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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. JV

    As a Christian, I wish that these people that make a living peddling fear & confusion (like the author of this silly article) would find another line of work. One that requires him to keep his yap shut!

    December 24, 2011 at 9:23 am |
  2. Guy

    Here's my view of the situation, as a Christian.

    First, to clear things up, the US never was a Christian nation. It was founded on principles of the Enlightenment; the population just happened to be overwhelmingly Christian/Deist because of Europe's religious tendencies at the time.

    Second, why protest against and bash Christianity (and other religions, for that matter) simply because you despise and/or don't understand it? I've seen a lot of comments saying that Christians need to die, Christians are hypocrites, and that they are intolerant.

    What happened to the First Amendment, which states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof?" That means Congress can't declare an official religion in the United States nor can they prohibit the practice or disregard of any religion, including Christianity. For example, why take "under God" out of the Pledge of Allegiance? If you're an atheist or an agnostic, no one is forcing you to say it. You can skip it if you want to. Also, it never specifies which "god." It could be God, Yahweh, Allah, Buddha, Vishnu, etc. You can have the United States under any deity you want. Let the people who believe in God say it, let the people who don't not say it; it's as simple as that.

    To all those who hate us because of our intolerance, remember that tolerance is a two-way street. For all of our intolerance (which I'm not denying exists among many Christians across the world today; I myself have been hypocritical/intolerant at times; I'm human, just like everyone else), you haven't exactly raised the bar any with your comments. It honestly hurts when someone who doesn't even know me says that I need to die or that I'm an idiot simply because I don't possess the same views as they do. I don't see how that can be tolerant.

    To all my fellow Christians out there: the two greatest commandments Jesus ever gave his followers were these: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul, and all your strength" and "Love your neighbor as yourself." Let's put the past behind us, not denying the mistakes of those who came before us (the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the post-Reformation Wars of Religion among them), but simply acknowledging that they were mistakes and moving on. Let's overcome our own hypocrisy and issues as a Church before we presume to tell other people what to do with theirs. We're still human beings; we aren't perfect.

    There you go, I've said my piece. Happy Holidays to all; if you don't celebrate this time of year, I still wish you peace and joy and a blessed New Year!

    December 24, 2011 at 9:23 am |
  3. Christmas guy

    Amazing that nobody is writing to support this view? Or is CNN not publishing those views? Maybe we are in Potterville. Bravo Mr Taunton, on your article. I think it is dead on. I've wanted to write a paper for some time correlating the goods of societies through the ages with the degree of Christian heritage and influence that is found in them. Do Christians make mistakes? Of course, and so do Christian nations. Unfortunately, people like Richard Dawkins make such non-sensical arguments that he's hard to take seriously. Thank you for your article, and thanks CNN for publishing. Merry Christmas.

    December 24, 2011 at 9:23 am |
    • Truth

      yeah, it's a conspiracy. CNN published this article then hid all the comments supporting it just to troll you. however, your comment showed up because you've somehow slipped through the crack and are special. and there are flying pigs and a bearded man in the sky that wants to give you hugs as soon as you die

      December 24, 2011 at 9:35 am |
    • Bob

      I think it's because Christians are spending time with family and loved ones. Sad, bitter Atheist having nothing else to do but post on CNN(ok, back to the family time).

      December 24, 2011 at 10:49 am |
  4. El Kababa

    Christianity is a problem, not a solution. American fundamentalists have allied themselves with the hateful and amoral political philosophy of Conservatism. They have abandoned Christian love and have replaced it with Christian hatred of the heathen (folks like me).

    December 24, 2011 at 9:22 am |
    • Sotzueme

      Wonderfully spoken....thank you.

      December 24, 2011 at 9:25 am |
  5. JoseTheWrangler

    The issue people have with Christianity today is not the beliefs or the faith.l It's the astonishing sanctimony and determination to make everyone follow their specific interpetation of Jesus' teachings. The political evangelicals, which is the group everyone else objects to, are not like salt; they're self-appointed cops, determined to make everyone follow the rules they or their pastor selected. There is very little relationship between being a good, decent, compassionate person and being Christian. Taunton equates the two, which is exactly the sanctimony and narrowness, and un-Christlike, behavior people object to.

