Saturday, January 5, 2013

Valjean and Javert: The Two Christianities of Les Miserables


***Spoiler alert: this post presumes that you know the storyline of 'Les Mis.'***
After watching "Les Miserables" in the theater, I wanted to stand up at the end and shout, "This is what Christianity really is!" kind of like what Peter Enns wrote on his blog. But there are two Christianities represented in "Les Mis" -- by the police inspector Javert and the convict Jean Valjean -- and though Valjean's version triumphs in the film, Javert's Christianity is winning big time in today's America. Some say Javert represents "justice" and Valjean represents "mercy," so we need a happy mix of the two, but that's already choosing Javert's Christianity, because Valjean exhibits not only mercy, but an alternative justice that is incomprehensible to the penal retributive justice of modernity. The question of whether we see the world through the eyes of Javert or Valjean amounts to our understanding of justice. For Javert, justice is retribution in the interest of maintaining an abstract order; for Valjean, justice is solidarity in the interest of personal love.
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