House M.D. and Atheism September 16, 2008

House M.D. and Atheism

There aren’t many shows on TV where the lead character is an out atheist.

Gregory House, not surprisingly, breaks that rule.

In anticipation of tonight’s season premiere of House M.D., here is a compilation of dialogue from previous seasons that bring up the subject of God and religion.

Season 1, Ep. 5:

Sister Mary Augustine: Why is it so difficult for you to believe in God?

Gregory House: What I have difficulty with is the whole concept of belief. Faith isn’t based on logic and experience.

Augustine: I experience God on a daily basis, and the miracle of life all around. The miracle of birth, the miracle of love. He is always with me.

House: Where is the miracle in delivering a crack-addicted baby? Hmmm? And watching her mother abandon her because she needs another score. The miracle of love. You’re twice as likely to be killed by the person you love than by a stranger.

Augustine: Are you trying to talk me out of my faith?

House: You can have all the faith you want in spirits and the afterlife, and heaven and hell, but when it comes to this world, don’t be an idiot. ‘Cause you can tell me you put your faith in God to put you through the day, but when it comes time to cross the road, I know you look both ways.

Augustine: I don’t believe He is inside me and is going to save me. I believe He is inside me whether I live or die.

House: Then you might as well live. You’ve got a better shot betting on me than on Him.

Augustine: When I was 15, I was on every kind of birth control known to man, and I still got pregnant. I blamed God. I hated Him for ruining my life, but then I realized something. You can’t be angry with God and not believe in him at the same time. No one can. Not even you, Dr. House.

Season 1, Ep. 17:

Dr. Allison Cameron: Do you know why people believe in God?

House: I thought you didn’t believe in God.

Cameron: I don’t.

House: Well, then you better be making a very good point.

Cameron: Do you think they pray to Him and praise Him because they want Him to know how great He is? God already knows that.

House: Are you comparing me to God? I mean, that’s great, but just so you know, I’ve never made a tree.

Cameron: [smiling] I thank you because it means something to me. To be grateful for what I receive.

House: You are the most naïve atheist I’ve ever met.

Season 2, Ep. 19:

House: God talks to him.

Robert Chase: It’s not psychosis, he’s just religious. The only medical issue that showed up on the blood work is low sodium.

House: No — you talk to God, you’re religious. God talks to you — you’re psychotic.

Chase: A lot of people experience their religion as something more than symbolic. That doesn’t mean that—

House: God ever talk to you when you were in the seminary?

Chase: [laughs]

House: [gives him a smug look]

Chase: No.

House: God’s loss, our gain. He’s either psychotic, or a scam artist.

Eric Foreman: He was actually , uh, really impressive.

House: Well yeah, with the burning bush and all it’s quite the show.

Cameron: Are we even certain he had a seizure? Hymn singing and healing, he does it all the time, doesn’t he?

House: Isn’t it interesting that religious behavior is so close to being crazy we can’t tell it apart.

James Wilson: Yeah, that’s why you didn’t want me in your poker game. Because when it comes to being in control, Gregory House leaves our faith healer kid in the dust. And that’s why religious belief annoys you. Because if the universe operates by abstract rules you can learn them, you can protect yourself. If a Supreme Being exists he can squash you any time he wants.

House: He knows where I am.

Season 3, Ep. 12:

Eve: I don’t wanna terminate.

House: You wanna keep the baby?

Eve: Abortion is murder.

House: True. [nods] It’s a life. And you should end it.

Eve: [rationalizing] Every life is sacred.

House: [looks to the heavens in exasperation] Talk to me, don’t quote me bumper stickers.

Eve: It’s true.

House: It’s meaningless.

Eve: It means every life matters to God.

House: Not to me, not to you. [getting up to pace around] Judging by the number of natural disasters, not to God either.

Eve: You’re just being argumentative.

House: Yeah! I do do that. What about Hitler? Is his life sacred to God? Father of your child? Is his life sacred to you?

Eve: My child isn’t Hitler.

House: Either every life is sacred or…

Eve: [shouts] Stop it! I don’t wanna chat about philosophy!

