers to questions that others have found unanswerable. Unlike Hamlet and others, who have an easier time (for whatever reason) recognizing that there may be things in heaven and earth that are not dealt with in everyone’s philosophy.

    I once read an interesting article which discussed the idea that one shouldn’t blame religion for the religious. I personally also think that one shouldn’t blame religion for atrocities perpetrated in its name. Those are the fault of humans, not God. But I think these are some the dichotomies that House grapples with. Who’s to blame – people or God? And how are the responsibilites of the universe divided? Or are they?

    Either way – there are no comfortable answers. No numbing panacea for all the world’s ills. And one of the many things that the writers and HL do so incredibly well is bring that truth home to us over and over again. As if we didn’t know! I think that there’s one specific tenet of Judaism that House exemplifies, though – the concept of Tikkun Olam, an individual’s responsibility to perfect an imperfect world to the best of their abilities. I enjoy imagining his reaction to Wilson or Cuddy if either would tell him that.

    I share your amazement at those who find religion and science incompatible.

  • Linda

    Hey Barbara. I really enjoy your articles, and on a side note, I have the book “House and Philosophy”. It’s amazing.

    Ann, I completely agree with the Satan in Paradise Lost analogy. “Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven” sounds so much like the rebel House. He would rather reign in his hell of pain and loneliness than to reach out, be humble and live a better life. He is a contradiction because on one hand, he is fiercely proud and arrogant with a huge ego (in terms of his medical talent), but on the other hand, he has very low self-esteem in that he thinks he does not deserve to be loved. That was why he kept rejecting everyone.

    If House believed in God, heaven and being nice to everyone to attain a good afterlife, he would be “serving”, and thus lowering himself in his eyes. He would then also have to believe that God loved him, despite all the crap that He has put him through. Can you blame him for being an atheist?

    Oh, and I also agree that science and religion can absolutely be compatible. I personally find zealots of any religion scary because they take everything too literally.

  • Pat

    House’s dismissal of Cameron as a naive atheist in Role Model is one of the times where the show goes for the quick joke rather the real exploration.

    She is not, in fact, an atheist, she is an agnostic. As she said in DIYD, “I believe in a higher order that’s in control of what happens, but not one anthropomorphic entity called “God” that’s concerned with the everyday workings of you and me,” an idea she reiterated in House vs God. It is the most common view of real scientists, that there may very well be a God but he does not concern himself with the every day life of individuals.

    Cameron’s line to House in Role Model “Do you think they pray to Him and praise Him because they want Him to know how great He is? God already knows that…I thank you because it means something to me. To be grateful for what I receive” takes the essence of one of the benefits of organized religion, the effect that being religious has to the individual, and uses it independent of the religion itself.

  • barbara barnett

    Pat, House has point-blank asked Cameron if she believes in God (not those words). She has said: “no.” I think she thinks she is, which is why I used “self-described.” I think you’re right–that she’s an agnostic.

    Orange–House does struggle with so much–intellectually, physically, emotionally, and I think spiritually. I agree that House is such a perfect example of the concept of tikkun olam.

    I can’t wait for tomorrow night. I look forward to the likely conflict of minds between the priest and the cynical House!

  • Luisa Borges

    Barbara and fellow commenters, words full of insight and really thought provoking.

    I´m not a religious person in the “following a church order” sense. But I do believe that there are things far beyond our understanding that have a play in our lives and in the world around us.

    Einstein (one of my favourite guys) said the followig in his book “The world as I see it”: “A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which are only accessible to our reason in their most elementary forms–it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man”. I agree with him.

    I think House is not a religious man in the formal sense of the word. But I do find his quest for answers and his curiosity to be some form of faith. He has his beliefs and this is important to him. He doesn´t think randomness is a good enough explanation for anything. He searches for the ultime answers, for the secular “why”. To me, this constant searching, is akin to believing that there always must be an answer and that nothing is random (even if it sometimes may seem so).

    More than questioning religiousness, he questions the acceptance of unanswered questions. The idea that people can just believe in something without questioning the “why” behind it baffles him.

    But he has his morals, his ideas of right and wrong. House is a principled guy, and in that he creates his own structure of beliefs.

    “Scientific research is based on the idea that everything that takes place is determined by laws of nature, and therefore this holds for the action of people. For this reason, a research scientist will hardly be inclined to believe that events could be influenced by a prayer, i.e. by a wish addressed to a Supernatural Being.” – Albert Einstein, The Human Side.

    I think this last quote would nicely fit something that House could think.

    Looking forward to Monday´s show and what it will bring.

  • barbara barnett

    Einstein also said that as he learned and understood more and more about the universe, he became more and more religious.

    In my religious tradition, one prays for strength for knowledge, understanding,for wisdom for patience as well as more tangible things like health. But ours is a religion of action, so prayer in and of itself; ritual in and of itself gets you nowhere.

