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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. Richard Cheese

    Just another Christian assuming their way of doing things is better than everyone else's. NEXT!

    December 24, 2011 at 11:10 am |
    • Eric

      I thought this commentary was anything but preachy.

      December 24, 2011 at 11:13 am |
    • Bruce

      The only preaching I'm hearing on here are the apostles of negativity and hatred like yours.

      December 24, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • nepawoods

      It certainly sounds like he's assuming there are some good moral values that don't exist in the non-Christian world. This is preachy, hateful, negative, false.

      December 24, 2011 at 12:28 pm |
  2. Cyberdude

    Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Zoroastrians, Shintos, Buddists...believe what you want. Just don't try to shove it down the throats of others, don't expect taxpayers to foot the bill (religions ALREADY pay no taxes), and don't think you're superior in ethics...morals or geberic "goodness" than those of us who DON'T believe in an invisible Creating Guy!

    December 24, 2011 at 11:10 am |
  3. Kingofthenet

    Why did the Yahweh not share his greatness with the Asians, they were arguably the most advanced people at the time? Why does he ONLY conduct 'miracles' that can be explained in purely naturalistic terms? Surely ONE of our 'Wounded Warriors' deserves another replacement limb miracle? Just ONE?

    December 24, 2011 at 11:10 am |
    • Famida

      First, bravo on putting up a blog. It can be a rally vabulale way for members to be involved. Secondly, happy holidays, and thanks: I have been out in public and on radio preaching the Coop gospel. Lastly: I think I didn't know about the bag refund I always bring my own, now I'll make sure to ask at the register. Thank you!Sarah Spitz

      June 26, 2012 at 10:37 pm |
  4. GodIsImaginary Dot Com

    christards

    December 24, 2011 at 11:10 am |
    • Eric

      What?

      December 24, 2011 at 11:12 am |
    • TheWiz71

      God loves you. Believe it or not.

      December 24, 2011 at 11:13 am |
  5. newton

    A fascinating piece of Its a Wonderful Life Trivia is that HUAC, Congress and the FBI listed it as a subversive film that promoted Communist sympathies. Thats easily googled, look it up. Their concern was that Potter painted bankers as evil and greedy and that the movie subverted the american value that lending and banking could possibly be done by evil people on occasion. George Bailey was considered a populist anti-american subversive by these (largely Republican) keepers of American Values back in the red scare witch hunt days

    December 24, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • FeralUrchin

      Thank you for this post!!

      December 24, 2011 at 11:14 am |
    • GAW

      So much for family, friendship, and virtue being the true definitions of wealth. Maybe the FBI's imagination ran a little too wild back then.

      December 24, 2011 at 11:20 am |
  6. nepawoods

    I'm a Christian, but that doesn't stop me from seeing that this article is just a poorly disguised smear against atheists, attempting to portray such that if they had their way, they be like the movie's villain Henry Potter. Furthermore, it isn't just anti-atheist, but anti-Semitic, and anti- every other religion. His only backing are a quote by poet T.S. Elliot, and the Barns Group, an evangelical organization that distinguishes between Christians and "notional Christians", i.e. people who have the notion they are Christian (like me), but don't fit their personal interpretation of what scripture says it means to be "born again".

    December 24, 2011 at 11:09 am |
  7. FeralUrchin

    "...the corruption of unbelief"?? Once a person goes down the road of "belief" (instead of evidence and thinking) all bets are off where that person will end up. Christian? Muslim? Jew? Shintoist? Animist? On what reasonable basis would one choose any religion over another?

    December 24, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • nepawoods

      No reasonable basis. You either heed the call of the Holy Spirit, or heed the call of Satan, and to hear it told, they sound very much alike. One leads to eternal salvation, the other to eternal suffering. Our good loving Father set it up that way (the Bible says, and the Holy Spirit will affirm it's true). So say the evangelicals (a few of which got together and called themselves "the Barns Group", the source of the statistic the author cites).

      December 24, 2011 at 11:14 am |
    • FeralUrchin

      To nepawoods: When you hear voices in your head, or feel some high-toned impulse, how are you sure that it's not self-generated? If you decide (arbitrarily) that it's caused by some external agent, how do you decide (again arbitrarily) which agent is "responsible".

