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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. Gordon Mano

    In my humble opinion, religious dogma is little more than mental communism. "Believers of the world, unite!"

    December 24, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
  2. jeziskristum

    Religion is a parasitic toxin that uses goodness as its host.

    December 24, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
    • tony

      Best one liner I've seen! Thanks!

      December 24, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
  3. Joseph F.C.

    Would Jesus have conquered, displaced and killed the Native Americans? The US was NOT founded on true Christianity. If you think otherwise you are living in delusion.

    December 24, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • Cyberdude

      I agree. But exactly what IS "true Christianity"? Ask 10 people and you'll get 11 answers.

      December 24, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
  4. us1776

    Religion is by far the worst thing to ever happen to the human race.

    .

    December 24, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • NoStupidity

      Totally agree!

      December 24, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • Steven L. Bullington

      Athists and agnostics and non belivers have one thing in common, they don't believe! I didn't either untill 7-10-11 and I'm 60 years old. I always thought I was a middle of the road christian ( theres no such thing ) treating everyone as I wanted to be treated won't get you Gods forgiveness or grace.
      In the Kings James version the word believe is used approx. 43 times for a reason. If you don't believe that everything in the Bible is true and do not believe Jesus died on the cross for your sins and was resurrected on the 3rd day and he is the son of God.
      Then you can't feel his love and grace even though it is there.
      I asked the Holy Spirit why doesn't everyone feel his presents and I was told it is available to all but few will ask!
      Love to all and remember who's birthday we are celebrating.

      December 24, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
    • tony

      In the King James Bible, Exodus 14-17, god is shown to be only a low grade weather sprite. Incapable of actually "smiting".

      December 24, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
    • Nat Q

      Give it up Steven. Besides the fact zealots of EVERY religion make identical claims about THEIR gods, many of us did ask–and ask for a long time with all our hearts–only to hear nothing in return. I myself was a Christian for nearly 30 years. And I asked fervently many, many times. And I never received any answers of any kind.

      December 24, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
  5. Klw

    It is strange that here he aligns Christianity against Pottersville, which in the movie represents greedy capitalists. In our political culture, the Christians are in the same party with (and often are) the greedy capitalists. It is becoming increasingly clear that if you want to "vote for Bedford Falls," you must vote for the godless liberals. I find that my Christian faith informs my vote for the Democratic Party. If you examine all of the issues, there is no true Christian party. Each party is "pro-life" on certain issues on which the other party could be called "pro-death." That is one of the greatest tragedies of our political system.

    December 24, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
  6. Someone

    To elevate something I said earlier – I am so tired of the people claiming that when we were more "Godly", we were better. If you look throughout our history, there are large examples of our inhumanity to our fellow man. We have slavery, sweatshops, racism, exploitation. Companies dumped all matter of waste into streams and the air. If anything, our nation was lucky becuase we had a large ocean between us and our enemies, something that the advent of the airplane and ICBM has diminished.

    Our growth in the fifities and sixties had a simple reason – the rest of the industrial world was destroyed during WWII. We were the only game in town. The cold war fractioned teh markets.

    A number of vocal Christians have aligned themselves with the far right wing of the Republican Party. This aligns itself with polarized politics. They are not helping their belief by doing so – just driving people away.

    December 24, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
  7. Mary

    This article has a stupid premis. Bedford Falls has become Pottersville because of corporate greed. Period. It has nothing to do with a lack of faith. I suppose CNN would have us continue to believe in the corporate myth that if we work hard we will be rewarded with a nice pension in our old age.

    December 24, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
    • SDCinNS

      It's called a "metaphor".

      December 24, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • kayjulia

      Just another Bull$h_t Story to confound the masses and get their money. There are a lot of these stories and they are all fantasies. Mere entertainment, nothing more.

      December 24, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
    • Test

      Ironicus,

      Those worked for me with no special html tactics...

      December 24, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
    • testing

      socialism
      socialist
      specialist

      December 24, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
    • Ironicus

      sharing and caring

      December 24, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
  8. MarshalRight

    Socialism belongs in NO discussion about saving ANY nation. Socialism exists solely to give patriots something to destroy. It has no other purpose.

    December 24, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
    • Ironicus

      Jesus was a socialist.
      Every lesson he gave to his followers was a lesson about sharing and caring.
      That's what a socialist does – shares and cares.
      Jesus kept trying, but idiots like you listen to Rush Limbaugh instead of Jesus. Isn't that ironic?

      December 24, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • Moe Smith

      Jesus was a socialist

      you, however, are a hypocrite... and you are a hypocritical waste of oxygen. haven't you done as i told you to in your half-wit response to my previous post? Go drink drano and save this nation from your bigotry.

      December 24, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • Eddie

      What Jesus preached was the social covenant, NOT socialism.

      December 24, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
    • Moe Smith

      ahh it's not burgundy, it's maroon... thanks Eddie.

      December 24, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • Retroman

      MarshalRight

      Marshall Right sez " No, no, no Mr. Leftist. You get the phuck out of MY country. Know why? Because I'm willing to bloody both my knuckles and my conscience to save the Nation. Are you willing? Because I'll give you my address if you are. Then I can show you that you Reds are all red."

