The path of the righteous
He knows his way in the darkThis is an excerpt from the song "Stars" from the musical Les Misérables. It is the inspector Javert singing about Jean Valjean, whom he has been chasing ever since he broke his parole. Valjean robbed a house, and due to a series of attempted escapes, ended serving nearly 20 years in prison before he was offered parole. He broke parole and became a very successful businessman and mayor of a town.
Mine is the way of the Lord
And those who follow the path of the righteous
Shall have their reward
Each man felt that what he was doing was good. Javert felt that his duty to the law was righteous, and that anyone who broke the law was wicked. Valjean felt that he was doing the right thing by providing food for his starving family, even if that meant steal from someone else. He also felt he was doing the right thing by being a benevolent and respected mayor.
While this is fictional, it teaches many lessons about life. One that I would like to point out is how one's personal convictions can be used in different ways. Monseigneur Bienvenue provided stark contrast with Javert. Bienvenue was a very benevolent and humble bishop. He felt that the best way for him to serve the Lord was to give all that he had to those who were in need. His service was all personal. He didn't feel any need to impose such rules on other people (aside from the women who lived with him). He did what he personally felt was best.
Javert's method of serving God was ensuring that all people obeyed the law strictly, and that any infringement upon the law was punished. He believed this so strongly that at one point, he went to Valjean to insist that he be disciplined for secretly reporting the mayor as Valjean (he had received an erroneous letter from Paris informing him that Valjean had been captured, and therefore believed that the mayor was not Valjean). He made it his business not just to obey the law himself, but to enforce the law upon everyone else. He was not satisfied with anything less than the full punishment for any crime.
At any rate, the point is that human nature makes us feel like we are doing the right thing, regardless of what it is we're doing. Also, that our opinions are correct, and anyone who disagrees must be wrong. This is just the way our brains work. And it's something that we should be aware of, and try to handle with care. Valjean felt that he was justified in taking bread from someone else because his own family was starving. Perhaps he was justified. Perhaps not. But he felt that he was. Certainly, I think that we as a race should try to build a world where no one has to worry about basic needs, such as food and shelter.
Javert felt that he was justified in pursuing Valjean at every turn, for years and years. He felt that justice must be served and that Valjean was an evil man who needed to be punished. He knew that he was doing what God wanted him to do.
And I see this same thing with people now. In Russia, it has been made a crime to be gay and to talk about being gay. This has been done by people who feel that they are simply doing what is best for their country, trying to make Russia a more moral place by preventing youth from being converted by gay adults. But they feel that they are doing what is right. They feel that this is a good thing. In some parts of the world, being gay is punishable by death. And gay people are put to death on a regular basis. This is the result of people feeling like they are doing what is right, and that anyone who opposes them is necessarily wrong or evil.
We need more people who admit that they don't know what's best for other people. I know that religion is not for me. But I don't think that I should make other people stop being religious just because I don't want to be. I don't like coffee or beer, but that doesn't mean that I should pass laws making it illegal for other people to drink those drinks. I think that it would be good to adopt this philosophy in more ways.