      December 24, 2011 at 11:18 am |
    • nepawoods

      I agree with you. The larger point for me is that the notion that a God would leave us to distinguish such voices, with eternal life or damnation hanging on the decision, absolutely contradicts my intuition of good. If God is good, and that's the way it is, then my intuition about what "good" means is thoroughly flawed. But if that's the case, I'm back at square one as far as being able to decide which religion is right, and which is wrong. (No, I don't believe in damnation for using reason and choosing one or none as reason guides you)

      December 24, 2011 at 11:24 am |
  8. Eric

    This is a great way to look at religion. Sure, some people who call themselves Christians are nothing but hypocrities. However, Christianity plays a great positive role in our society.

    A

    December 24, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • Cyberdude

      Not always, my friend...not always!

      December 24, 2011 at 11:11 am |
    • Doug

      Yes, Christianity does play a great positive role in our society. But so do non-Christians and so do non-theists. When an alleged "Christian" writes an article like this which claims that lack of belief in Jesus is ruining our society, then he's most definitely NOT playing a great positive role in our society. He's just one in a very long line of alleged "Christians" who are the ones that are actually ruining our society.

      December 25, 2011 at 12:07 am |
  9. John Rutherford

    This person cannot rectify causation vs. correlation let alone intelligently defend religions role in our society. Intellectual depravity at its best. CNN, you should be ashamed.

    December 24, 2011 at 11:08 am |
  10. Skeptic

    I think that Mr. Taunton's perception of Richard Dawkins' views and desires are misconstrued. Pottersville was a city with no morals, a city with no restraint. Dawkins, the late Christopher Hitchens and others want people to understand that they can be moral without God. They want people to become better, by doing the right thing for humanity because it's the right thing to do, not because they fear eternal punishment, thereby becoming better people because their morals are in their core, not their faith. A great many immoral things have been, and continue to be done in the name of religion, and Dawkins' goal in eradicating religion is the eradication of those evils, and to help people become the masters of their own minds, rather than being ready at any moment to follow a wayward preacher, priest, pope, or imam. Dawkins' goal is a better world, where we are each sovereign individuals, completely free from birth to decide what we want to think and believe, rather than having it handed to us based on where we live (Islam in middle east, Christianity in much of West, etc.).

    December 24, 2011 at 11:08 am |
  11. Mikarvur

    This nation doesn't need to be all Christian to succeed, I really hate this belief blog.

    December 24, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • Eric

      But me, trying to be nice, says that I hope you start feeling better.

      December 24, 2011 at 11:10 am |
    • Bruce

      I would humbly suggest that you search for and identify whatever it is inside of you, an open-minded person, that causes such a violent reaction and desires to destroy something that other people might enjoy. You might also ask what it is inside of you that, despite your hatred of this blog, keeps returning you here to read it and comment on it.

      There is something going on inside you that you are probably a little fearful to recognize. You probably tolerate all other columns and categories on this site, whether you like them or not.

      Why is there this visceral reaction? Are you sure it's coming from you, or is there something else there causing it?

      December 24, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • GAW

      If you don't like it don't read it. No one is forcing you.

      December 24, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • GAW

      As a follow up...No this country doesn't have to be all Christian to succeed nor does it have to ball all atheist ect. We are a country of diverse ideologies (We don't have to agree with all of them)

      December 24, 2011 at 11:28 am |
    • GAW

      ball = all oops

      December 24, 2011 at 11:29 am |
  12. Asklepios417

    Jimmy Stewart was a lifelong political conservative. His best friend, Henry Fonda, was an ultra liberal.

    One day they got into a heated political discussion that unfortunately turned physical. Fonda reportedly mopped up the room with Stewart.

    After that the two friends agreed never to discuss politics again.

    IMDb (dot) com

    December 24, 2011 at 11:07 am |
  13. Drew

    What an insightful, bold, articulate, and timely commentary, Judging by the volume and tenor of many comments thus far, Mr. Taunton has touched a nerve. Ironically, from what I know of Christopher Hitchins, I think he would have agreed with the article.

    December 24, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • Joe

      Of course he would not have agreed. He was an atheist and we don't believe in religion as anything other than a misguided social phenomenon. Don't try to understand him through the fog of your religious beliefs

      December 24, 2011 at 11:10 am |
  14. Jim

    Christianity has only recently become a "peaceful" relgiion. Spanish Inquisition anyone? How about burning a witch or two?

    Caring about others is not inate to Christianity, it is a development of society, and is not exclusive to Christians. I would say Hindus and Buddist have Christian's beat as far as caring for others.

    December 24, 2011 at 11:05 am |
    • The Truth Hurts

      Everyone would agree that there are degrees of belief. A person may believe whole-heartedly, or less so. The more one believes in the Bible, the more they will follow the words of their savior to love even their enemies. So, there is obviously a scale from non-belief to belief.

