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My Take: When Bedford Falls Becomes Pottersville
December 24th, 2011
03:00 AM ET

My Take: When Bedford Falls Becomes Pottersville

Editor's note: Larry Alex Taunton is the founder and executive director of the Fixed Point Foundation. This article is adapted from his book “The Grace Effect: How the Power of One Life Can Reverse the Corruption of Unbelief.”

By Larry Alex Taunton, Special to CNN

(CNN) - My favorite Christmas movie is, unquestionably, Frank Capra’s 1946 feel-good flick "It’s a Wonderful Life." Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed play George and Mary Bailey, a happy couple living a life of genteel poverty in the small American town of Bedford Falls.

George is a kind and generous man. He is active in his community and in the war effort. Most importantly, George is all that stands between the town’s mean old man, Mr. Potter, and the demise of all that is good in Bedford Falls.

As financial pressures crowd in on poor George, he begins to question his value to the community. So much so, that he wishes he had never been born. To demonstrate to George the folly of his wish, an angel is sent to give him a glimpse of what Bedford Falls would look like if that wish were granted. In Dickensian fashion, the angel takes him from one scene in that small town to another. The difference is stark. Indeed, Bedford Falls isn’t even Bedford Falls anymore, but a place called Pottersville. The town’s main street is a red-light district, crime is rampant, and life there is coarsened.

When George, in desperation, turns to the angel, seeking an explanation for these drastic changes, the angel says, “Why, George, it’s because you were never born!”

According to a recent poll conducted by The Hill, 69% of voters think America is in decline, and 83% say they are worried about the country’s future. And that has generated a lot of finger-pointing: Republicans blame President Obama; Obama blames Republicans; environmentalists blame industrialization; the “Occupy” people blame everybody who isn’t occupying something - most of us agree that there is a problem, but efforts to identify the source of it are incomplete, misguided or downright evil.

CNN's Belief Blog – all the faith angles to the day's top stories

The problems of human society are the problems of human nature, wrote "Lord of the Flies" author William Golding. Indeed. This was the discovery of the monastics. Seeking to escape the evil of the world, they found instead a doctrine central to Christianity: that evil is innate to us all. History tells us that a given philosophy, creed or religion will either restrain our darker impulses or exacerbate them, but escape them we cannot. Not in this life, anyway.

So what will save us from ourselves and preserve human dignity and life in the societies we create? Democracy? Socialism? Stitching up the ozone?

These days, there is a lot of talk about religion - Christianity in particular - and its role in public life. Whether it is protesting Nativities, the debate over “In God We Trust” as our country’s motto or the controversy surrounding the public faith of Tim Tebow, a national discussion is taking place on what the present and future role of Christianity in America should be. The consensus among the secular elites seems to be that it is a bit like smoking: It is harmful, but if you must do it, do it in the designated areas only. Richard Dawkins, the Oxford scientist and atheist provocateur, calls Christianity a “mental virus” that should be eradicated.

The professor should be more careful in what he wishes for. Like many others, he grossly underestimates the degree to which his own moral and intellectual sensibilities have been informed by the Judeo-Christian worldview.

"It’s a Wonderful Life" is a fitting metaphor for a nation absent Christian belief. Jesus Christ said that his followers were to be like “salt”; that is, a people whose presence is felt for the good that they do. As a man or woman’s evil nature is gentled and restrained by the grace of God, there is a corresponding outward transformation of society. The data bears this out. According to the research of The Barna Group, Christians are the most charitable segment of the population by a substantial margin. Hence, any society that is liberally sprinkled with them has a greater concern for the poor, sick, orphaned and widowed - “the least of these,” as Jesus called them. (This is precisely what Nietzsche, and Hitler after him, hated about Christianity.)

But Christian influence goes well beyond benevolence: Our laws, art, literature and institutions find meaning in a rich Christian heritage. In his new book "Civilization: The West and the Rest," Harvard historian Niall Ferguson argues that the decline of the West can, in part, be attributed to the decline of a robust Christian presence in Western culture. Ferguson’s point is largely an economic one, but the inference that Christianity has served to strengthen the fabric of life in the West as we have known it is unmistakable. T.S. Eliot made a similar observation: “If Christianity goes, the whole of our culture goes.”

That is just another way of saying that the difference between a nation with meaningful Christian influence and a nation without it is the difference between Bedford Falls and Pottersville.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Larry Alex Taunton.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Christmas • Church and state

soundoff (3,025 Responses)
  1. Russell

    Simplistic commentary. We'll magically be better with Christians in government? Depends on who these Christians are and what values they actually practice. Many Christians – including prominent pastors, leaders, and politicians – are very far out of touch with the love, tolerance, and compassion that the New Testament teaches. There are a LOT of Christians that I DON'T want in our government.