House: You’re not killing your rape baby because of a philosophy.

Eve: It’s murder! I’m against it. You for it?

House: Not as a general rule.

Eve: Just for unborn children?

House: Yes! [beat] The probable exceptions to rules is the line drawn. Might makes sense for us to kill the ass that did this to you. But where do we draw the line? Which asses do we get to kill? Which asses get to keep on being asses? Nice thing about the abortion debate is we can quibble over trimesters, but ultimately there’s an ice-cold line — birth. Morally, there isn’t a lot of difference. Practically, huge.

Season 4, Ep. 2:

House: Rational arguments don’t usually work on religious people. Otherwise there would be no religious people.

18: You’re an atheist.

House: Only on Christmas and Easter. The rest of the time, it doesn’t really matter.

18: [Laughs.] Where’s the fun in that? A finite, un-mysterious universe…

House: It’s not about fun! It’s about the truth.

Season 4, Ep. 12:

Chris Taub: Cryoglobulinemia might account for the symptoms.

[They enter House’s office.]

House: Except for the one you missed.

Taub: There’s no change in her condition.

House: I’m not talking about a new symptom. I’m talking about one that presented six months ago.

[He goes behind his desk.]

Taub: Look, she’s nuts, but we can’t just give her ten ccs of atheism and send her home.

House: Religion is a symptom of irrational belief and groundless hope. Altered mental status, on the other hand, is a symptom of porphyria.

Lawrence Kutner: She didn’t develop uncontrollable anger, crying, anxiety. She just decided to go to temple.

House: The woman didn’t just choose to keep kosher. [sits] She went directly to the extremes of Hasidism, a life of stringent rules. She became a masochist.

House: You live according to God’s six hundred commitments, right?

Yonatan Arnoff: [folding his arms] Six hundred thirteen.

House: You understand them all?

Arnoff: Takes a lifetime of learning…

House: But you follow the ones you don’t understand because the ones you do understand make sense, and you believe the guy who created them knows what he’s doing.

Arnoff: Of course.

House: So you will trust my diagnosis and you’ll let me treat her, because in this temple, [scarily] I am Dr. Yahweh.

[Yonatan has a look of disbelief on his face.]

Arnoff: [wagging his finger at Cuddy] I want a new doctor.

Have fun watching the new episode!

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  • Adrian

    Actually, House isn’t breaking new ground or busting stereotypes. When atheists appear on tv or movies, they are almost always bitter, sad creatures who typically are atheists because of some trauma. In many instances, they confront this and as they grow emotionally, they also become closer to God.

    To have a prominent atheist be as noxious and unpleasant a person as House is exactly the sort of thing we expect to see on tv.

  • the Shaggy

    I’ve rarely if ever watched House… although, while you’re right, Adrian, it seems that so is House, most of the time.

    So while h’s noxious and unpleasant, his skepticism, rationality and atheism seem to be what makes him so correct about stuff.

    Anyway, the idea of him “scarily” calling himself Dr. Yahweh made me laugh.

  • prospero52742

    Becker was an atheist and he had a sense of humor. This little known show was a showcase of sophisticated adult writing.

  • Shaded Spriter

    I didn’t realise it was starting tonight in the US…I can’t wait to watch it tomorrow…

    Waiting for the Season 4 DVD to come out here so I can re-watch them.

  • I saw that episode with the nuns the other day on some cable channel. I thought his questions were fairly probing.

  • Idle Panda


    House is admittedly a troubled character, but I don’t see the other people in his life as all that much happier, even though they might say that they are.

    Btw, Bones is also an atheist, though she is portrayed as extremely logical and nerdy.

    I wonder how atheism could be portrayed more positively, without the reliance on stereotypes. If writers are being realistic, the subject of atheism probably wouldn’t even come up, but these shows depend on conflict.

