Friday, September 5, 2014

Christianity and the Small Screen: Fox's "House, M. D."

Everybody dies. But not everybody knows as to handle it, anticipate it, or live aware of it certain coming.

For all that Dr. Gregory House, the lead character in Fox's hugely popular "House, M. D." television show - abrasive, sarcastic, amoral, etc. - he is ultimately a theologian whose secular philosophy has no answer to the sting of death. And that's the beauty of all eight seasons.

Why would a Christian, in good conscience, watch a show that celebrate amoral raunchiness like House? The answer is a simple one. The worldview prevented in House is one that Christians must confront.

House is a godless heathen who lives out his worldview. He sleeps with prostitutes, berates his employees, plays games with employees, insubordinate to authority, violates the law, lashes out in anger, and is addicted to pain killing drugs. And that is why House is such an important show. If you want proof that worldviews matter, watch House.

Dr. House is an unapologetic secular atheists that understands the implications of that worldview. House isn't immoral, he is amoral. Lying isn't wrong, but a tool to be utilized for one's personal benefit and for protecting others. As advanced animals, sexual morality is for "morons" (his word, not mine). Religion is the worse. It holds us back, based on lies, and blinds its adherents.

On this latter point, one of House's favorite patients is an active atheist priest (you read that right) whose reasons for rejecting Christianity are eerily similar to his. The priest continues to work as a priest because he is untrained to do something else. What is most striking about House's interests in him is that House hungers for someone from a religious background to join his team.* House is more intolerant than any religious fundamentalists and berates anyone who might be even agnostic.

This is all seen in two of House's most used secular proverbs. First, "everybody lies" and virtually every episode swings on a patient's lie. Secondly, "nobody changes." The former is not far from the truth (we would differ as Christians in our assertion that lying is immoral), while the latter is riddled with theological baggage. House really believes, rooted in his a-theism, that nobody changes. We are nothing more than "bags of chemicals" and the byproduct of our genetic code. Nothing will change that - not religion, psychology, therapy, or even medicine.

The show, in many ways, hinges on this last proverb. House, in spite of the story's many efforts, never changes. Through it all, House is as obstinate as the season before. The series ends with House faking his death in order to escape jail so he can spend the last six months with his cancer-ridden friend.  And the writers go out of their way to change House. My favorite season has House in a mental institution where he is taken off of Vicodin and goes through therapy with a doctor his equal. The writers let the viewer think House had changed, but it isn't long before he's back to being the same old House. But it isn't just therapy House tries. There's relationships, friendships, work, pills, alcohol, sex, vacation, money, and everything else.

House honestly believes no one changes even though he spends eight seasons trying to. He seeks transformation because his nihilism bears the fruit of loneliness. In one scene, he one friend, Dr. Wilson, agrees to donate part of his kidney to a patient/friend of his. House berates him and then explains he will not be with Wilson in the operating room for one simple reason: if Wilson doesn't make it, House will be all alone. Perhaps no other moment in the entire series is as honest as that one.

Secular nihilism is a lonely worldview and House drinks from its cup. He is successful, but never happy. He is rich, yet never content. He is a leader, yet no one truly loves him. He saves others, yet he cannot save himself.

To add to it, all of the other characters in the show, from Drs. Cuddy to Wilson to Chase to Thirteen to Forman to the rest, are equally secular which cannot accept the clear implications of their worldview. In this sense, House is the only one who is true to himself. Everybody lies, especially those who are equally secular yet uncomfortable with it. It is the recently cancer-stricken cancer doctor, Wilson, who refuses to believe he is just a "bag of chemicals." Everyone is secular, yet only House is comfortable with it.

Ultimately, however, nihilism cannot handle the sting of death. Often when a patient dies, only House continues without any emotion or heartache. What bothers House isn't the sting of death, but his inability to to defeat it. After one patient died, House insisted on performing an immediate autopsy, not because he was emotionally invested in the patient (they're just bags of chemicals right?) but because he must resolve the puzzle.

Nihlism has no answer to death. In the episode "You Must Remember This" House announces "everybody dies alone." To a secularists who has no answer to death's stinging bite, that makes sense. But to the believer, death is a defeated foe. House is lonely ultimately because of his worldview. He empty chase for joy, meaning, peace, and contentment fails because of his worldview. He utter fear of death is because of his worldview.

What makes House such an important show is it is an indictment against secularism from secularist themselves. Worldview matters and we can either go in the nihilistic direction of House or follow Christ. One ends in lonely despair. The other in hope.

Death reveals what we really believe.

*My favorite episode is in the final season and is simply titled "Chase." It is a better interaction with questions of Scripture, theology, religion, and God's calling. In the end, the secularism of Chase is preferred over that of the nun.

For more:
Christianity and the Small Screen: NBC's "Crisis"
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