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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. GrandmaKat

    It's interesting how many "non-believers" or those even hostile to Christianity would even come to a site called "Belief"...is it just to make attacks (SO benevolent of you!) or is it for morbid curiosity...or do they really need to find their soul and are still searching...Making hateful comments about another person's faith must be so fulfilling to so-called intelligent beings who have nothing better to do...do you go to the Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism sites and spew your rhetoric, also? Or is it just the Christian faith you abhor? Not very open-minded and tolerant as you seem to want us to believe...I don't care if you have no faith or no soul, just be nice about it...

    December 24, 2011 at 9:53 am |
    • Bonester

      "I don't care if you have no faith or no soul, just be nice about it..."
      How benevolent of you.
      Happy Holidays.

      December 24, 2011 at 9:56 am |
    • Rainer Braendlein

      @GrandmaKat

      Which denomination do you belong to?

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

      Ahh. That's because you're not reading the implied threat in the blog post in the first place. Without Christianity, the world will descend into a greedy pit of self-destruction and vicious predatory relationships between human being. That's not so nice either. That's like the mob coming into your corner store and saying, "Hey. You really might want to buy some protection from us...or this might happen."

      Christianity is just another in a long line of attempts to brand, codify, package and economize a relationship to god or mother nature or the universe or whatever you want to call it. But whatever it is, it doesn't need Christ or anything else to make it work.

      December 24, 2011 at 10:05 am |
  2. Juan

    An entire polemic based on a flawed foundation. "69% of voters think America is in decline, and 83% say they are worried about the country’s future." So if you believe this then you must find a way to solve the problem.

    Sorry, there's no problem. American is neither in decline nor is its future in danger, inherent Christian and Republican pessimism notwithstanding.

    Fear mongering seems to be on the rise, though.

    December 24, 2011 at 9:53 am |
    • Jussmartenuf

      Thanks, Juan

      December 24, 2011 at 9:59 am |
  3. Bruce Eder

    Writing as someone who is Jewish, I would have to agree with this article, as far as it goes - there is a dark side to some manifestations of Christian influences, but that has much more to do with people abusing the label of Christianity than to the belief system itself.

    December 24, 2011 at 9:53 am |
    • GrandmaKat

      Thank you...true Christians also recognize the special relationship that our Jewish ancestors have with God...Jesus was a Jew, after all, and a practicing one!

      December 24, 2011 at 9:56 am |
    • John

      Well said Bruce.

      December 24, 2011 at 10:07 am |
  4. HisNoodlyAppendage

    How can we be a 'Christian nation' when we let so many uninsured fellow Americans 'slip through the cracks' and not get or afford the proper HEALTHCARE THEY NEED???!!! One of my neighbors DIED SUDDENLY because he could not afford healthcare insurance (lost his job and health insurance), and he needed a bypass operation and could not afford one. While he was pondering how to pay for this, and DELAYING the process looking for a way to finance the operation, he died suddenly of a massive coronary! Some 'Christian nation' we are!

    December 24, 2011 at 9:53 am |
    • Jussmartenuf

      We are not a Christian nation, we are a nation where the majority of the religious are Christian. We are a secular nation, thank God.

      December 24, 2011 at 10:01 am |
  5. Enlighten

    Fairy tales can come true.... it can happen to you....... Fear of the unknown leads some of us to want to believe in a high power......oh of course god did it..... then i'm not responsible.
    I do believe in Santa Clause though.....

    December 24, 2011 at 9:51 am |
  6. Chris

    This article, I feel, lacks substance. I agree with an earlier post. The United States is the most 'Christian' nation in Western civilization, a Christian nation yields little to more Christianity. Morality, perhaps is innate, not the normative 'evil' the author mentions.

    December 24, 2011 at 9:50 am |
  7. adamthefirst

    Well said and 100% true!!!!

    December 24, 2011 at 9:50 am |
    • andy weiss

      Isn't that special.?..making christians out to be victims. of an evil conspiracy to discredit them..Christianss are soooo discriminated against....

      December 24, 2011 at 9:56 am |
  8. Tim Tonorro

    This is a close minded and narrow view of this great movie. I think that it is actually Henry Potter, the villain of the movie, who is most like the Republicans of today who worship big business and refuse to pay taxes the benefit the community at large.

    December 24, 2011 at 9:49 am |
    • LetsBashConsarvatismWHyDontWe

      Tim: You need to adjust your tinfoil hat. Some cosmic rays are leaking through.

