Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Worshiping at the Cathode Cathedral: House

Last year I was drawn into the medical drama "House" courtesy of my Confirmation students in South Dakota ranch country. I was amazed that it was the most mentioned show when I unscientifically polled them on their favorites. I don't just go looking for shows via channel surfing, I find a few diamond in the rough recommendations and give them a try.

During the long, dark, snowy winter in South Dakota, I looked forward to carrying a load of House DVD's or getting a few episodes on Hulu. I ended up watching 4 complete seasons in about 3 months. What drew me to the show was an intelligent man's quest for meaning under the guise of nihilism. It helps that House has an unused verbal filter and is often funny in bypassing the filter. I've always hoped that someone with a more intelligent faith could challenge House, but that has yet to happen. I believe he's met with a teenage quack faith healer, and an overly pious and naive nun--but that's about it. One of the doctors had attended seminary, but had is own crisis of faith. He ends up being the religious apologist when the ladies aren't staring into his dreamy eyes.

The House season premiere reminded me of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," though it wasn't quite as good. My favorite interaction involved House and his psychiatrist--meeting his match in the category of insanely intelligent, yet a bit relationally immature. It was also good that the writing ventured off the medical mystery track for just a bit so we could connect with House beyond his cantankerous shell. He also developed a romantic connection with a visitor to the ward that eventually broke off. What I appreciated about the contrast of characters is that the brain, though resilient, can be very fragile--and that we are all a step or two away from mental illness. The characters who came to the mental illness institution were an interesting mix of everyday and extraordinary people: a world-renowned doctor, a concert cellist, a man who suffered from massive delusions after witnessing his wife's sudden death all overseen by a psychiatrist with his own relational brokenness. What I appreciated about the episode over and against "Cuckoo's Nest" was that the mental illness in House was not mere caricature as it tended to be in "Cuckoo's Nest."

In recent years I have found a passive interest in faith, relationships and the brain. Pete Steinke first got me interested in brain research, and he plugged me in to many resources. I saw Dr. Daniel Amen speak several years ago and found his work intriguing in terms of how the brain affects congregational dynamics. Some are skeptical of Amen's work. The neo-atheist Sam Harris and his contributions to The Reason Project move into brain research to show how the brain is related to faith and religion. I deeply appreciate the complexity of the brain and amazed how often it is taken for granted in human interaction. The season premiere of House revealed something of this complexity, which is why I enjoyed it's diversion from the typical medical drama path.

No comments: