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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.

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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. Reality

    The Fixed Point Foundation, another red neck Christian "non-profit" with another rip-off, overpaid founder ($125,00/yr) i.e. the author of this article. (ref. guidestar.org)

    December 24, 2011 at 9:14 am |
  2. NoGod

    Why do Christians summons Hitler all the time? Hitler was a Christian!

    My advice to anyone who is looking to religion.... RUN AWAY FROM IT!

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

      Hitler was in fact NOT a Christian. He was a new-age occultist who deeply believed in astrology and lived his life based upon it. Go watch the thousands of hours of films he made of this. They're on the History Channel.

      December 24, 2011 at 9:18 am |
    • Jim

      Ronald Reagan believed in Astrology, was not Christian?

      December 24, 2011 at 9:21 am |
    • Tim

      My lord...watch the history channel!? For Chist's sake read a book!! (The History Channel is not even a little bit accurate in most things – relying on it is absurd). Read some of Hitler's writing, read a book on him, READ HIS BOOKS – he was a christian – not devout in the church going sense, but devout in the hand-picking what he did and did not believe in sense. Ya know, what many on this board have suggested – merely picking the parts you find palatable.

      December 24, 2011 at 9:25 am |
    • Sebastian

      Faberm – a "survey on religious beliefs found half of all American adults believe in ghosts, almost a third believe in astrology and more than a quarter believe in reincarnation."

      December 24, 2011 at 10:12 am |
  3. Tim

    With just this sentence: "Republicans blame President Obama; Obama blames Republicans; environmentalists blame industrialization; the “Occupy” people blame everybody who isn’t occupying something" the author proved himself to be an idiot. I stopped reading at that point.

    December 24, 2011 at 9:13 am |
  4. carolae

    Galations 6:7 says: "You reap what you sow". For all those who think there is no God, dwell on that verse when bad things happen to you. It's easier to say there is no God as opposed to believing that His Son, Jesus, died on the cross for all of us and forgiving us of our sins. Have you ever known someone who is facing surgery and the chances are not good that they survive, but they do? That's called the power of prayer. Some will say it's a miracle but we know that God hears our prayers....I can testify to that personally when I almost died on the operating table and without the prayers of my church group, probably would not have made it. Merry Christmas.

    December 24, 2011 at 9:12 am |
    • Jim

      Also known as Karma, everybody in the world has their own version of it.

      December 24, 2011 at 9:15 am |
    • Anita Bleaujob

      Bad things happen to good people all the time. It has nothing to do with your comic book hero.

      It's all random and chaotic.

      December 24, 2011 at 9:23 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      I've known plenty of people facing surgery because they have no choice–it's that or certain death. It doesn't have anything to do with the "power of prayer". And those who pray all die someday, too–if it's so all-powerful, why don't they live longer than those who don't pray?

      December 24, 2011 at 9:36 am |
    • Jeff Williams

      """we know that God hears our prayers."""

      Does he hear the prayers of our congress? You've been praying for over 2000 years now. Time to admit it's been a failure.

      December 24, 2011 at 9:56 am |
  5. MerryChristmas

    Christians aren't sinless, but Christ inspires Christians to sin less.

    There are so many men, women, & children in this world that struggle on a day to day basis to survive. Lack of food, water, health care & safety add to the misery of so many millions throughout the world. It is disappointing that there are organizations that receive funding to support their mission of "tearing down" rather than to "lift up".

    In the absence of "light", there is "darkness...re:John 3:19

    December 24, 2011 at 9:12 am |
  6. Ron Paul 2012!!!

    The US Federal Reserve and IRS have created Pottersville.

    December 24, 2011 at 9:12 am |
  7. pumpkinseeds

    MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE! MAY YOUR CHRISTMAS BE SPENT WITH FAMILY AND FRIENDS AND FILLED WITH LOVING MEMORIES! HO HO HO!!! GOTTA GO..........FINISH WRAPPING THE GIFTS AND MAKING THE PIES.

    December 24, 2011 at 9:11 am |
  8. FaithGuy

    I love it when non-Christians cite what Christians believe. Almost always wrong, almost always colored by history of those claiming to follow Christ and doing no such thing. A long time ago I came to the conclusion that the only place to criticize those claiming to be in the Christian faith was from inside that faith, using the tenets of that faith and living in a way that "gets it right" albeit with the failings and missteps for which my Savior died. Sorry if that offends, but it's how I have lived, live and will live.

    December 24, 2011 at 9:11 am |
  9. ranch111

    The lie is perpetuated, that there is only one way. Christianity is not the panacea of our culture. If the only way to control people is through fear, guilt and intimidation. then we are not truly free.

