Why “Les Miserables” Is Reaching Atheists Too

The movie version of “Les Miserables” has largely been a hit with Christian audiences because of its themes of Christ-like mercy, love, and forgiveness. Several of the characters in the story epitomize how people of faith should live out their devotion to God and act toward others.

But a few comments left on my review of the film suggest these meditations on Christian life are striking a chord with some atheists too.

I’m posting those comments here because I think they can offer insight to Christians in general and Christian storytellers in particular:

Comment 1:

It is a very Christian story and yet it seems to avoid the problem that many Christian stories have of reaching a non-Christian audience. I am firmly not a Christian and have a bit of a chip on my shoulder about Christianity, and yet I love Les Miz. I see in Val Jean all the Christian virtues, yet I never find him obnoxious or self-righteous.
I think one thing that really helps is that the story does not hide from pain. Modern Christian storytelling seems to steer away from the fear and despair because expressing that might show a lack of faith. Instead avoiding those feelings just whitewashes the religion and makes it seem weak.
This is the only Christian story I have ever connected with and I love it.

Comment 2:

Just wanted to concur with this. I’m (obviously) an atheist while my family remains Christian. Les Miserables is one of my favorite stories and I went to see it with my mother over the holidays.
While one would expect that I would not connect with this story, I did. In this story, the religious figures truly represent the good side of religion — giving to the poor without expectation or a sermon, mercy that triumphs over what is just. It’s the way I wish religion could be. Watching the characters struggle with it and what it means gives a weight and levity to it that many Christian parables lack. So many of these stories want the conversion and the reward to come cheaply and are trying to sell you Christianity rather than showing how good Christianity can be.
While I find that faith, once lost, is nearly impossible to find again, I found this a very touching story and had more Christians acted like Jean Valjean and the bishop and less like Javert, I might never have lost my faith to begin with.
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

About Tony Rossi

After graduating from St. John's University in New York with degrees in Communications and English, Tony Rossi found a job at the Catholic media organization, The Christophers, that allowed him to indulge his interest in religion, media, and pop culture. He served as The Christophers' TV producer for 11 years, and is currently the host and producer of the organization's radio show/podcast Christopher Closeup, writer and editor of their syndicated Light One Candle column, and producer/scriptwriter of the annual Christopher Awards ceremony.