    December 24, 2011 at 8:23 am |
  2. LuisWu

    We don't need ancient mythology to tell us the difference between right and wrong as for "evil is innate in all of us".... No... We do have animal instincts, left over from evolution, that we have to suppress occasionally, but sorry, there's no invisible, supernatural red guy with horns and a tail that causes us to act badly. It has always boggled my mind to see so many people clinging to ancient myths and superst!tious in this day and age.

    December 24, 2011 at 8:22 am |
  3. TheWiz71

    I am a Christian, and I love, love, love "It's a Wonderful Life". However, I will point out that in the long run, Bedford Falls, from a purely economic standpoint, would have been much better off becoming Pottersville, with the collapse of manufacturing in the UNited States. Whether or not the same would be true from a social welfare standpoint is another question.

    December 24, 2011 at 8:21 am |
  4. Randy F.

    Christians think atheists are evil. But in return atheists think christians are evil too. It is hard for me to beleave the core is "God". I loved "It's a Wonderfull Life". Or even "A Christmas Carol", not from the Christian aspect, But from a Humanist stand point. You can exchange the angel or ghost to be a friend, colleague, spouse that helps you figure what is imoprtant in your life.

    December 24, 2011 at 8:20 am |
    • TheWiz71

      Nice way to generalize. Any real Christian would be loathe to label anyone, atheist or not, as "evil". Judge not, lest ye be judged, not to mention the second greatest command – love your neighbor as yourself, makes such judgements verboten for most Christians who actually know and understand what being one means.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:23 am |
  5. Katharine

    Shame on CNN for publishing this bigoted and harmful screed. It's one thing when someone religious (or anyone), promotes their views in a positive and non-exclusionary manner, and quite another when they use such a public platform to launch a negative attack on a specific group of people (in this case atheists and pretty much anyone tolerant of atheists). I thought Christmas was a time of love and celebration, but apparently not.

    December 24, 2011 at 8:19 am |
    • Nick

      CNN likes to grease the slippery slope. 😉

      December 24, 2011 at 8:23 am |
    • E

      They are trying to cater to the right wing. I wish they wouldn't bother.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:24 am |
    • Bill

      The Media exists to cause slaves to fight one another. Keeps the heat off the slavemasters.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:26 am |
    • Mike Reiner

      where was the biased and hateful speech in his EDITORIAL? Its an opinion picece. Merry Christmas and peace.

      December 24, 2011 at 10:24 am |
  6. Sigh...

    Oh, dear. Another essay that uses coïncidence as causality, hubris instead of humility, inference instead of fact, etc., etc.. For examples of (mostly) religionless, yet successful and peaceful, countries, one need only look to Scandinavia, today. The idea that only the religious can be good is well past its time.

    >“If Christianity goes, the whole of our culture goes.”

    Perhaps, that hitherto unknown replacement will be better.... Let's not be smug, by assuming that what we have is the best possible.

    I'd much rather that people not insult my intelligence (and a few hundred years of human knowledge and development since the Ages of Enlightenment and Reason) by wishing me a "Happy Christmas;" but, wish me a "Happy New Year." In the latter, the spirit of good wishes between people is retained, but without all that unctuous, ultimately subversive, unthinking and other intellectual dishonesties.

    December 24, 2011 at 8:18 am |
    • LuisWu

      Where is the like button when you need one? Well said.

      December 24, 2011 at 9:06 am |
  7. Nick

    "My feeling as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter." -Hitler

    "Today they say that Christianity is in danger, that the Catholic faith is threatened. My reply to them is: for the time being, Christians and not international atheists are now standing at Germany’s fore." -Hitler

    Is this sinking in yet? If not, I'm really sorry that your God blinders are causing you to walk down this same path. Religion is a *part* of life, it does not *define* it.

    December 24, 2011 at 8:18 am |
    • ReasonIncarnate

      Haven't you figured it out? Hitler lied. But then if you consider him to be a competent historical reference....tells us all a lot about you.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:21 am |
    • Bill

      People that advocate killing other people are not real Christians. (So they are really hard to find these days. Certainly none of them are in government)

      What if Hitler had proclaimed he was a Scientist? Could we then blame Science for evil in the world?