    December 24, 2011 at 9:21 am |
  6. some guy in New Hampshire

    It's not a lack of belief that's the problem. The problem is people who profess belief, and believe that they believe, but fail to act as if they believe.

    December 24, 2011 at 9:21 am |
  7. Phil Zuckerman

    Religion gives us the Ten Commandments. Secular humanism gives us the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Read 'e, both. Now - which ideals would you prefer to live under? Which societal values are better? Which make the most sense? Hm...

    December 24, 2011 at 9:21 am |
  8. FX

    All religion is dumb

    December 24, 2011 at 9:21 am |
  9. Patrick

    Mr. Taunton evidently thinks that life is perfectly black and white, and that the proof lies within a fictional movie about make believe angels and his arrogant prognosis that Christianity is the only answer, or possibility even, able to "save" us all. Sorry, Taunton, but it is not in a fictional man-made God, book or movie that we must trust, but in each other. It is a wonderful life that is only black and white with the constantly manipulative preaching of people like you.

    December 24, 2011 at 9:21 am |
  10. Fleeced Navidad

    test ... seems not to be blocked ?

    December 24, 2011 at 9:19 am |
    • heimdal

      is only blocking my actual response to article nothing else

      December 24, 2011 at 9:20 am |
    • Fleeced Navidad

      Then you have "banned" letter strings in it, such as "c_um", "t_it", etc etc. Look for naughty letter strings, embedded in the post. Someone please help him. I never saved the "bad word" list.

      December 24, 2011 at 9:55 am |
    • Fleeced Navidad

      For example, you cannot say acc_umulate, or insti_tution.

      December 24, 2011 at 9:57 am |
  11. heimdal

    so anyone else having their responses to this article being blocked?

    December 24, 2011 at 9:17 am |
  12. EddyL

    "It’s a Wonderful Life" is a fitting metaphor for a nation absent Christian belief.

    What a crock. Capra would be horrified. What the film shows is what happens when the greedy Republicans (Barrymore) displace the Democrat (Stewart). Barrymore is greed incarnate just as today's Republicans are, refusing the tax the rich and corporate and trying to axe other taxes to create and and more wealth for themselves.

    December 24, 2011 at 9:17 am |
    • bad2worse

      I think you missed it. Try again.

      December 24, 2011 at 9:28 am |
  13. Colin in Florida

    The author said " 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." Wonderful assertion. But what data does the author have to show that men and women who are not true believers are evil? Hitler was as evil as they come, but he was a Christian, so I can assert that Christians are evil, and I have data to back it up!

    December 24, 2011 at 9:17 am |
    • Vinifera

      You obviously never read William Shirer's "Rise and Fall of the Third Reich". in which he states that the Nazi's aimed to replace the cross with the swastika and replace the Bible with "mein kempf". If you want to know what a Christian looked like under the third Reich, read up on Dietrich Bonhoeffer–that is if you still read.

      December 24, 2011 at 9:30 am |
  14. yourmom

    why do athiests insist on bashing people that believe in god? it makes them look like a bunch of tools.

    December 24, 2011 at 9:16 am |
    • Anita Bleaujob

      Because you're mentally ill.

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

      Its mostly pure laziness. People dont want to take the time and effort to believe in a faith, so theyll stay inside their little box and pretend it doesnt exist. Either that or its a bunch of liberals looking for excuses to make baby killing ok.

      December 24, 2011 at 9:21 am |
    • Anita Bleaujob

      You are so ignorant, it is pointless to argue with you. You think yourself better than the rest of us while believing in mythical comic book heroes. You're delusional and your delusional allows you to proclaim your superiority without any proof at all.

      December 24, 2011 at 9:30 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      What "time and effort" is required to believe in something? What a silly statement. I believe the sun will rise tomorrow. See? Easy.