      Those who did the things you claim were obviously closer to non-belief where there is no "good" or "bad" than to anything Jesus would have asked of them.

      To see what a non-religious society would be like, one needs only look at failed communist-atheist experiments...and of course they were no able to completely oppress and suppress religion in the long run.

      December 24, 2011 at 11:13 am |
  15. AHP111

    To ignore Christianity (or any OTHER religion) is to ignore history and human nature. We are hard wired to believe something, when there is nothing to explain what's going on around us. This goes all the way from lightning (Zues of course does that) all the way down to the the voices in your head (God, or the FBI). But the more knowledge we have of the world, the more myths are challenged, and it's these myths that need to go the way of Zues – as a chapter in history influenced millions. It shouldn't be the un-provable belief in something that holds us back from forward progress.

    December 24, 2011 at 11:05 am |
    • Cyberdude

      Zeus!

      December 24, 2011 at 11:12 am |
    • oldwool

      Life is hard and humans are soft. No matter how far forward progress takes us, profound questions about our existence will trouble, inspire, confuse and haunt us. Even if a scientiest could point to the very place in the universe where life began–even if it is one day reduced to wonderless factuality–many, many people will still ask "but why?" That question will never be satisfactorily answered to humans who all, from time to time, must reckon with the insignificance of themselves, all they know and all they do. Sometimes the facts help us through; sometimes they don't. Sometimes a part of us wants to believe that all of the things we experience on this planet and the people with whom we experience them are part of some fabulous story. Most of the time, it is both.

      December 24, 2011 at 11:16 am |
  16. oldwool

    I am a disinterested observer. However, the passion, anger and intelligence that is devoted to these little inches of fleeting text is amusing. People, seriously. Go for a walk and say hello to someone. Some of you need it.

    December 24, 2011 at 11:05 am |
    • Jim

      I suspect it's driven by the believe that people won't get into heaven if they don't convince everyone else to believe what they believe, and the reaction to other people being told that THEIR religion is wrong.

      December 24, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • Jim

      What would Michelle Bachman or Rick Perry say about George Bailey?

      What does that get us? A discontented, lazy rabble instead of a thrifty, working class. And all because a few starry-eyed dreamers like Peter Bailey stir them up and fill their heads with a lot of impossible ideas.

      December 24, 2011 at 11:11 am |
    • The Truth Hurts

      Jim, some of us see group of people who are trying to change our nation for the worse and away from its Christian heritage. When I was young, it seemed that everyone who was decent proclaimed faith in Jesus. There was prayer in public, and there was no debate about Christmas or monuments. A small minority of vocal atheists (not even other religions) are ruining this country. Although I have atheists I call friends, I abhor atheism and think it is completely wrong-headed. Those are my reasons for posting when I have a few moments to do so.

      December 24, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • GAW

      @ oldwool Some of the respondents of the post have missed your point. Reacting to this story with countless rants against religion or atheism are mere acts of "Preaching to the Choir" Yes some of the people here need to go out and get some fresh air and meet people instead of spending hours in front of a computer. And with that said time it's for me to go out and get some fresh air and meet people.

      December 24, 2011 at 11:36 am |
  17. Fleeced Navidad

    Fixed Point Foundation. Why not just call it the An_al Retentive Foundation ? "Fixed Point" sounds all solid, and reliable, and PRy. He should go back to school, and get a real job. And about the article above this. Is it just so stupid that they closed the comments ? How about instead of fasting, they just workout, run, or even just walk. Exercise releases a lot more endorphins than religion, and they would feel a lot better.

    December 24, 2011 at 11:05 am |
  18. newton

    The problem with christianity is there are so few christians who practice them. Im all for christian values - all people can get behind those, because they are core values in most every religiion. but christian worship and faith is what many christians see as their get out of jail free card. as long as you worship and repent, you can sin agan. thats not christian values, but that is the distorted christianity that too many christians practice day to day

    December 24, 2011 at 11:03 am |
  19. DeeCee2011

    Hmmm, the author h-a-s to be kidding. The current list of republican evangelicals are the ones best associated with Pottersville. Not a single one of them remembers either the Good Samaritan or the Sermon on the Mount! We are in Pottersville now, when we are willing to cut benefits to the poor, over insuring the wealthy get more. And the concept of the holy job creators reminds me of those survivors in the Planet of the Apes that worship the bomb. They thought of themselves and the bomb as holy as well. In this case, the Potters-ites think money is holy.

    December 24, 2011 at 11:03 am |
  20. In This World

    Truth!

    December 24, 2011 at 11:02 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.