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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. Maccabee

    Garbage like the filth Taunton's peddling is why I dumped Christianity 15 years ago. I'm not looking back.

    December 24, 2011 at 11:26 am |
  2. Roger

    Mr. Taunton provides us with the viewpoint of the American Taliban: accept our religion or damnation. NOT! Compassion and decency predate–and will postdate–his and all other exclusionary belief systems. We, and we alone, deserve and determine our fate. May it be based on reason tempered with wisdom!

    December 24, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • neutralcarbon

      Thou shalt worship Obama as he is holy and perfect!!

      December 24, 2011 at 11:27 am |
  3. Paul Morris

    I can't resist noting that I rarely (if ever) "survived" a Christmas without watching this movie at least ONCE each year. Not only did I find it INSPIRATIONAL but..always managed to find something NEW in each each time (e.g. ..when the squirrel runs up uncle Billy's arm to console him after getting chewed out by George for losing the money).

    Another little personal footnote.. the scene when the "accountant" confers w/ "his dear employer" (Mr. Potter) and exits saying "maybe THIS young man will seek work w/ George Bailey soon (I met this actor as a child here in Hollywood).

    HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO ALL 🙂

    December 24, 2011 at 11:26 am |
  4. Sam B

    Does anyone else see the problem with this rhetoric? Humans are not inherently evil at all. I personally do not believe in a deity but I believe that, as someone raised Catholic and was very serious about it, according to Christian teachings and the New Testament as well, we are perfect in foundation. Look up the Church Father Origen. Did he castrate himself? Yes. But he did so out of a believe of reaching unity with his god that much sooner.

    December 24, 2011 at 11:26 am |
  5. skeptic

    Mr. Tounton needs to be reminded that "It's a wonderful life", much like religion, is a completely made up story, and not source for data mining in sociological trends. And he had to make the Hitler comparison...sigh

    December 24, 2011 at 11:26 am |
  6. Rainer Braendlein

    What is Christmas?

    Christ the saviour is born

    The true gospel, which means health for the whole mankind:

    The true gospel of Jesus Christ is not only a gospel of forgiveness, but also a gospel of deliverance or redemption or a gospel of a new life in Jesus..

    It was Jesus, who died for us on the cross and Jesus had a certain lifestyle.

    We should not try to gain forgiveness by faith in Jesus and at the same time ignore the life, which Jesus lived.

    Was Jesus a Philistian?

    Never.

    Jesus central sermon was the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), which is a sermon of love towards God and the neighbour.

    Obviously, Jesus didn't give merely forgiveness, but a whole new life to his disciples. Forgiveness and discipleship were connected and a unit. Forgiveness exists only within a life of discipleship.

    You may have heard that we get saved by faith alone, for free.

    Yes, we get saved by faith alone, for free. Its only that forgiveness and discipleship are a unit. That means, when we start to believe in Jesus and get baptized, we also have to start to follow him, whereby our discipleship is no own performance in order to gain salvation, but belongs to the new life, which God has given us, when we started to believe.

    The locus in space and time, where and when we receive the releasing power of Christ's death and resurrection is the sacramental baptism, which is not allowed to be repeated. This is a age-old doctrine independent from the Roman Catholic doctrine. I am a Protestant. By the power of Christ's death and resurrection we become able to follow Jesus.

    When Jesus lived on earth he called people to become disciples of Him. This powerful call takes place today through the Church by sacramental baptism.

    In a word, faith and baptism is a unit and forgiveness and discipleship is a unit. We should not seperate, what God has united.

    You want forgiveness? God wants to give you forgiveness and a new life (discipleship) as a UNIT, at the same time. Either you take the whole unit or you will get nothing at all.

    December 24, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • Asklepios417

      "Was Jesus a Philistian? Never."

      What's that ? A Phil Donahue fan ?

      Jesus tells us not to bury our dead parents. "Let the dead bury their own dead", said Mr. Sensitivity to a man who had just lost his father.

      As Bertrand Russell pointed out, admiration for Jesus is usually based on a very selective reading of his words.

      December 24, 2011 at 11:32 am |
  7. Avatar

    The majority of the posts demonstrate that most of the posters have no comprehension of what faith is all about. I wonder how many of them have spent time truly studying the Bible before arriving at their conclusions. What a shame. Merry Christmas and God bless you.

    December 24, 2011 at 11:25 am |
  8. Paul

    Yet another offensive and incorrect view of non-Christians. Larry Taunton continues to perpetuate the errant notion that one must be a Christian in order to live a morally upstanding life. What a load of horse manure.

    December 24, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • The Truth Hurts

      Without a belief in God, there is no "good" or "bad". Neitzsche and other heavy-weight intellectuals saw this. Why can't you?

      December 24, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • Paul

      Ridiculous Mr. Truth.... just because Nietzche and others of his ilk were trapped in their preconceptions does not mean that others can not see clearly what is right and wrong in human interactions without the threat of eternal flames. Stay trapped in your conceptions if you wish, but don't apply your limited understanding of "truth" to me.

      December 24, 2011 at 11:36 am |
    • Asklepios417

      On another forum, someone pointed out that atheists and agnostics are 50% less likely to be convicted of crimes and sent to prison than believers are.

      Of course that could just mean they're smarter and don't get caught as often.