      December 24, 2011 at 10:00 am |
  9. Dave

    While there is nothing wrong with Christians, the organized church has been a vehicle for suppression and repression of the people for centuries. Dating back to the days of the inquisition, the organized churches have been a base of political power, not religious teaching. Thankfully, we are seeing the end of the Christian era; unfortunately, it is being replaced by the Islamic era. The fact that people have been enslaved by church doctrine for centuries is a disgrace.

    While I don't discount the good will and hard work of individual Christians in aleviating suffering in the world, it comes at a heavy price. The church wants people to be poor and therefore malleable. The Roman Catholic church in particular needs the poor to provide the riches the top echelon of the religion enjoys. Let us hope one day the people of the world will wake up to the fact that all religions are based on myth that was designed to give hope to the hopeless.

    December 24, 2011 at 9:48 am |
    • LetsBashEverythingWhyDontWe

      Folks, See above. This is a textbook case of what it looks like when pompous @$$e$ spout off, without any references or data to back up the nonsense they are spouting.

      December 24, 2011 at 10:03 am |
    • Steve

      You, my friend, are a tool.

      December 24, 2011 at 10:40 am |
    • Steve

      Just to clarify: "You, my friend, are a tool." is meant for Dave, the apparent clueless "expert" on Christianity.

      December 24, 2011 at 10:43 am |
  10. Tim Lister

    So why aren't the Czech Republic and the Scandinavian countries collapsing into anarchy and cannibalism or whatever it is you think Christianity prevents from happening to a country? Larry Alex Taunton is just another Christian apologist who's ideas aren't supported by reality. Christians give more because they're required to do so, but Christian charities are usually just a front for proselytizing to get new recruits to the cause. The "good works" are done out of compulsion, not genuine caring. We have a word for people who only do good things out of fear of reprisal Larry – a psychopath.

    December 24, 2011 at 9:48 am |
    • LetsBashEverythingWhyDontWe

      Tim- Required to give? Charities are a front for proselytizing? People doing good for fear of reprisal? Man, what are you smoking? I've not read so much nonsense in one paragraph since reading about what the Occupy Movement thinks of corporations.

      December 24, 2011 at 10:07 am |
  11. well

    Atheism is a far better system. Just look at Stalin's USSR, Mao's China or Pol Pot's Cambodia. Three of the only officially atheist countries in history.

    December 24, 2011 at 9:47 am |
    • HisNoodlyAppendage

      Rubbish and propaganda! Look at France, or any other mostly SECULAR Euro nations. They are doing quite well, thank you. Next?

      December 24, 2011 at 9:54 am |
  12. olepi

    The particular belief structure matters little. Hindu, Christian, Muslim, etc. The only thing that matters is a direct connection to God, the world, nature, or whatever word you want to use. With this connection, Religion is unnecessary. Without this connection, Religion is meaningless.

    This direct connection does not come from beliefs, or from a book, or from repeating words or exercises.

    December 24, 2011 at 9:46 am |
  13. Greg H

    The author is so far off the mark I can't believe it. It is the far right "religious nuts" who, if they had their way, would turn this country into Potterville. Mr. Potter (aka the job creator) is a perfect Republican who is bent on keeping every bit of his wealth.....that is, screw the middle class.

    December 24, 2011 at 9:46 am |
    • LetsBashEverythingWhyDontWe

      And the occupy movement believes in the American Dream of taking an idea and building success. Until someone actually does that, and then that person has become evil incarnate because he has more money than the occupier.

      December 24, 2011 at 10:10 am |
  14. HisNoodlyAppendage

    LOVE, COMPASSION, AND RESPECT IS ALL YOU NEED!

    December 24, 2011 at 9:46 am |
    • Todd (no, not that one)

      Empathy should be in that list. Compassion is almost there, but your can have empathy without compassion and compassion without empathy.

      December 24, 2011 at 9:54 am |
    • Russ

      NO. According to John Lennon, LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED. If you love, you will respect and have compassion. You don't need religion to have love. Love came before religion and is all we need.

      December 24, 2011 at 9:57 am |
    • LetsBashEverythingWhyDontWe

      That was around long before Lennon. He stole that idea from the Bible: "...but the greatest of these is Love."

      December 24, 2011 at 10:12 am |
  15. Michael

    So, if this thesis is true, than why are the members of the Christian Right affiliated with the party that's ultimate goal is to turn this nation into Potterville, who abhors the "socialism" of George Bailey?

