Belief in God is an oft-revisited theme for House, M.D. and its atheist anti-hero (played with grace and depth by Hugh Laurie). From nuns and disillusioned priests to faith healers and the nature of miracles, the series has skewered religious hypocrisy and ritual, but has also asked some interesting questions about the nature of God and belief along the way.
“Small Sacrifices” features a fairly straightforward medical case to frame the real story of the episode, which explores the nature of relationships: mortal and divine. What’s required to make a relationship work—and what’s not? One of those relationships is with God.
This week’s patient Ramon Silva (Kuno Becker) had long ago made a deal with God. He prayed that if his daughter, afflicted with glioblastoma—a terminal cancer, would be spared, he would each year pay for her life by nailing himself to the cross (literally) in homage. It’s a gruesome price to pay (and would God, if God exists, require such a harsh payment?).
But now Silva is dying and the only thing, seemingly, that will cure his condition is by using embryonic stem cells, something our patient believes would violate God’s laws. “Accepting this treatment will be affront to God,” he insists.
I have always been taught that we as human (and even more so as parents) are God’s partners here on earth. So the patient believes God would want him to leave his child without a father (after she has already suffered so much) rather than undergo a stem cell transplant to save his (and possibly her) life strikes me as an essential misunderstanding of God, so often at the core of religious extremism. And, as his daughter says, who would want to believe in such a cruel God who requires annual punishment and even the life of a father as payment for saving the life of his child?
Compare Silva, for example, to the season four patient Roz in “Don’t Ever Change.” Roz and her husband are deeply religious people steeped in tradition and ritual. Yet, they are not extremists. Life is sacred, and even violating God’s critical command regarding Sabbath (something very important to the patient and her husband) is trumped if it means saving Roz’s life.