  • I like House because it presents a few interesting predicaments to the “all life is sacred/science is bad” crowd; for one, House is a great doctor. He may be an asshole, but he’s a great doctor. The idea is to show that your personality and personal beliefs don’t necessarily have to be in common with what you do. i.e. House is a bitter guy, and socially he comes across as totally inept….but he’s the best damn doctor there is, in the fictional world in which he resides. So while we’d all obviously prefer a doctor who was a little more considerate, were it you or I on the hospital bed, I think it’s safe to say a lot of us would rather have a tried-and-true asshat than a frilly, fluffy believer who’s going to just assert that “God has it under control” whether or not we actually know how the situation will end.

    But also, people who are “xHxCorex Christians,” opposed to evolution and the scientific processes that the rest of the world acknowledges as largely accurate, also go to the doctor when they get sick. They trust in their physician’s expertise of these physical, medical facts to help them through their illness. That comes across as quite ironic to me, as they’re both based on the same line of biology and research.


  • If you’re interested in the question of how “groundbreaking” House’s character is, you should read the tvtropes article on the Hollywood Atheist. House breaks a lot of the sillier stereotypes, but he is definitely cynical and bitter; some of the tvtropers even fancy him a Nietzche Wannabe. He also has a “past”, but then again, I think the rest of the cast does too. Now, Cameron is a bit more groundbreaking as an atheist character.

    But I wouldn’t necessarily judge a show based on how much it breaks stereotypes. House is what makes the whole show work; otherwise it would just be a boring detective drama where all the suspects have been replaced with medicobabble.

  • CybrgnX

    House does seem to be the bitter ass that in most movies will ‘come to god’. But the time being he is refreshing to watch when he confrounts the ‘believers’.
    But I prefer ‘Bones’ she is also an athiest and much prettier

  • jacob

    I can’t watch it for 2 weeks because of exams :(, i shouldn’t even be reading blogs.

  • I love House. I adore the work of the actors, etc. However, this is total garbage…

    18: [Laughs.] Where’s the fun in that? A finite, un-mysterious universe…

    House: It’s not about fun! It’s about the truth.

    It’s entirely about fun!

    Life is so much more fun and interesting and fulfilling and infinite and mysterious out here in reality than it ever was in Jesusland.

    We need a Touched By An Atheist show, maybe like the one that was on MadTV. Something cool about a happy atheist who does good, fun cool things.

    I’ll get to writing and get back to you.

  • But I prefer ‘Bones’ she is also an athiest and much prettier

    Unfortunately, I’ve seen Bones be the Straw Vulcan one too many times, and it’s really annoying.

  • Elaine from Seinfeld was also an atheist. I’m not sure if she (julia Louis-Dreyfus) carried over her atheism to her new show, though.

  • Polly

    Did anyone ever watch Hugh Laurie in the “Blackadder” series with Rowan Atkinson (BBC). I used to LOVE that show and the Xmas special.

    House is so different from the character Laurie played in Blackadder, that I didn’t recognize him at first.

  • SarahH

    Elaine from Seinfeld was also an atheist. I’m not sure if she (julia Louis-Dreyfus) carried over her atheism to her new show, though.

    I don’t know about the new show either, but I love how it was handled in Seinfeld, so matter-of-fact and nonchalantly. Like it was no big deal to be an atheist.

    When someone in our house sneezes we usually say: You’re sooo good-looking! (Or occasionally: Nothing happens when you die!)

  • Awesomesauce

    Dr. Cox from the comedy sitcom “Scrubs” is an atheist much like House. Although, he’s more of a bully, and funnier.

  • Richard Wade

    Life is so much more fun and interesting and fulfilling and infinite and mysterious out here in reality than it ever was in Jesusland.

    Exactly right Justin. Looking into every nook and cranny of existence and demanding every scrap of evidence for every explanation is enormously more fun and fulfilling than yawning “Goddidit” and going back to sleep. Yes it’s about truth, but truth is a lot more mysterious than “Truth.”

  • Aj

    Foreman and Cameron, and probably some other characters on the show who are atheists aren’t bitter or damaged. House was an atheist before he was bitter and damaged. It was his leg that made him an addict and bitter. Although he was probably always a jerk. A brilliant jerk that saves lives, a classic anti-hero.