    Often religion answers everything we don’t understand as “God did it.” But (if you believe in God, which obviously not everyone does–or even follows the same understanding of God)God gave us the ability to question, to ask, to be skeptical, to imagine and gave us free will to do the good stuff or the bad. My understanding of God is that God. Religious fundamentalism of all shades and varieties has given God a really bad name.

  • Kyrpio

    Barbara – I agree wholeheartedly with your comment that religious fundamentalism has given god a bad name, and also believe that Science and Religion are hugely compatible.

    I’m excited for tomorrow’s episode, as any episode that brings House close to religion is imo excellent. He is a man in search of answers (with the ‘Rubiks complex’, as Wilson so brilliantly put it). He doggedly pursues any answer which evades him medically, to the point of risking his own life (Wilsons Heart, The Last Resort), so is it any wonder he will risk it to try and find out if there is a God? Someone noted in this discussion that he didn’t see anything in 97 seconds, but I think he did, his ‘he was wrong’ was said after he discovered he couldn’t talk to the original patient.

    Anyway, it looks like its going to be a great episode, and I’m hoping it will be a House-centric one too. Maybe even a visit to the clinic??

    I live in hope 🙂

  • What a great overview and discussion, Barbara. House, the character, has a lot in common with my uncle Norm, who at one time was one of the top three urologists in the world. He dealt with extremely serious and/or difficult cases. He was an incredible guy, and I don’t mean to suggest he was “crazy” like House. The extreme situations in House actually do have some basis in reality, even so. But in the one episode “House vs. God” early on, I could see him doing a scorecard like House did. House is getting more and more “odd” – so it’s not one of my favorite shows any more, but I will definitely watch this episode thanks to your article.

  • I like this show. It’s interesting how House is an atheist, but seems curious about God.

  • ann uk

    Yes, I saw “God on Trial ” and I am sure House would have been one of the jury and found Him guilty.

    In a way he can’t forgive God for NOT existing, but if he did believe he would indict Him for not making a better world.

    Eve tries to make sense of her rape in religious terms – eg. that God is testing her- but House sees that it is impossible to explain such an event in terms of a compassionate Creator without involving yourself in moral contortions that end in a denial of truth.

    I think he does live by that Jewish commandment to try to make an imperfect world more perfect, but he sees it as a purely human duty, not a religious one.

    I agree about cynics being disappointed idealists, Barbara, maybe that also makes them the people who fight hardest to improve the world ?

  • Flo

    “He claims to be an atheist, someone who operates on his own terms. But, it’s the scientific fact that gives him guidelines for his weekly puzzle.”

    “This is how I characterize House rather than as an atheist, and I know I’m making a fine distinction here. I think that House is searching…for answers all the time. Not necessarily searching for some representation of God, and certainly not for a religion. But he’s searching.”

    Yes he is searching. I think that he is interested in the spiritual aspect of religion. Spirituality and religion are often linked and sometimes even mixed up but you can be spiritual without being religious. I think House is trying to be spiritual, he is searching for this.
    I also want to say that, in my opinion, there is a distinction between not believing in God and not believing there is a God in the first place.

    Being an X-Files fan I think your comparison is interesting, Mulder being a believer but not a religious person and I also love how the show questioned the compatibility of religion and science through Scully’s character.

    Very good article on a very important subject. Thanks Barbara for making us think about those issues and for forcing us to being/staying smart!

  • Alessandra

    Thnaks so much for this useful recap! You caught House’s feelings, as always. 🙂
    Well, you know, I’ve recently read your old article about fanfictions and… I can’t stop writing.
    This is driving me mad… 🙂 😉

  • Louise

    Barbara, thank you for addressing and capturing the shape of this theme in the series. It is just another aspect that makes this series so fascinating.

    To me, the nun in season one pegged House’s relationship with God and the rest has been exposition. 🙂

  • barbara barnett

    To me, the nun in season one pegged House’s relationship with God and the rest has been exposition. 🙂

    To paraphrase Rabbi Hillel! 8)

  • barbara barnett

    I’ll be posting my review/commentary of the episode, hopefully later this afternoon or this evening. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I loved it (despite a few things I didn’t)

  • Octavian

    Hi Barbara,

    This is my first time replying to a post, but let me say that I have greatly enjoyed reading your reviews in the past few months. They never fail to be interesting and thought provoking. I hope you keep this up for a very long time :).

    I want to comment a little bit on House’s struggle with spirituality and God because I find this to be a very interesting aspect of the show. I am an atheist who used to be a very devout believer; I am also an individual who finds himself identifying with House more often than I’d like to sometimes. I may be able to therefore offer some insight into how I see his character from my perspective.

    First, I’d just like to say for the record that an atheist is simply a person who does not believe that God exists. The definition of an atheist is not “someone who operates on his own terms.” The fact that House uses reason and science to guide him is in no way antithetical to his atheism, as Nate seems to imply. Nor does atheism imply that one stops searching, as you seem to imply in one of your earlier posts. House can best be described as an atheist and a rationalist, the former arising as a consequence of the latter. Once again, to take issue with one of Nate’s statements, I think that his inability to commit has nothing to do with his atheism – I think that to say otherwise is to misunderstand his character.

