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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. Loathstheright

    God here.

    First, I do not exist. The concept of a 13,700,00,000 year old being, capable of creating the entire Universe and its billions of galaxies, monitoring simultaneously the thoughts and actions of the 7 billion human beings on this planet is ludicrous.

    Second, if I did, I would have left you a book a little more consistent, timeless and independently verifiable than the collection of Iron Age Middle Eastern mythology you call the Bible. Hell, I bet you cannot tell me one thing about any of its authors or how and why it was edited over the Centuries, yet you cite them for the most extraordinary of claims.

    Thirdly, when I sent my “son” (whatever that means, given that I am god and do not mate) to Earth, he would have visited the Chinese, Ja.panese, Europeans, Russians, sub-Saharan Africans, Australian Aboriginals, Mongolians, Polynesians, Micronesians, Indonesians and native Americans, not just a few Jews. He would also have exhibited a knowledge of something outside of the Iron Age Middle East.

    Fourthly, I would not spend my time hiding, refusing to give any tangible evidence of my existence, and then punish those who are smart enough to draw the natural conclusion that I do not exist by burning them forever. That would make no sense to me, given that I am the one who withheld all evidence of my existence in the first place.

    Fifth, I would not care who you do or how you “do it”. I really wouldn’t. This would be of no interest to me, given that I can create Universes. Oh, the egos.

    Sixth, I would have smited all evangelicals and fundamentalists long before this. You people drive me nuts. You are so small minded and yet you speak with such false authority. Many of you still believe in the talking snake nonsense from Genesis. I would kill all of you for that alone and burn you for an afternoon (burning forever is way too barbaric for me to even contemplate).

    Seventh, the whole idea of members of one species on one planet surviving their own physical deaths to “be with me” is utter, mind-numbing nonsense. Grow up. You will die. Get over it. I did. Hell, at least you had a life. I never even existed in the first place.

    Eighth, I do not read your minds, or “hear your prayers” as you euphemistically call it. There are 7 billion of you. Even if only 10% prayed once a day, that is 700,000,000 prayers. This works out at 8,000 prayers a second – every second of every day. Meanwhile I have to process the 100,000 of you who die every day between heaven and hell. Dwell on the sheer absurdity of that for a moment.

    Finally, the only reason you even consider believing in me is because of where you were born. Had you been born in India, you would likely believe in the Hindu gods, if born in Tibet, you would be a Buddhist. Every culture that has ever existed has had its own god(s) and they always seem to favor that particular culture, its hopes, dreams and prejudices. What, do you think we all exist? If not, why only yours?

    Look, let’s be honest with ourselves. There is no god. Believing in me was fine when you thought the World was young, flat and simple. Now we know how enormous, old and complex the Universe is.

    Move on – get over me. I did.

    God

    December 24, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
    • Jeus

      My dad is right.

      December 24, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
    • just sayin

      bull sh it

      December 24, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
    • Paul in Puget Sound

      Well considered and very well presented. Thanks.

      December 24, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
    • scott

      As a fellow atheist, I really enjoyed reading this submission. When one considers that everyhthing - good and evil - comes from within each human, then the whole fallcy that God is needed to be moral falls apart. I won't be alive when religion finally falls by the wayside, but I know it will be a glorious day indeed!

      December 24, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
  2. Barry

    Why is this newsworthy?

    December 24, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
  3. Rob

    Chris speaks the truth.

    December 24, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
  4. Chris

    Wow, lots of atheists read and feel compelled to comment on an article about religion. It amazes me how many people are 100% sure that their beliefs are right. The universe starting from nothing for no reason seems just as crazy as it starting for a purpose. I wish I could have the conviction these people seem to have. Maybe this is just where like-minded religion-haters hang out to reaffirm their disbelief.

    December 24, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
    • Barry

      It's less about religion and more about the ascertation that if you don't believe in organized religion then you lose your morality.

      I don't care what you believe in, just don't go around judging those who don't believe in what you do.

      December 24, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
    • SPLAT!~

      Chris, if your a christian, isn't your belief in God 100%?

      December 24, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
    • Theron Corse

      Well, "starts from nothing for no reason" is a bad understanding of modern physics. Scientists have always assumed that there was a reason for the Big Bang, but were not sure we could know it. Now though, both our technology and our science have advanced enough that we can actually start to ask meaningful questions and test our hypotheses. Science is getting closer to an answer - if your religion depends on "science doesn't know the answer," that's shaky ground.

      Also, of course atheists would respond to this. It essentially says atheists are all evil and are the source of all the trouble in the country. People tend to respond to such a bold attack.

      December 24, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
    • Chris

      I'm not 100% God exists. I'm just not 100% sure He doesn't exist. Knowing would make life a lot easier. I think those crazy people dancing and fainting in churches is ridiculous (notice that is usually showcased on religion-bashing media). I fully support the scientific theory. My reasoning for seeing His existence as plausible is not because "science can't say otherwise". I agree with the current Big Bang theory, I'm interested in String Theory, the stuff they are doing at CERN is amazing. I have no problems with any of that. What I'm concerned with is the "why" behind it all. Just because we understand the what and how, doesn't mean there can't be a "why" also. Also, I thought Science used to support open-mindedness?

      December 24, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
  5. Rob

    I hope everybody who celebrates Christmas can make it to a Christian Church service tonight or tomorrow or pray or Thank God. After all, that's what the holiday ought to be about, right? I cannot recall secular humanism having a Savior, but everybody who's transfixed by this "ism" believes they're "the measure," which is precisely the problem. Many of you who celebrate the holiday in its commerciallly base form are the elfs who are taking the "Christ" out of Christmas.