      What you mean, apparently, is that one must struggle to suspend disbelief. If it's a struggle, maybe that's because it's not logical, based in reality, or necessary.

      December 24, 2011 at 9:42 am |
  15. Rainer Braendlein

    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!”

    Of course single Christians can have some good impact on the society, but more important would be the impact of the whole Christian Church. It is not that single Christians have entered a state of crisis, but the whole Church has become ill. Heresies spread and there are no people like Luther or Bonhoeffer or Athanasius, which would resist the heretics.

    May Christ the Lord give us a new Reformation. That is, what we need urgently.

    December 24, 2011 at 9:16 am |
    • Jeff Williams

      """May Christ the Lord give us a new Reformation. That is, what we need urgently."""

      Education and enlightenment is what we need, not another reformation.

      December 24, 2011 at 10:00 am |
    • Shastagirl

      Yes, everyone can be the 'salt of the earth' ~~ the inner spirituality is available for all.

      December 24, 2011 at 10:16 am |
  16. GOP hate America

    no I am quite aware of what i am wishing for that religion disappears for good. Seriously to think you cant be a good person or nothing good can come from absence of religion is retarded at best.

    December 24, 2011 at 9:16 am |
  17. Gwenn McKone

    As I read many of the responses here, it's clear that there is little "salt" left in America, and it is getting more bitter by the day. The contrast between Christians–who live a life of faith and subsequently peace–and non-Christians who want to rudely chide someone who sends out a warning call–is getting wider and wider. You can send out a life preserver, but you can't make them grab it.

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

      Oh, how ever so high and mighty art thou!

      December 24, 2011 at 9:17 am |
    • Ztone

      How do you feel about the many people who claim to be following the christian faith but who espouse hatred, engage in warfare against the poor, bigotry, ideas of inequality, religious discrimination, and don't follow the principle of acceptance as Jesus laid out for his followers? In the words of Mahatma Gandhi “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

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

      I am a person of religious faith, however, I am not so foolish as to believe that religion equals peace or morality or honor. Even within the confines of Christian belief free will reigns. Kindness, goodness, fairness and honor exist among people of all beliefs, as do violence, anger, greed and all your other forms of evil.

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

      Anita,

      You know if you had a real name and not some made up name that a 7 year old would use, you might be taken a little more seriously. You should come back once you make it past puberty and show that you can make educated comments for the rest of us adults here to read. Thank you.

      December 24, 2011 at 9:28 am |
    • Anita Bleaujob

      Brad, yet another christian declaring his superiority over another human being. Oh Brad, how humble am I to be so graced with your infinite wisdom. I'm certainly not worthy. /sarcasm

      December 24, 2011 at 9:32 am |
  18. Abinadi

    Sorry to keep posting this. I am trying to learn how to do a link. <a http://www.ksl.com/?nid=148&sid=18617717&s_cid=rss-148

    December 24, 2011 at 9:15 am |
    • Fleeced Navidad

      http://www.ksl.com/?nid=148&sid=18617717&s_cid=rss-148

      December 24, 2011 at 9:21 am |
  19. Josiah

    Religion does not have a monopoly on morality.

    Be good, for goodness's sake.

    December 24, 2011 at 9:15 am |
  20. JoeT

    I work with a fair number of Hindus and Muslims who are more like George, and go to Christian church with a fair number of people who behave like Potter.

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

      Hypocrisy goes hand in hand with religion.

      December 24, 2011 at 9:19 am |
    • Brad

      Anita,

      Hypocrisy doesn't stop at religion. Here you are calling religious people names and saying how they are evil and brainwashed while only non believers are good. If that isn't the pot calling the kettle black, then I will never know the true darkness of the color black.

      December 24, 2011 at 9:29 am |
    • Anita Bleaujob

      Brad, you are a perfect example of a hypocritical christian, trying to point blame (with no proof, I might add) at others.

      Children with invisible friends are amusing. Adults who claim to have them are mentally disturbed.

      December 24, 2011 at 9:34 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.