    I do not think that House is an atheist because he is emotionally wounded (to imply that that must be the reason is a bit insulting by the way – I’m looking at you Linda). House is an atheist because it is the only position that he feels is compatible with a rigorous and consistent application of rationality and a demand for evidence (and here I agree with him). I truly think that he does not believe that there is a God. However, a part of him does wish that something more would exist – because then there would be hope of remedying the senseless suffering he sees around him and that he experiences himself. I think that Ann is right to say that House, in a way, can’t forgive God for not existing. I think the nun’s claim in season one that “House can’t be angry with God and not believe in him at the same time” is a lot less clever then it initially sounds. House is not angry with God per se. House is angry with the way the world is. He looks at the world with very honest eyes and despises what he sees. He is angry at the fact that people of faith refuse to see just how bad and senseless it really is and instead choose to delude themselves (or so he believes). This truly irritates him because as a man of staunch rationality, he cannot have any genuine respect for faith. This, I think, is true independent of his misery. But he is also deeply wounded, and he deeply wishes that something could exist to take his pain and misery away – which is why a part of him maybe wants to believe. That being said, I agree that he would think God a real bastard if he did exist.

    I’ll end with a quote from Einstein (which, by the way, was not a religious man in any sense that most religious or spiritual people could identify with). Einstein once wrote in a letter to Edgar Meyer: “I see only with deep regret that God punishes so many of His children for their numerous stupidities, for which only He Himself can be held responsible; in my opinion, only His nonexistence could excuse Him.” I think House would certainly agree with those last 6 words.


    PS. I also agree that in the strictest sense religion and science are compatible, but I have my doubts about whether or not this is true for religion and a rigorous and consistent application of rationality. Not that this is really the place to do it, but I would love to discuss/debate this topic with you :).

  • Linda

    Excuse me. I did not mean to imply that the reason that House does not believe in God is because that he is emotionally wounded. I simply meant that after all the suffering he has seen, in himself and in others, he must find it hard to believe the mantra of many religions that “God loves you”. In that, I agree with you that his logic and rationality cannot find evidence for the existence of God; or, if God exists, He must be either cruel or indifferent.
    However, in my opinion, there is a case of confirmation bias going on here, both in religious people and in atheists. If you want to believe that God exists, you actively seek evidence for His existence, and vice versa. House keeps insisting that there is a scientific explanation for everything. He actively seek to discredit anything that might seem “miraculous”. Religious people, on the other hand, would see God’s hand in every coincidence and phenomenon. The same event is seen differently by everyone. What is the truth? Nobody can know.

  • I’ve heard it said atheists, who say ‘there is no God’, have to be able to say exactly who God IS. Which poses a slight oxymoron.
    Kal Penn has, clearly, a heritage in the Far East. Couldn’t Kutner be portrayed as Hindu or Buddhist?

  • Grace

    There are also two other important ‘facts’ that haven’t been discussed….Satan and free will.
    Also, I think the concept of the Trinity is a VERY hard one to comprehend. I think it’s God who give us the ability to believe.
    Note: When I was in Sunday school…many years ago, we were taught that if we missed Mass on Sunday and died before we repented/went to confession (NOT going there), that we would go straight to hell.
    Maybe most of the confusion lies in religion and not God??

  • ann uk

    I just want to say how much I agree with Octavian’s clear exposition of House’s view of the world. Like him I identify with House and admire his intransigent honesty.

    In the face of an amoral universe House has forged a personal morality which is based directly on that unflinching honesty and which costs him dearly both practically and emotionally.

    I am constantly amazed that an apparently conventional TV show could have conceived such a character and that the writers and Hugh Laurie between the continue to embody him so courageously.Long may he live to provoke discussions like this !

  • steiner

    I am an atheist and a very happy one at that. I don’t buy the idea that a lack of belief in God will necessarily lead to you feeling like something is missing in your life, and I don’t think that’s got anything to do with House’s problem.

    I think House is an atheist. But, like any scientific person (including myself), he is eternally curious. He always wants to ask new questions, try out new ideas and so on. And just because he entertains an idea doesn’t mean he believes in it.

    The great thing about science is how you can’t debate it. It’s true. In House vs God, whilst some proclaim that the tumour shrinking must have been a miracle, House doesn’t accept that illogical explanation and instead finds a rational explanation that fits the evidence.

    Instead of resigning himself to sloppy thinking, he challenges the infantile notion of a ‘miracle’ and actually solves the problem.

  • barbara barnett


    I think it depends on perspective. To me rational thought itself is a miracle. Darwin is a miracle. The genius of Mozart; Bach, etc.

    I think in a way we make our own miracles. God (even if you believe in God) is not a puppetmaster pulling the strings. You can be a rational thinker, a physicist, a mathematician and still believe in God; still believe in the big bang. I find no contradiction–depending on how you percieve and experience God.