    There is a HUGE difference between a nation with a heavy Christian influence and a Christian-dominated government.

    December 24, 2011 at 9:46 am |
    • well

      The "Christian Right" is a perversion of Christian principles. Any Christian with even a passing understanding of the teachings of Christ would see that taking care of old, poor and sick is good while waging eternal war is not.

      December 24, 2011 at 9:50 am |
  16. Chrism

    Amen and great article. And truly atheism needs to be recognized for what it is. It is not a lack of belief it is a form of repression. To deny the truth of something that is true is fighting to repress the truth. So it was with racism, where bigots denied that other races were truly human. Atheists deny the very truth that God made us and gave us morality. Even though the atheist is left with the internal morality that God wrote in them, they supress it even within themselves. And to censor honest people from recognizing the truth and continuing just as the founding fathers to recognize the self-evident truths that our rights are endowed by a creator is suppression. Today's militant vocal atheists commit a grievous crime of seeking to censor the truth.

    God bless America and from greatest to least may God bless us every one. Merry Christmas.

    December 24, 2011 at 9:44 am |
    • Blackfeet

      Thanks, but no God made me and sure as heck no God put morality within me, that's pure nonsense.

      December 24, 2011 at 9:46 am |
    • Rainer Braendlein

      @Chrism

      Which denomination do you belong to?

      December 24, 2011 at 9:48 am |
    • Bonester

      Seek your own truth, don't push your "truths" on me.
      Happy Holidays.

      December 24, 2011 at 9:50 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Prove it's "true", Chrism.

      Never mind. You'll still be banging away on your keyboard when I get back from giving blood to the Red Cross.

      The irony.

      December 24, 2011 at 9:54 am |
    • Todd (no, not that one)

      You're full of horse feces.

      December 24, 2011 at 9:55 am |
  17. Blackfeet

    "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."

    So does this mean that you're saying you have proof that God exists?

    December 24, 2011 at 9:44 am |
    • Dana West

      Go crawl back under the rock you came out from under....

      December 24, 2011 at 9:52 am |
    • Todd (no, not that one)

      "Go crawl back under the rock you came out from under...."

      More intolerance from a believer.

      December 24, 2011 at 9:56 am |
  18. pmmarion

    What a bunch of malarky! Just because I'm not a Xian has nothing to do with wheather or not I'm a good person or has a high personal code of conduct. I happen to believe that there is no higher power than myself and BECAUSE of this belief I HAVE to hold MYSELF to a higher standard.

    December 24, 2011 at 9:44 am |
    • johovey

      well said!!!!

      In this article, once again, we have someone not wanting to take responsibility for his own actions and the social repercussions they have, but rather call on a God to assume them. And make things ok. Typical of so many people – it's not my problem but someone else's.

      Your re

      December 24, 2011 at 9:51 am |
  19. JP

    You don't have to be Christian to know right from wrong. The proportion of Christians doing bad is the same as the proportion of any religious or non religious group. As someone who doesn't hold any particular religious belief I try to do the right thing, because well, it's better for society and I would feel bad if I didn't.

    December 24, 2011 at 9:43 am |
  20. Rainer Braendlein

    "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."

    Maybe the crisis of society reflects the crisis of the Church.

    Especially in the USA there are many re-baptizing Free Churches. Re-baptism is prohibited according to the doctrine of the Early Church. Strictly speaking, the re-baptizing Free Churches are cults.

    The re-baptizing Free Churches may sometimes tell of discipleship, but that is meaningless. They don't know the key for successful discipleship. Successful discipleship needs a divine, supernatural and powerful call. People could follow Jesus, because he had called them with authority. This call today is the Sacramental Baptism, which is common to the true Christian Churches.

    We must realize again the great gift, which God has given us. For centuries it was clear for the whole mankind that the Sacramental Baptism is the entry door or gateway to a Christian life.

    The Sacramental Baptism connects us with the releasing power of Christ's death and resurrection. We become new human beings by faith and Sacramental Baptism. That would be health for the whole mankind.

    Jesus has borne our sins, he died for us on the cross. Believe this an get the power for a released life.

    December 24, 2011 at 9:43 am |
    • Tim Lister

      Great, more sectarian divide. That's exactly why religion is completely useless when it comes to morality.

      December 24, 2011 at 9:53 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.