      December 24, 2011 at 8:23 am |
    • Nick

      Reasonincarnate – No, it really doesn't.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:28 am |
    • Jeff Williams

      """Haven't you figured it out? Hitler lied. But then if you consider him to be a competent historical reference"""

      Hitler was a well-known historical figure, and a bad guy.

      I read comments about Hitler here quite often about how he was an atheist. That is wrong, of course.

      So when someone actually quotes some of the references to his Christian faith that Hitler stated in his speeches, you claim that Hitler was a liar. You can't have it both ways. He was both a Christian and a very very bad man. Sorry.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:47 am |
    • Nick

      Jeff: Thank you! =D

      December 24, 2011 at 9:13 am |
    • Nick

      Bill: No one should blame an entire class of people for the actions of an individual even if those individuals have incredible influence.

      December 24, 2011 at 9:33 am |
  8. Fred

    Lloyd Blankfein epitomizes Mr. Henry F. Potter. Kind of looks like him to.

    December 24, 2011 at 8:17 am |
  9. Arthur

    This column makes Christians sound a bit self-righteous, don't you think?

    Growing up my parents took me to a Catholic church, but generally left me alone to figure out my own religious beliefs. It didn't take too long to decide for myself that I'm an atheist, and I've been perfectly fine with that ever since. My moral code is just as solid and well-formed as any Christian, and based on some of the Christians I've meet in life and seen on TV or in the media, I'm pretty sure that as an atheist I've lead a better life than a more than just a few of them. So please, cut the bull with the notion that it takes a Christian nation to instill a moral code and values into people. I have no problem with people being Christians, and the good deeds a lot of them perform, and how it has shaped society in a positive way, but stop putting your religion on a pedestal above all others. I've seen and known too many hypocritical Christians to buy into that nonsense.

    December 24, 2011 at 8:17 am |
    • maniacmudd

      well written post!

      December 24, 2011 at 8:21 am |
    • E

      well said!

      December 24, 2011 at 8:23 am |
  10. Argie57

    When someone postulates that one can only be moral if one believes in a god, the value of their argument becomes silly. When that someone adds that believing in a god is just not enough, but it also has to be the god of the christian faith, the argument becomes laughable.
    Some of us are able to walk into the world AND be moral people, without a religious security blanket, you scared little child.

    December 24, 2011 at 8:17 am |
  11. maniacmudd

    the corruption of "unbelief' ? What the h is that supposed to mean? Because I refust to believe in your old man in the sky, and I refuse to be "sheephearded" thruout my life, I am a corruptor? You christians are the apittamy epitomy of hyprocrisy. Name callers, murderers, child molesters, an overall disgusting group.

    December 24, 2011 at 8:15 am |
    • Bill

      Don't worry, you're being sheepherded just fine without believing in god.

      I always say people follow the Media with religious faith these days. If you read an article, you instantly give blind faith to its veracity. The Mainstream Media is the modern age's bible.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:18 am |
    • ReasonIncarnate

      Wow, sucks to be you.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:19 am |
  12. leftaload

    My favorite movie of all time is "It's a Wonderful LIfe". The world in that movie has shown that it can be a good place, diametrically opposed to much of what it is like today. It is a shame that this movie cannot be revered by all Americans at this time of year and for us to follow its timeless lesson during the remainder of ALL the years of our lives!

    December 24, 2011 at 8:14 am |
  13. Phil

    I don't know if I like the article more than the evidence of his words that the authors "pulls" from the mouths of evil fools!!

    People you need to repent your sin and ask our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for forgiveness.

    December 24, 2011 at 8:14 am |
    • HenryB

      Oh, spare me the nonsense.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:24 am |
    • LuisWu

      How utterly stupid

      December 24, 2011 at 9:09 am |
  14. Bill

    Any real Christians in this country have retreated far from any political spotlight many decades ago.

    Thou shalt not kill. It's not complicated. We've been trying to justify that it's okay to kill people for a long time.

    When most people criticize military involvements, it is on an economic basis.

    I'm not a Christian, but I do believe in evil, and there is a lot of it in our faces at the moment, and the media is its biggest cheerleader.

    December 24, 2011 at 8:14 am |
  15. Mike Reiner

    Larry- You are spot on . As Pat Buchanan wrote in his most recent book, "The Suicide of a Superpower", we are dangeroiusly close to the tipping point. We have as a socitey thrown our values and Judeo-Christian values away- the very values as you so nicely write about that DO illustrate George and his Bedford Falls Community. Well, it Christmas Eve 2011 and time to reflect both personally and as a country on teh past year and where we are going. I for one know that that journey needs to be with the New Born King- Merry Christmas.

