We went to see several movies over the break, one of which was Les Mis. I'm not much for musicals and didn't really enjoy Hugh Jackman or Russell Crowe's voices, but I think the story is very interesting. I liked the Liam Neeson version better, but there were some things that stuck out about this one.
1. The first was how much better most of our lives are today than in the 1800s, even in tough economic times. The laws of the land really do seem to protect most of us most of the time. Sure, there is still injustice. Minorities still face discrimination. Urban areas still give rise to no win situations where a person has little choice but to join a gang.
But I would like to think that things aren't nearly as unjust as they used to be. I would at least like to think that much fewer women get forced into prostitution. I'd like to think that most people can eventually find a job. I would like to think that most policemen really do follow the law and that most judges can't be bought.
Still, I fear a lot of injustice goes on that I am not aware of because I live in comfortable circumstances (despite how uncomfortable they may be to me at times). A "great society" should have a path for anyone to make their way out of the mire. I have an unfinished and unpublished post somewhere in here called "Bring back the WPA."
2. In keeping with what I have just said, I do not believe that American society is less pleasing to Jesus today than it was in the 1800s. The world of slavery in the early 1800s was less Christ-ian than today's equal protection under the law. (It is ironic to me that the idea of equal rights or equal protection somehow seems less Christian than, what? What's the so called "conservative" alternative?)
The world of industrial revolution in the late 1800s was less Christ-ian than today's world of consumer and worker protection. (The problem with communism is that it doesn't work given human nature, not that the idea of "to each according to his need" is unChrist-ian).
Those who see America in a downward moral spiral are usually focusing on issues like sex or church attendance. But Scripture tells us that the measure of morality is love of neighbor, not violation of moral rules. The laws of America are more "loving"--giving rights to each as each would like to have rights--than ever before. Atheism is on the rise, but I consider that to a large extent the church's fault for making God look stupid and irrelevant.
3. I preferred the way the Liam Neeson version portrayed the Javert, inspector, character to the Russell Crowe version. It wasn't clear to me in the recent version why he would commit suicide. I thought the earlier version captured well the French sense of absolute law. Someone must pay, so he kills himself.
This ridiculous sense of penal substitution among some Christians is similar to how many unbiblically paint God, unable to show mercy on his own authority, required to make someone pay (in our case Christ). Scripture doesn't have such a rigid view of God's justice.
4. I also was reminded that no human tribe is inevitably civilized. Civilization must be perpetuated by education and by empowerment. No human tribe is beyond revolution if some portion is disempowered and kept down for long enough. A nation descends out of civilization if it does not pay attention to its despondent. French history is an annoying illustration. The wealthy must pay attention to the impoverished in their own self-interest.