The Unbelievers

"House" was solid tonight, as it usually is; while I wish they'd lose some of the strict adherence to pattern, the developing of the relationship between House and his best (and apparently only) friend, Wilson, keeps the predictable structure from stagnating. In this evening's episode, "House vs. God," a young faith-healer is brought to the hospital after collapsing, and while the doctors try and find out what caused his collapse, his strong religious convictions set House's teeth on edge. Things get worse when the patient, in the grip of a seizure, apparently manages to partially heal a terminal cancer patient of Wilson's.

No spoilers, in case you were planning on catching the rerun, but by the end, the status quo is restored, and House is ultimately proven correct in his suspicions. This isn't particularly surprising; television shows are invariably loathe to commit to one side of any argument (unless it's "Should we kill cute puppies?"), and if the show had ended with House forced to acknowledge the supremacy of God, it would unbalance the series as a whole. Similarly, there have to be a few moments before the credits where a character puts House in his place by reminding him (and us) that his discoveries don't disprove God. As Wilson tells House at the end, wryly, "You are... just as God made you."

This got me to thinking about just how rare it is to see a sympathetic atheist on the small screen. Religion, when it's brought up at all, is treated the same way that sitcoms treat Santa Claus; there's always one guy who acts all gruff and cynical, but by the end, some little thing happens that puts him in his place, and then everybody gets presents.

I'm hopelessly naive, but I think there's something wrong with this. It shouldn't be so unheard of for a show to have a story that doesn't try and soften the atheist's position by spouting platitudes, as though audiences would riot if a work of fiction dared to suggest that God doesn't actually exist. You can argue that popular entertainment shouldn't limit itself to one viewpoint, but it really doesn't feel like an even split; much like the constant lean of emotionalism over intellect ("Follow your heart," is a cliche, why isn't "Follow your brain"?), people who believe in god are given more of the benefit of a doubt. There are negative portrayals of religious zealots, but the worst scorn is usually reserved for the skeptics.

I don't really have the space (or, let's face it, the patience) to give this the depth it deserves, but it's something that bothers me whenever I watch too much television. Perhaps it's my own paranoia; it's certainly dangerous to read too deeply into anything that appears on the Brain Dead Box. But it would be nice to have atheism be a character trait that doesn't need to be explained away by psychological failings or arrogance.

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