    December 24, 2011 at 9:11 am |
  10. Phil Zuckerman

    Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Scotland, Norway, Finland, etc, - these are among the least religious countries in the world - and they are very much like Bedford Falls. Colombia, Zimbabwe, Brazil, Mexico, Senegal, Yemen, Pakistan, etc - these are among the most religious countries in the world - and they are very much like Pottersville. Or compare Mississippi to Vermont...

    December 24, 2011 at 9:10 am |
  11. Craig Davison

    The author's argument, that Christianity is a necessary requirement for compassion, is false. It's easily proven false since you can find numerous examples of compassion predating Christ, and in parts of the world where Christianity isn't widely practiced.

    Another thing is that if all he wants to do is polarize the masses, he's doing a great job, since many fundamentalist Christian will probably think this is the best thing since the Magna Carta. But insulting OWS people, and atheist, isn't going to convert many to his way of thinking.

    Someone needs to sit this man down and give a quick tutorial on rhetorical devices. And someone needs to ask CNN why they're giving someone with a religious sentiment to occupy front and center of their website. One could only imagine what the response would be if a member of one of the other great religions posted a similar article.

    December 24, 2011 at 9:10 am |
    • Seventhrama

      I, too, wondered why Mr. Tauton's article was given such prominence. If there was only one religion and one interpretation of that religion, then one could make a comparison between the lack of religion and the decline of a society. As it stands, it seems to me to be, my way or the highway.

      December 24, 2011 at 9:28 am |
    • Craig Davison

      I suspect CNN knowingly seekS controversy. These types of articles attract more Internet traffic and thus increases CNN's revenue stream.

      Mass media in our country (including Fox and MSNBC) filters very salient news, then seeks to shape our reality by featuring articles that only divide us. It's yellow journalism at it worst.

      December 24, 2011 at 9:42 am |
  12. Jim

    The article implies that a depressed public opinion about the direction of the country can be directly tied to a lack of belief in a particular religion. A majority of Americans still identify themselves as Christians. The fastest growing minority is the "None", or no religious view, but I hardly think the current economic troubles can be traced back to the Atheists having a Nativity scene removed from the front of City Hall.

    December 24, 2011 at 9:09 am |
  13. Rick Able

    It's pretty easy to refute Tanton: we have a predominately "Christian" culture in America, and American has become Pottersville.

    December 24, 2011 at 9:08 am |
  14. Jon S.

    As an atheist, I never, never cease to be amazed at the arrogance that grips devout christians, and the fervor with which they attempt to convince the rest of the world that theirs is the only and true way. Don't they get it? There irrationality is no better than radical Islam or any other radical form of religion.

    December 24, 2011 at 9:08 am |
    • Abinadi

      It's simple. Atheists are intolerant. This is a "belief" blog. What are the atheists even doing here? We mind our own business and you attack us! We aren't attacking you on your "atheist" blog!

      December 24, 2011 at 9:11 am |
    • Steveo

      you just have your eyes closed your blinded maybe one day the truth will be shown to you I hope so you will understand then. Depressing thought that when you die thats it.

      December 24, 2011 at 9:12 am |
    • Jim

      Atheism is the arrogant belief that the world was not created just for us.

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

      Atheist China, N. Korea, Cuba are the most oppressive regimes in the world today that allow the least amount of human freedom. The empirical evidence is against your permission. You need to THANK GOD (or your lucky stars or whatever you thank) that you live in a society that was founded in Theism based on Judaeo-Christian principles. You're a benefactor and don't even know it. Open your eyes.

      December 24, 2011 at 9:15 am |
    • Jim

      How is Democracy based in Theism?

      December 24, 2011 at 9:17 am |
    • Craig Davison

      Abinadi – I'm a Christian, with many atheist friends, who respect my beliefs. In my experience, they have been tolerant. Belief blog? This article was presented as the central focus of the CNN's spash screen, and it posited a very general assumption, why wouldn't an atheist be welcomed to comment here? We live in a diverse democracy. You should welcome public discourse, and avoid the ad hominems. Just make your point politely and leave the insults aside. That, IMO, is the best diplomacy for Christians wanting people to see the core values of religious belief.

      December 24, 2011 at 9:21 am |
    • Truth

      @ faberm yes, let's compare socialism (the real kind, not this label they're trying to put on Obama) to atheism, that'll prove them wrong

      December 24, 2011 at 9:26 am |
    • Anita Bleaujob

      Abinadi hypocritically blithered: "Atheists are intolerant. This is a "belief" blog. What are the atheists even doing here?"

      Oh, the irony!

      December 24, 2011 at 9:26 am |
    • humanbean

      Hey Steveo. You're depressing. I'm not sitting around thinking about what's going to happen when I die. I'm living. Living a life on a beautiful planet with plenty of opportunities for fulfillment.

      Christianity has been around for a little over 2000 years. Did we have total chaos before then? No, we didn't. There were many virtuous people way before Christianity stole it from them and tried to make it their own like they've done with many other things.