  • Ubi Dubium

    Oh, Blackadder! I loved Hugh Laurie as the “Thick as a whale omelet” Prince Regent. He was brilliant. He’s one of the few Brits I’ve seen who can pull off an American accent without sounding like they’re doing a bad John Wayne impression.

  • Jen

    I like that House is an atheist. Sure, he’s a bit of a jerk. But who watched the show who doesn’t love him? I would rather be his friend. After all, he has that cool guitar. Anyone else remember that cool guitar?

    One of the characters from The Big Bang Theory is an atheist. And, um, er… Although, I would be hard-pressed to name the religion of most characters on tv, because other than a few mentioning church, I can’t think of many that take a stance. Oooh, oh, Jen from Dawson’s Creek!

    Hemant, I did a google search for “atheists on tv” I did find a woman who was mad you didn’t present half-naked.

  • Epistaxis

    Ten CCs of atheism, stat!

  • Cathy

    I’ve only seen a couple of episodes, but the House character’s blatant sexism bothers me (because only women too homely or jaded to get a man would ever consider becoming doctors). Does this get better and/or do the other characters start calling him out on it more?

  • BZ

    House isn’t sexist. The gist of that conversation is that a pretty woman can get what she wants easily(Which is a belief about how society treats women, not a belief about women), while being a doctor takes hard work. House also stated that everyone (which isn’t gender specific) takes the easiest path in life.

    House will make sexist and racist sounding jokes, and Cuddy has commented that he likes to shock people. However, House is someone you have to judge by his actions. He actually isn’t sexist.

  • BZ

    Also, this link has a good conversation at the top about Cameron’s beliefs about God.

  • I enjoy the show but House’s atheism is a stereotype. I imagine that the writers could either ignore the question of faith entirely or make him extremely skeptical. The character’s desire to find solutions to complex problems pretty much forces him to be atheist in my opinion.

  • Sean

    I love House – he can be a shit, but it’s a rare thing to find an out(ed) Atheist on tv, and he is always interesting.

  • Alexandre

    Who dares to bet me they won’t make him believe in god at the end of the show?

    That’s why he is so “outed”.

    Because, in the end, some kind of disaster will happen to someone he really loves, the person will be saved by a miracle that he won’t be able to explain and he will never doubt god again.

    And once again the atheist image will be ruined.

    No thanks, I won’t stay and watch this crap happen.

  • I have a few issues with the first excerpt. There were a few fallacies in that one. Atheists are not angry at a god we do not believe in. We would just like everybody else to keep their religion out of our lives (just as a lot of fundies are closed-minded about religions besides their own).

    Also: every day is not a miracle. Alleged miracles in the bible were things that obviously contradicted the laws of nature, and they did not happen all the time. It may have been Greta Christina who wrote this, but to say that an everyday occurrence is a miracle is like saying every day is Tuesday. You are changing the definition of miracle to make it meaningless.

    Also: A bit of presidential trivia. Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter’s two favorite shows are “House” and “The Daily Show”.

  • ronin

    I’m not certain on this, but it seems to me that it has come up once or twice on C.S.I. that Grissom is an atheist. If true, then I would say he breaks from the stereotype mentioned–he seems sane, calm, affably humorous and highly intelligent. I also tend to agree with Alexandre above that the writers are setting us up for the big fall. There have been a few times when the subject has come up on House that I got the definite feeling of lurking fundie sentimentality. As far as the specifics of argument with religious apologists, I would say that that matters less to the producers than creating good TV drama and increasing audience share. Which is, after all, why the show sells and remains on the air. Gescheft ist Gescheft.

  • FSMichael

    I’m not sure, but I thought House was an atheist before his pain… If House were to become a theist, it would completely kill his character. I like the episodes that deal with death.

  • Aj

    Blue Nine,

    I’m not certain on this, but it seems to me that it has come up once or twice on C.S.I. that Grissom is an atheist.

    I heard him once discuss how man created God, in the wilderness, paranoia created a sense of another presense, it had evolved thousands of years before, they just named it and gave it different characters. At the time I thought it was identical to Steven Pinker’s position on the evolutionary psychology of gods and spirits. Grissom once refered to himself as a “secular Catholic”.