      Retroman sez – Them's fightin' words, fer shure, but what will that aggression get you? A few bruises and maybe a chipped tooth or two (and expensive dental work). "Be cool, fool." Perhaps you are too stressed out by the holiday rush to realize that letting your anger get the better of you when reading blog posts will not resolve this issue.

      Nor will barfights determine whose political concepts will prove to be vindicated.

      Merry Christmas

      December 24, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • Ironicus

      Just a note to anyone who wants to say "social-ist" or "social-ism" or "special-ist" or anything with the "cial-is" in the word.
      CNN has a filter that will refuse to post your comment if you do not put a dash or something in between those letters to break up the word. I used a special technique to print it without the dash in case anyone was wondering. That means "MarshalRight" also knows of this and is laughing at all the people who try to respond only to find their post disappeared.
      It took me quite a while to find this out. If you have a list of these words, update your list if you didn't already know this.
      "cial-is" is a drug that came out quite a while ago. The idiocy of this CNN filter is beyond my ability to express fully.

      December 24, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • Test

      socialist

      socialism

      specialist

      December 24, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
    • Test

      Ironicus:

      Those worked for me with no special html tactics...

      December 24, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
  9. Moe Smith

    News flash you self-righteous zealots... the United States of America is NOT a Christian nation. Get a fncking clue and pull your craniums out of your recycling centers. This is a nation FOUNDED UPON RELIGIOUS FREEDOM. Plain. Simple. Period. You dont like it? GTFO of MY country.

    December 24, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
    • MarshalRight

      No, no, no Mr. Leftist. You get the phuck out of MY country. Know why? Because I'm willing to bloody both my knuckles and my conscience to save the Nation. Are you willing? Because I'll give you my address if you are. Then I can show you that you Reds are all red.

      December 24, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
    • Ironicus

      There's a very nice article in the Smithsonian magazine about the separation of church and state and of the very religious Colonist named Roger Williams who founded the Rhode Island colony. His was the first of the 13 colonies to use language in the charter that spelled out a secular government. I just love those guys at the Smithsonian.

      December 24, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
    • Concerned

      @MarshalRight;

      You know, you are an excellent personification of my contention that we should have let you "Reds" succeed about a century and a half ago, then bought you back without bloodshed when you went broke a few years later.

      You've been nothing but a thorn in the ass of the UNITED States ever since.

      December 24, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
    • Moe Smith

      @MarshalRight ahh the self-righteous are indeed out today. Guess what hypocrite, i served in the US Air Force for over 10 years. I did my duty. i STILL DO my duty working as a gov't defense contractor. it's short sighted, self-absorbed, religious bigoted fuktards like you who ruin what our founding fathers set out to try to create with this nation which you so melordramatically claim to "save". You want to save this country? go drink drano. you're wasting oxygen.

      December 24, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
    • Bonester

      @marcylite

      Don't tell your parents you've been using the internet.
      Happy Holidays.

      December 24, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Marshal, what you are willing to do, apparently, is to spit on the Const.itution.

      The wise founders of the United States knew that no country could be free if religion was a part of it's government. By creating a secular government, our Founding Fathers created an amazing land where people of many different faiths (even none at all) have equal rights without fear of prosecution, unless of course they are breaking a secular law.

      You have only to look at the middle east to find nations that are "under god". If that is the fate you wish for the United States, then you are truly an enemy of this nation.

      December 24, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
  10. Jr

    @eric G i know some people in michigan i can ask if their churches want to raise money to doante to your cause or they can individually donate. i'll spread the word at my church here in TX and see how else i can help

    December 24, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
  11. Ironicus

    So comments are closed for the next article? Then why put the damn thing in a blog? EH? EH? W-T-F?????

    December 24, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
  12. Nancy Parrish

    A truly wonderful article and full of truth! I plan to share it with as many people as possible. Thank you for writing this!

    December 24, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • Travis

      Nancy, fully agree, the polls conducted on the declining Christian belief are facts. Our moral compass in the US is out of control and it is directly related to our decreasing position in the world.

      December 24, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Well, you are certainly enti.tled to your own opinion. Personally, I blame the problems of the U.S. on an underfunded education system and on politicians who benefit from the resultant ignorance. Those who praise christian charity the loudest are the same ones who are creating the need for it, by rewarding greed and punishing the poor.

      December 24, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
  13. clv

    I was born and raised a Catholic. I no longer am. I am not an agnostic. I am not an atheist. I simply do not care. Religious belief systems and non-religious belief systems mean nothing to me. I was raised to treat people the way I would like to be treated. I do not lie, steal or kill. I try to be kind. I try to be compassionate. I try to a better HUMAN. I don't care about your god or his god. They mean NOTHING to me. If the human race simply tried to be better humans and do it for HUMANITY and not some pie-in-the-sky father figure, we all would be a lot better off.

    December 24, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
    • Ironicus

      Hey, let me thank you for being a good sort of person, clv. And for not being a liar. I think there's too many people who like lying these days. Good to see you are not like that. Have a great weekend.