      December 24, 2011 at 11:41 am |
  9. Asklepios417

    "This article is adapted from his book “The Grace Effect: How the Power of One Life Can Reverse the Corruption of Unbelief."

    Unbelief - the all time favorite word of the religious persecutors.

    The "mission statement" of the Spanish Inquisition was "to root out heresy and unbelief."

    December 24, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • neutralcarbon

      Thou shalt worship Obama!!

      December 24, 2011 at 11:26 am |
  10. FlayM

    The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” –Ps 53:1

    December 24, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • Asklepios417

      It is the brainless sheep-like follower of dogmatic religion that is the fool.

      December 24, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • Eric G

      The atheist say.... "There is no evidence of god".

      December 24, 2011 at 11:27 am |
    • Jim

      MaTTHEW 5:22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca," is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

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

      No, a fool merely follows the bible.

      There are some great moral stories in there, but basically its a bunch of stuff that over centuries has been perverted by its 'followers' to commit countless acts of evil. Funny how that works out, huh?

      December 24, 2011 at 11:34 am |
  11. heyhey

    Thank you for this post. I agree with what you are saying, and I didn't bother to read the comments but I know there is a lot of nasty comments to the contrary. This is because CNN is a totally liberal site whose readers are correspondingly liberal. It's not that there are no Christians left, it's that we generally don't spend our time on sites like this only to be immersed in total negativity.

    December 24, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • rizzo

      Lol CNN is a totally liberal site, ok. Go crawl back in your safe little Fox hole where they only allow 'civilized' browns and the only opinions are bigoted.

      December 24, 2011 at 11:27 am |
    • oj

      "it's that we generally don't spend our time on sites like this only to be immersed in total negativity"

      Translation: If we Christians hear too much that might break our fragile grasp on our imaginary being led belief system, we might accept the idea that there is no guiding hand pushing and pulling us around. (Fingers in ears, la la la la )

      December 24, 2011 at 11:27 am |
  12. Rob

    HH and Cass,

    You still don't get it! You probably don't read much that counters your own worldviews. Sad. Those of your ilk are what chip away at the fabric of all that we enjoy and you'll be the first to stand frozen in fear and guilt when it's too late.

    December 24, 2011 at 11:24 am |
  13. neutralcarbon

    Global Warmism should be the state religion of the U.S., just as it is in Europe!

    December 24, 2011 at 11:24 am |
  14. pachecosita

    When I read about Jesus, all I see is a poor socialist guy that wanted to promote love. When I read about christians, all I see a bounch of rich facist that want to promote hate.

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

      Worship your Obama idol, quickly!!

      December 24, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • The Truth Hurts

      That's because you read too much liberal media. Go meet some Christians who actually follow Christ, not the hateful minority always pointed out by the liberal media.

      December 24, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • sarakenobi

      like!

      December 24, 2011 at 11:29 am |
  15. Nazdar

    Larry Taunton has missed the point. "A Wonderful Life" is less about religion than community involvement. Volunteerism and community involvement have been on the decline for decades (See e.g., "Bowling Alone"). There may be a connection between religion and giving back to your community, but it is not necessary, and certainly Christianity is not morally superior in this regard.

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

      I couldn't agree more. "It's a Wonderful Life" is about behavior, not belief. In no way does Christianity have a monopoly on the Golden Rule.

      December 24, 2011 at 11:37 am |
  16. FeralUrchin

    It appears that the most powerful "proof" of the rightness of one's religion is that it was taught by one's parents. I've read that about 3/4 of adults stay with the believe system they were taught as children.

    December 24, 2011 at 11:24 am |
  17. rizzo

    This is a very poorly written article. You offer no evidence for your assertion. Religion is not a necessary component of a system of morality. Considering that many modern churches twist the words of Christ in order to make the Mr. Potters in this country feel good about his riches, I'd say that you're way off base.
    Merry Christmas!

    December 24, 2011 at 11:24 am |
  18. jedimaster

    nice , i might remind you mr.tauton hitler was a devout athiest and used the christens for his diabolical schemes
    i firmly beleive we as christans can live with athiest like you until athiests control and the majority of the u.s. and decide at some point to continue where hitler left off

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

      Wait, so you're saying that atheists want to kill the Jews? But Christians have done such a good job of murdering the Jews over the last couple thousand years, why would us atheists need to get involved?

      December 24, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • Jim

      This is sarcasm, right?

      December 24, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • E

      Hitler was a self professed Christian who spoke out against atheism.

      December 24, 2011 at 11:26 am |
  19. neutralcarbon

    We should all worship Obama, as he is holy and perfect!

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

      i'd rather listen to Obama than the Nazis on the Christian Right. BTW, I'm a CURED born again. 15 years DISEASE FREE.

      December 24, 2011 at 11:31 am |
  20. Debbie

    I am a Christian and I question Mr. Taunton's need to be a founder and executive director of an organization to publically promote Christianity. My view is that Mr. Taunton is a man of little faith. For some reason he feels God/Christ need him to promote God/Christ. I beleive God is all powerful and does not need Mr. Taunton to do his bidding. I pray for Mr. Taunton's soul as he has been deceived by the Deceiver using Christ for personal gain, publicity and politics. Mr. Taunton, you are asked to follow Christ not be his publicity manager.

    December 24, 2011 at 11:23 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.