    December 24, 2011 at 8:13 am |
    • E

      I applaud our throwing away of bigotry and hate. All people deserve to live their lives with tolerance and peace, we are all different and all can make the world a better place, including gay people, Mexican people, women, and Muslims. How about Christians start treating those people like human beings, then they can claim to be following the word of Jesus instead of spreading narrow minded bigotry and trying to claim it is moral.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:19 am |
    • Realism Smells Delicious

      *yank yank*

      December 24, 2011 at 8:27 am |
    • Katharine

      Why? What exactly are these values that have been tossed away? List them please. I bet I (and every other atheist on this board) can refute your choices with hard evidence (and if you say 'marriage between a man and a woman', for starters, it's you who are the one not practicing 'love thy neighbor').

      December 24, 2011 at 8:27 am |
  16. E

    Christianity is NOT the foundation of all things good. There are billions of good people on this planet who are not Christians. If you want Christians to be seen as good and charitable, stop using the Bible to condone hate. Stop using the Bible to take away my rights to decide my own medical care. Stop excusing cheating, lying and stealing by saying someone is a good Christian who repents... knowing full well they will do it again. Stop taking from the poor to give to the rich, and most of all, stop trying to force me into your religion and telling me how horrible I am for not believe Jesus is the son of God. I do not cheat, do not steal, do not abuse people or animals, I help those who I can and think we all start off equal as human beings, no matter what color, what language we speak and who we are attracted too. I consider that far more moral than someone who goes o church on Sunday then spins the week spreading hate and lies while calling themselves Christians.

    December 24, 2011 at 8:10 am |
    • ReasonIncarnate

      The truth hurts huh E?

      December 24, 2011 at 8:17 am |
    • maniacmudd

      Thank you for a well written post!

      December 24, 2011 at 8:17 am |
    • Earthling

      Well said.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:19 am |
    • E

      The truth that most people who claim to be Christians are hate mongering hypocrits?

      December 24, 2011 at 8:21 am |
    • Sammy

      Don't worry too much about spending eternity in hell ... I hear it's a dry heat.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:22 am |
    • ReasonIncarnate

      Maybe you should quit hanging around hate mongering hypocrites to "claim to be Christians" (your words) and try hanging around some actual Christians. Ignorance is so prevelant among those who came to this story to slam Christians. Now, who is the "Hate mongering" hypocrite? Try looking in the mirror, you may see something that surprises you (yes, ignorance is bliss huh?).

      December 24, 2011 at 8:24 am |
    • HenryB

      E- Thanks for saying it for me. I could not have articulated your point with such grace.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:27 am |
    • Realism Smells Delicious

      Reason. All christians are hate-mongering hypocrites. I know I know, you aren't just the CEO, you're also a member of the hate club. Clutch that bible a little harder, eh comrade.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:29 am |
    • HenryB

      @Reasonincarnate – The problem as I see it is that the "real" Christians don't take responsibility for the "fake" Christians. When YOU see the "fake" Christians, please speak as loudly about them as you do about E. But the "real" Christians may just be the "fake" Christians in disguise.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:30 am |
    • E

      You want people to think Christians are good people? Start condemning the bigotry and racism that is spewed every day in churches all over the country. Condemn those people instead of supporting them and telling people that they should be like them. Stop voting for warmongers and bigots. You know nothing about me, but I assure you I know some very good Christians, and you know what they have in common? They do not force their beliefs on me, they do not hate gay people, they do not spew nonsense about going to hell or saying that society is evil because we don't have enough pictures of Jesus on the walls. You even realize how you are displaying exactly the UNChristian hate filled ranting that makes people lose all respect for Christians?

      December 24, 2011 at 8:31 am |
    • Katharine

      E – thanks for standing up. We atheists, and all minorities, need to do it more often–I mean the bigotry and ignorance can be so thick at times that's it's suffocating.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:32 am |
  17. Wolf

    Why do people feel the need to believe in winged creatures, burning bushes, eternal damnation and a bi-polor diety just to keep their morality in check? Be good for goodness' sake.

    December 24, 2011 at 8:10 am |
    • puundit

      Well said!!

      December 24, 2011 at 8:31 am |
  18. iamdeadlyserious

    I hardly think that a moral code based entirely around fear of punishment is as valid as an actual code of personal ethics and morality.

    But if we can write a terrible article with absolutely no relevance this holiday season, why not? After all, even people with nothing real to contribute to society need to feel like they're useful.

