Coming back a little, now that I've finally read the second half of this section (I'm on time now, sort of):
On the Bishop's statement of the beautiful being as useful as the useful, sometimes more so:
I think this actually goes along with later, when Hugo tries to pull back and say a hatred of luxury can too often lead to a disdain for the arts which isn't at all what he means about Mgr Bienvenu. Beauty is the utility - it's like the argument in Mr Holland's Opus when he starts shouting at the administration "without the arts, what are they going to read and write about?!" Bare utility is sufficient for existence, but there needs to be some beauty in the world for life to really be worth living.
One can then connect this to the idea that the beauty of everyday things, that even vegetables much first produce flowers, is a sign of divine creation. Beauty is the divinity; god's grace is visible in everything, from the fact that seen at night, the Milky Way is not helpful for celestial navigation to the way a drop of water reflects the world. These aren't useful things in the way utility is usually measured, but they are beautiful things, and in that respect, they make the world better. Even the most downtrodden beggar can have a moment of happiness if he has ever been taught to contemplate the beauties as well as the terrors of the universe.
Then, going back to the conventionnel:
To me, this chapter and what ensues show the problem with M. Myriel. Everything about him is a thorn in the Church's side except for this. G--- has just proved that the structures are responsible for the misery and suffering, and Myriel, even afterwards, does nothing against the structures. It's like the criticism of Mother Teresa - she gave comfort to the sick, she saw that the hungry were fed, but she did nothing to stop the AIDS crisis because the obvious, provable methods (condom use and honesty with multiple partners) were against the teachings of the church, and there were other issues with how her work was carried out if the intent was to cure rather than comfort. The Bishop comforts, but he does not cure. His spending of his pay is part of that comfort - it buys temporary assistance for many, it makes him feel better, but it does nothing to work against the structures that have put misery in place. The first five entries in his budget are for the church: seminaries, missionary associations, a monastery. The 6000 reserved for the poor we know goes out as handouts, and all support to the hospital comes at a time when it can ease but not prevent suffering. The fact that G---- essentially calls him out on this without even entirely knowing it, and that Mgr Myriel's actions don't change as a result of the conversation, even as he sees that G---- has a point, I think are telling about the whole issue of the Church. That even its most saintly adherents are inherently not part of the solution.
And I think I just proved why I continued to be so attracted to the students. Revolutionaries acknowledge that the structures are at fault and must be changed. Mgr Myriel is a good man in that he can recognise G--- has a point and has been trying to alleviate the suffering they both can see, but he is far from a perfect man because he continues to support the very things that led to the actions G--- felt he had to take against the darkness they both agree exists.
What kind of literature and what kind of life is the same question. - Tom Stoppard