  • A lot of science style shows have atheist characters. Grissom once gave a whole long speech about how God is more than likely the product of our Brains ability to generalize for our protection. And Temperance Brennan in Bones finds the idea of anything non-scientific or evidence based appalling.

  • Grimace

    Pretty much spot on, what everyone above has said – House’s atheism is just the ol’ reliable stereotype of “Angry & bitter at a God I profess not to believe in”. He is a true “Hollywood Atheist” (hello fellow TVTroper!).

    Furthermore, if you watch these shows with theological arguments, the theist will ALWAYS get the last word (usually). Usually with some pithy statement about how super-shiny their world is compared to Mr. Atheist, and how God loves us all so huggy-muggy much. It happens on House (hard not to, considering how nihilistic he is), happens on Bones, etc etc etc…

  • Axegrrl

    Alexandre said:

    Who dares to bet me they won’t make him believe in god at the end of the show?

    That’s why he is so “outed”.

    Because, in the end, some kind of disaster will happen to someone he really loves, the person will be saved by a miracle that he won’t be able to explain and he will never doubt god again.

    That’s EXACTLY what I was going to say! 🙂

    So, should we start a little pool in here on the issue? 🙂

  • I hope they don’t make House a theist. That would completely wreck his character as far as I’m concerned.

    BTW, did anyone actually see Tuesday night’s episode? Kinda sad to see House and Wilson “break up” like it appears they did.

    House got so caught up in his rationalism over Amber’s death, that he failed to address, with any amount of humanity, Wilson’s terrible situation. I don’t know any atheists like that. Yet another example of Hollywood’s portrayal of atheism and atheists in general.


  • Bill M.

    Atheist TV Character, Show (actor and actors religion if known)

    Lisa Simpson (Buddhists), The Simpson’s (Yeardley Smith)
    Dr. Temperance Brennan, Bones (Emily Deschanel)
    Steven Hyde, That ‘70s Show (Danny Masterson, Scientologist)
    Commander Bill Adama, Battlestar Galactica (Edward James Olmos)
    Fox Mulder, The X-Files (David Duchovny)
    Lindsay Weir, Freeks and Geeks (Linda Cardellini)
    Elaine Benes, Seinfield (Julia Louis-Dreyfus)
    Arthur Dietrich, Barney Miller (Steve Landesberg)
    Jen Lindley, Dawsons’s Creek (Michelle Williams)
    Mohinder Suresh, Heroes (Sendhil Ramamurthy)
    Dean Winchester, Supernatural (Jensen Ackles)
    Cpl. Maxwel Klinger, M*A*S*H (Jamie Farr)
    and my personal favorite Capt. Benjamin “Hawkeye” Pierce, M*A*S*H (Alan Alda)

    That’s all I can remember off the top of my head.

  • Todd

    Another scene in Episode 5, Season 1, had these lines:

    Nun: “Sister Augustine believes in things that aren’t real.”
    Dr. House: “I thought that was a job requirement for you people.”

  • All I could think of was a venerable joke told to me by a nurse:

    What’s the difference between God and a doctor?

    God doesn’t think he’s a doctor.

  • Aj

    Malcolm Reynolds, Firefly (Nathan Fillion)

    I loved Freeks and Geeks but can’t remember that about Lindsay. I watch Heroes, didn’t think Mohinder was an atheist, he gets a bit “poetical” sometimes. I had a feeling Veronica Mars of Veronica Mars might be an atheist, and a complete stereotype of a wronged/damaged atheist.

  • anon04560542

    I’m not glad in the least to see House as an Atheist in the manner that it’s presented any more than a black person would be glad to see Zipcoon gain popularity again.

    Atheism is one of the many “symptoms” of what the show portrays as House’s tormented character, as was mentioned previously. Though his witty banter generates laughs, the dialogue is structured to make the audience pity House’s lack of “humanity”, not applaud it.

    He is the ultimate perpetuation of the stereotype that science is useful, but limited. That scientists are smart, but can’t understand the truth because they don’t experience emotion.