    December 24, 2011 at 8:09 am |
  19. John

    Christianity's core message is love one another as jesus has loved you. I read someone's comment earlier that we are already in Pottersville and unfotunately we have been for some time. Christianity is an answer to "Pottersville". The TV evangelits and conservative christian politicians are not a good representation of the core message. Please do not judge the message of Christianity by the sinful nature of humanity and please do not lose hope that humanity can achieve the greatest hopes of Jesus. Most Christian communities do their work on the local level, helping a few families at a time. To eliminate Christian faith and assume that humanity is better off for doing so will set us back thousands of years. Nature and science, while beautiful and wonderous (and necessary), is also cruel and unforgiving...an environment where the weak are eliminated. Christianity helps seperate us from the natural world and treat all humanity with love and dignity. Before you dismiss this message, remember a time when you were weak and vulnerable and then remember that the next time you are given an opportunity to love.

    December 24, 2011 at 8:09 am |
    • heimdal

      prob is most chrsitans have already forgot that message and instead are caught up in the politics of the religion and the power plays of peeps in it. Most religions have the same message its just lost with in the politics of it. Also we're already hundreds of years behind where we should be thanks to all this.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:15 am |
    • Reeves Carrol

      This is the best of all the comments I read. I will not read those who are against Christianity. Everything today is greed
      and how you can do your neighbor and acquaintances in. Growing up it was love and concern for everyone and your
      Country. I remember how we had to save things to help world War II and we were proud to do it. Now, no one is proud
      of our country, least of all is our President. We have people losing their homes, jobs, going hungry, etc., but yet we send
      more money overseas than we help these. If you are $1.00 over the requirements of agencies, you get no help.
      We need to take back our rights just as other Groups and Religions have taken ours.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:17 am |
    • John

      @heimdal: Then lets help spread the message. Its a good message for everyone....not just Christians

      December 24, 2011 at 9:24 am |
  20. Truth

    Having proud Christians in the government is the reason for the Iraq War, tax cuts for the rich, jobs being outsourced, the gaps between rich and poor, the shrinking middle class, hatred toward immigrants, etc...

    I'm pretty sure America would be a much better place once people get rid of this moronic faith and become good, genuine people in order to help others, not to appease a god or get more votes.

    December 24, 2011 at 8:07 am |
    • E

      Apparently Christians think war and murder is good if they are doing it, bu when other religions do the same thing, they are terrorists.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:12 am |
    • TheWiz71

      Ummm...you have no idea what the majority of American Christians believe of stand for, I am sorry to say. There are A LOT of Christians who opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are just as many who, out of their faith, care deeply for the welfare of the environment. Many of the organizations most active for the benefit of immigrants (of all stripes) are Christian based. BTW, if you enjoy having had an education, or having things like hospitals to call on, or social welfare services for the poor, you can thank the CHristian Church who established them in the first place. Christians do not seek to love their neighbours out of a desire to "appease a god", but to reflect the love first given to them in Jesus Christ out into the world. In other words, it's kind of like "paying it forward". Loving because we were first loved. I hope and pray that you will take the time to become more educated about this faith you are so ready to label as "moronic", whether or not you choose to believe it (and I pray you do) is another matter.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:18 am |
    • heimdal

      hey it worked for them with the crusades so why not keep up the trend...

      December 24, 2011 at 8:22 am |
    • Truth

      @ TheWiz71 I grew up in a pastor's home. I went through seminars and is qualified to be a pastor myself as of 2007. I think I'm educated enough about this religion to call it moronic.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:30 am |
    • TheWiz71

      Seems you're not even educated enough to know how to use the verb "to be" in the part of the sentence where you write "and is qualified" – I think you mean "am" instead of "is". However, genuinely curious question – what denomination was the home in which you were raised, and what tradition were the "seminars" (as opposed to receiving three years of intensive education for an M.Div. which is the qualification most denominations look for as a pre-requisite for ordaination) based in? If you're going to generalize about Christianity, you have to know there is a very wide spectrum of tradition and belief encompassed by that term, and some are more based in historical practice than others.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:40 am |
    • Truth

      @ TheWiz71 Forgive my horrendous butchering of the English language. It's early in the morning here in the midwest. I grew up in a good ole Southern Baptist household and got my M.Div from SBTS in Alabama, where I became qualified to spew lies to a congregation of mindless sheep had I wished to pursue that path.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:53 am |
    • Jeff Williams

      """There are A LOT of Christians who opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan."""

      There were also a LOT of Christians FIGHTING the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

      The people who got us in those wars were Christian as well. I was vehemently against the war in Iraq and turned against the other war once we lost bin Laden in Tora Bora.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:54 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.