      December 24, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
    • urbanhermit

      Bravo clv, bravo!

      December 24, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
  14. Rev. Dr. Alden Marshall

    My next door neighbor would scream and shout at his children and curse them. One day mom heard him speaking gently and assumed he had a bad cold. But he had been drawn by God the Father and God the Holy Spirit to give his life to Jesus Christ. He radically changed his life, as we all do when we are truly supernaturally converted to follow Jesus Christ. Certainly his family benefited greatly, and this has happened in more or less dramatic ways throughout history.

    December 24, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
    • tony

      Ahh. The super-natural. Universal Cause and Effect superseded by the Harry Potter magicians amongst us

      December 24, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Did you happen to catch the article a month or so ago, right here on the ol' Belief Blog, about the people who abused a child to death because of the biblical command "spare the rod and spoil the child"?

      I don't think religion did that poor tortured child a lot of good.

      December 24, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
    • SDCinNS

      Thanks for posting. Reminds me of an article I once read where DL Moody was challenged to a debate on Christianity vs Atheism. He agreed on one condition. He said, "you bring 10 people who will speak about how being an atheist has given them more joy, peace and love in their life – has made them better fathers, wives, husbands, mothers, employees and citizens. I will bring 1000 people who will speak about how becoming a Christian has done this." The other person declined the debate.

      December 24, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Sure. That happened. In your dreams.

      December 24, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
  15. Tucson Dean

    Christianity did wonders for western civization during the Dark Ages.

    December 24, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
  16. John Paul

    Well said!!

    December 24, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
  17. Ken L

    I think he's got some things backwards. The conservatives have been increasing in power, and that's what's driving our drift towards Pottersville. Although the political right has the support of the religious right, they have less concern for the poor, sick, and unemployed. It's "repeal Obamacare" instead of follow the parable of the Good Samaritan. This is all funded by godless greedy capitalists who have really pulled the wool over the eyes of those who consider themselves religious, but have been brainwashed because of a couple issues on no financial interest to the plutocrats (abortion and gay rights).

    December 24, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
  18. tony

    Morality is NOT owned by the religious. They should share the responsibilities, not steal them.

    December 24, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
  19. nepawoods

    And btw, I'm a Christian, and I'm opposed to the article because it's rubbish. Morality can and does exist independent of Christianity. The belief otherwise is born of pure ignorance.

    December 24, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
  20. SDCinNS

    I'm always amazed that an atheist would troll web pages for negative things to say – to hunt down religious articles so he/she could be against them.

    December 24, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
    • nepawoods

      It's the most prominent article on the front page of CNN right now ... nobody hunted it down.

      December 24, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
    • tony

      Goes a tiny little way towards compensating for all the millions of church billboards continuously offending the sane rest of us

      December 24, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
    • mcp123

      "I'm always amazed that an atheist would troll web pages for negative things to say"

      Why shouldn't we respond when all religion has to offer is negative things? One can easily make the correlation between religion and just about every war and millions of deaths in the past 2,000 years. If religion weren't around we'd all have flying cars and be exploring the galaxy at this point. Its a crutch thats holding the human race back.

      December 24, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
    • Kevin

      I did not hunt this article down, I just happened to chance upon it, and after reading all the ignorant comments by insane fundamentalist Christians, I had to respond.

      December 24, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
    • Bonester

      Pretty sure that's not the only thing that amazes you.

      December 24, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      I'm amazed that you find it important to comment about what atheists and agnostics and those who just have different beliefs than you do have to say. If it bothers you so, tell CNN to stop running articles that are obviously intended to cause friction and then trumpeting them on the front page of the website. Or just don't read here.

      December 24, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
    • tallulah13

      SDC?

      This is a public blog on a national news site. Not exactly the old church bulletin. Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing, and our words on this site are limited only by an automated filter that doesn't like certain letter combinations.

      If you don't want to know other opinions, I suggest you limit your conversation to people who believe the same things you do.

      December 24, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
    • Ironicus

      Some people are amazed about the simplest things.

      December 24, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
    • Travis

      It's a sad day when we have to read all the negative responses to an article that accurately reflects the declining number of Christians and adherance to Christian values. Doesn't matter if you are Christain or not, look at every single poll, it is true. Also, anyone who thinks there is no correlation between the decline in Christian values and belief and our losing power in the world as a standard bearer is sorrily mistaken. Over the top political correctness is slowly killing this country.

      December 24, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Listening to the rabid right radio folks again, Travis? What evidence supports your contention that there is any correlation between Christian values and our position of power in the world? Our power has nothing to do with Christianity whatsoever. Prove otherwise. While you're at it, prove that the US is "in decline" at all. By whose reckoning? And then, tell me what "Christian values and beliefs" you are maundering about, and what you mean by "political correctness".

      I've got a pretty good idea of just what you'll say.

      December 24, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Travis, you don't have to read anything...

      Religious cults are in decline because they can no longer get away with unsubstantiated crap.

      December 24, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
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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.