    To avoid making my post only about what bears repeating, but not preaching, I did also want to contribute that I don’t think House will become a theist at any point in the program. In fact, that he’s atheist is being largely ignored this season. I think something he can’t explain will happen, we’ll get a close up on his eyes as he struggles with the problem, and maybe the shot of a cathedral window, but I doubt they will explicitly change that fundamental part of his character (note the explicitly). Like when House kills himself temporarily and there were his eyes, up on screen narrowing, as though something “else” had happened.

  • Misha

    Why do people assume that an atheist is an atheist due to some trauma or bad experience in life?

    Would it be fair to say that Christians only believe in a god because of some trauma that happened in their life?

    Yes, House is a bit bitter on the series…..but how many people can you think of, just as bitter, who believe in a god? What’s the excuse then?

  • Smack MacDougal

    House is a story agent. He’s fake.

    That others would discuss House as if he were real reveals the the rampant idiocy that abounds today.

  • Richard Wade

    Hey Smack,
    House is a popular fictitious character viewed by millions of people. Since atheism is one part of his complex fictitious personality, he represents atheists for good or ill to millions of people who are woefully misinformed about real atheists, and he may be the only example they have. We have an interest in how we are represented or misrepresented in the media. I don’t see anyone here who is discussing him as if he is real.

    Please do not be so quick to harshly judge others. For you to dismiss others here as idiots could cause people to mistakenly think that you are conceited.

  • Smack MacDougal

    And yet Richard Wade here you are discussing House as if he were real.

    Ironically, you pass snap judgment about me, the very misdeed you claim I commit.

    If only you asked me for answers, putting forth effort to open a dialogue, perhaps you would have instilled some insight into yourself.

  • Lee

    It would of been so great if you had all his Atheist quotes. House is awesome.

  • Ed

    I really don’t see why people think House is such an “asshole, “asshat”, “bully”, etc., etc. He says stuff I say to people all the time.

    Of course, I only have two friends in the whole world, but I’m okay with that.

    It’s more important to be right.

  • DS

    Speaking of Bones, she is a forensic anthropologist who is an atheist, while her partner Booth is a Catholic. Bones has an abrasive personality (typical) but her other ‘squints’ are also Atheists (not directly sure all of them are, some of the interns may hold religious beliefs, one is a Muslim but does not make a big deal out of it) and have great personalities. I also find it funny that they all do celebrate Christmas. I find this funny because my own mother even asked me if I am going to celebrate Christmas anymore. Geez, well then. I guess all theists can’t read or watch anything secular or watch Harry Potter.

  • Sarah

    I’m an atheist, and I’ve taken it even farther than House has, in some ways.
    I believe that a person’s intelligence – I’m NOT necessarily referring to IQ, I’m talking about common sense – has an inverse correlation to their beliefs.

    Stephen Hawking is an atheist, for example.

    Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert (for the record, I hate Dilbert, but some of the books that Adams has written are amazing) is in the 98th IQ percentile and is an atheist.

    Also, I don’t think that the fact that religion has been around for over 3,000 years is a good advertisement for it. People needed an explanation for things like lightning back then, and came up with god. guys. 3,000 years later, we know what lightning is caused by. give god up.

  • N. Mahoney

    Wow, two examples of atheists with high IQs. That’s a rock-solid argument. Two counter-examples could foil your entire thesis. You must be a closet religious fanatic according to your hypothesis. If you’re going to act smart, actually be smart.

    I’m an atheist/scientist, btw.

  • Fayan 90

    who is 18? maybe you ment 13

  • So let me get this straight … there are really no atheists, only people that are angry and/or bitter towards God? That fact that you don’t think it’s possible for ANYONE not to believe in God, shows just how delusional you are. You have gone out of your way to prove your opponents point. Bravo!

  • Julian Carax

    Is it really a discussion smart people is atheist?, why wouldn’t they, it is logic to think that people who is intelligent tend to investigate, analyze and research almost every aspect of their lives (therefore, normally , they’ll be atheist) whereas people who is not so smart tend to follow anything that makes them confortable, not only in religion, politics is another example.

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