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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Christian Humanism of the Heretic Victor Hugo

I have blogged this morning at a different site about my love for Les Miserables the musical, and my growing appreciation for Les Miserables the novel as I read my way through it for the first time during Advent and in anticipation of the movie’s release on Christmas Day. I mentioned in that post that the musical is for me a powerful embodiment of Christian humanism, a theme recently explored by Roger Olson at his blog. As I was working on my post I came across a profound meditation on the novel and its author, Victor Hugo, at the website of Touchstone Magazine. The author of the lengthy article, Addison Hart, carefully analyzes the religious themes in Les Miserables and on the religious convictions of Hugo.  Hart shares details of Hugo’s long life that point to the conclusion that Hugo was “a man of blemished religious and moral character by basic Christian standards”, but he goes on to demonstrate how affected Hugo was by the Gospels and how Les Miserables's themes are rich reflections of Christian humanism.

Hugo, with all his Romanticism, panentheism, theosophical musings, spiritualism, and moral struggles, still managed to come closer to the practical heart of Christ’s gospel than many authors of a more orthodox faith. To step across the threshold into the world of this vast novel is immediately to encounter the three greatest themes in all literature: God, mankind, and the human soul…
The themes of Les Misérables…are Christian themes, themes that would be inconceivable without the unique revelation of God in Jesus Christ. Victor Hugo consciously drew on these “sentiments abstractly Christian,” even though he himself stood on the boundaries of the Christian faith. If nothing else, this very fact testifies to the inherent power of the themes themselves, no matter what the limitations of the writer might be. Hugo was a heretic, but his book is a path leading us back to the God who became man and redeemed us. It is a book that may even provoke us to pray and live as better Christians. And, finally, it is the vision of God’s love that Les Misérables conveys, so close to the heart of the gospel, to which people respond in their hearts for reasons they might not fully understand. Christians could do worse than recognize the nature of its inherent appeal and consider how we ourselves present to others the love we see in Christ.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Lincoln Conversion Story

My good friend John Armstrong has started what promises to be an enlightening series of reflections on Steven Spielberg’s new film Lincoln. There has been so much good stuff written about this movie already, but John brings a unique angle to his commentary on the film because he was raised in the Deep South.

Growing up in the Deep South I often heard the Confederate version of why honest Abe was anything but an honest and good man. I heard about a bad president who sent troops to invade our homeland. I heard about the president who suspended the writ of habeus corpus in order to attain his own political interests. (People who hated Lincoln hated him more than any moderns have ever hated either George W. Bush or Barack Obama.)

Armstrong’s thoughts about Lincoln changed as he studied him and the broader contours of American history. He now loves Lincoln “for his plainness, for his ability to think logically and consistently, for his clarity of political and moral purpose, for his willingness to change and, most of all, for his amazing courage.” I feel much the same way about Lincoln. When I used to teach I would tell my students that Lincoln was one of the few figures in history who the more you study, the more you respect. Usually, particularly with political figures, it is quite the opposite.

Monday, December 3, 2012

My New Blogging Site

In addition to this blog, I am excited to be doing another blog with my good friend Todd Thomas, pastor of Church in Bethesda where my family attends. The idea of a new blog has been growing in me for a while. I have been blogging alone at this Faith and Common Good site and been focused on issues related to religion, politics and international affairs. While I have enjoyed that work and plan to continue it, I have felt that I have other things I need to say. I have begun to yearn for a new outlet where I could write in community with a kindred spirit about topics that flow more directly from my own experiences of grace, my own joys, my own loves. This seemed a good idea to Todd as well, and so here we are--Live Your Loves! I hope you will check it out!