      I love how faberm chooses to cherry pick countries in order to make his/her point. Anybody can do that. Sweden, Norway, and many other countries are among some of the least religious in the world, yet have the best quality of life, making sure that each one of their citizens is taken care of. I love the US, but I would argue that capitalism is the same as promoting a society like Pottersville. A society that was set up with supposed "Judeo-Christian values." Jesus WAS NOT a capitalist. And I'm sure that he wasn't very keen on wiping out races of indigenous people in order take their land for his own devices. This whole idea of Christianity setting a great example for the whole world to follow is both laughable and sickening.

      December 24, 2011 at 9:36 am |
    • Craig Davison

      faberm

      You're making false assumption. One, there is religion practiced in the countries you cited. Two, Christianity did not stop the USA from the genocide against the indigenous people of North America. Three, if you think that a belief in God is the keystone of your argument, why do you solely acknowledge Christianity? Islam, worships the same God as Jews and Christians.

      I'm a Christian, but I'd prefer people, especially Christians, use only truth, shun lies (bearing false witness), and reduce the vitriol.

      December 24, 2011 at 9:37 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Abinadi is not terribly bright.

      December 24, 2011 at 9:37 am |
  15. Abinadi

    Here is a nice Christmas story: http://www.ksl.com/?nid=148&sid=18617717&s_cid=rss-148

    December 24, 2011 at 9:08 am |
    • Jim

      Where does it mention that the givers are Christian?

      December 24, 2011 at 9:12 am |
  16. mb914

    Pottersville is what you get with a Tea Party President and Congress.

    December 24, 2011 at 9:07 am |
  17. Phil Zuckerman

    Actually, the data shows just the opposite: the least religious nations in the world tend to be the most humane, democratic, egalitarian, best record of human rights, etc, - while the most religious nations tend to be the most corrupt, crime-ridden, poor, etc. The correlation holds for stats in the USA – the most religious have the most societal ills (such as poverty, crime, obesity, bad schools, high STD rates, etc,), the least religious states tend to have the least. The author of this essay should know this. He probably does - but it flies in the face of his argument, so he ignores it. And paints a false picture for the readers of CNN.

    December 24, 2011 at 9:06 am |
    • faberm

      China, N. Korea, Cuba......you've got to be kidding.

      December 24, 2011 at 9:16 am |
    • Truth

      @ faberm Socialism, faber, you're confusing socialism for atheism

      December 24, 2011 at 9:31 am |
  18. No one

    Might I ask what happened in Norway this year?

    December 24, 2011 at 9:05 am |
    • Jeff Williams

      """Might I ask what happened in Norway this year?"""

      What's your point?

      Norway is a secular and progressive country. One major incidence of violence does not negate the fact that they enjoy a very good standard of living. In fact, its RARITY was why the event was so shocking.

      December 24, 2011 at 9:11 am |
    • Anthony Watkins

      While I have no problem with Christianity, and certainly no problems with the teachings of Jesus, I don't see what decline there is in America as being for lack of Christianity, as Muslims, Jews and atheists are all very interested in man y of the same values that Jesus taught. The problem is that most of today's Christians are not interested in spreading God's love, but instead are interested in preventing women from controlling their bodies, preventing people who love each other from getting married and preventing people from practicing their faith, and especially interested in preventing people whose ancestors have lived in America for thousands of years from coming back home! These are the values, these and the value of protecting the rich from helping the poor, sick and elderly are the problems that are hurting this country.

      December 24, 2011 at 9:15 am |
    • Truth

      Oh yeah, some gunman thought that god was speaking to him and killed a bunch of innocent people

      December 24, 2011 at 9:32 am |
  19. Concerned

    Mr. Taunton, this is a great article that touches the heart, especially today on Christmas Eve. I, too, am concerned about what's happening today where people with egotistic religious or non-religious beliefs are slowly eroding the Christian spirit. In reading the previous comments made about your article, it seems that there are many people in this world who haven't found peace in their hearts, and still need to mature to make this world one where everyone is good to one another. All the issues brought up by these readers may be valid, but the issue here is whether you're Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or a member of the hundreds of religions, what saves this world is having faith and respect for each other's being and beliefs. Then, can we strive to take care of each other and make this world more like Bedford Falls. I urge all of the commentors that haven't seen this movie to watch it with a higher view of how we want our children and grandchildren to live in this world. And think about how this world would be if WE hadn't been born to teach them how to be good persons.

    December 24, 2011 at 9:05 am |
  20. Double-Oh Seven

    To use this classic movie to further your religious agenda is really silly. I believe in God and always have and I have to think that it's times like these where God must be thinking "Oh brother!". C'mon people.

    December 24, 2011 at 9:05 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.