    December 24, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
  6. Loathstheright

    Being an atheist myself, I have always done good, took people in need into my home, Iraq vets, friends with drug problems, homeless people who just needed a hand up....but never in my 58 years have I met a Christian that follows the teachings of Jesus. I seems I am more Christian than the one I have met.

    December 24, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • Atheist

      The only way you could be more Christian is if you started killing masses of people for not believing in your delusions.

      December 24, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
  7. Amy Black

    So the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials, and the helping of Nazis are what make good people?

    If so, let me proudly call myself not only transgendered but Pagan as well.

    Also, the author says, "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."

    I don't know that I'd say "secular elite" and not look at the Christian elite in this country. I do agree with the words though. You want to practice your religion? Fine, do it in your own home and church. Do NOT force it on me, as you would NOT want me to force my beliefs on you. 'Your rights end at my nose' is a popular saying, and that includes religion. We have as much freedom FROM religion as we do OF religion. That's how the Founding Fathers wanted it–not for the government, or the church, to decide what religion and who was religious. If you want to preach, fine, do it amongst your own kind don't force others to listen to you.

    Have a happy holidays everyone, supposed messiah or not.

    December 24, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • David C

      The founding fathers also proposed freedom of speech which allows people to say almost anything without fear of reprisal. If people can burn the American flag to demonstrate their views or beliefs people should be free to pray for theirs. If you don't believe, that's ok, but allow those that do belief the courtesy to pray as they see fit.

      December 24, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
    • adopted USA

      ! was going to write a little, but you said it all. What a great posting.

      December 24, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
    • Amy Black

      I have no problem with people praying as they see fit as long as they do it in their church or home. Things should be between God and them. Matthew 6:5-6:

      “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you."

      So go pray in secret, don't be a hypocrite.

      December 24, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
  8. Patrick

    If this were true the atheistic countries of Western Europe would be awash in corruption, misery and amoral behavior. Since the opposite is true, at least relative to good Christian nations, this guy is just speaking out of his a$$

    December 24, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
    • Steveo

      Aren't they? they also do have Christians among them sorry to disappoint you.

      December 24, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  9. scott

    It is ridiculous to say that a country not dominated by ANY religion would be morally empty. Morality comes from within, not from some extra-terrestial man in the sky.

    December 24, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
  10. Russell Hammond, Hollywood

    So far in my lifetime, the group who have hosed me the most (or at least tried to) either personally or in business, claimed to be practicing "Christians." "Christians" (I always put it in quotes) have such a great deal going with their God because when they proceed to dick over their fellow human being, it's because they "prayed" on it first – "it" being God's will which absolves said "Christian" of any responsibility, culpability and repercussions. Convenient, huh?

    December 24, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • jpjessee

      Russell,

      There are many who call themselves a "Christian" because of the country club lifestyle that can be obtained. From what I've read of the Bible this has been going on since the original temple of the Old Testament. They go to church in order to meet business connections. They use those connections as a nearly nepotistic unit that does things in Christ's name that does way too much harm. It's a feature of any in-group, however and not unique to Christianity. What makes it so much more egregious in this instance is that it is hidden behind a holy cloth in the same way that the people of the Old Testament hid behind their holy cloths while stoning the prophets. It's deplorable and it's the reason why I've often said that I'm a Christian in spite of Christians. In that sense, I'd say that you're certainly correct in parenthesizing them as the Bible basically does the same to them in Matthew 7:22-23.

      Of course, there are those who also do the best that they can and, in spite of the sin of their flesh will attempt to create a better world out of their affection for God and Christ. These individuals are usually the laity, not the leaders. They've learned that the true part of Christianity is to be found in love and (to borrow the old phrase) social justice. Our society is woefully ignorant (and the church bares the blame as well) in the department of providing for others because we've ALL become so wrapped up in having our "best life now." What it has reaped has been a nation of haves and have nots and the homeless dying under a bridge while the lawyers complain of being "intimidated" when a homeless man is on the same side of the sidewalk as the lawyer (not fabricated – local news in my area). The crux to all people and most ESPECIALLY to Christians is to remember that words are empty and actions are the only thing that count. James 2:16 puts that in the best language.

      December 24, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
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    December 24, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
  12. Chris

    Over 2000 comments about a fairy tale? Every story on this topic is the same. There must be something here that is more then a story...too much "of this posthaste and rummage in the land".

    December 24, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
  13. Paul in Puget Sound

    In a word, gibberish! Taunton is both incorrect and wrong.
    All religion, most certainly the three sky-god faiths of the Bronze Age Near East, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, all are based on the same mythologies that have sprouted up, fallen off and been regurgitated by societies going back to 5000 BCE or further. There is not, most simply stated, a shred of empirical evidence for the existence of a universal god, deist or theist, or for the existence of Jesus Christ or the existence of heaven or hell or of angels or demons or any of the other fairy tales so beloved of so many who chose faith over reason.
    Professor Dawkins and many others are simply pointing out the obvious: Religious faith requires the abandonment of reason. It requires that people endure the wretchedness of today in hope of some form of redemptive suffering after death, a really bad Ponzi scheme on which nobody collects.
    Don’t fall for this absurd circular irrationality. As it says in the Thomas Gospel, “The Kingdom of God is upon the Earth but men do not see it.” “Paradise” such as it is comes from realizing our existence is extraordinarily improbable yet here we are. Wake up every morning and revel in your life because that is all the life you will ever have. Realize that you are biologically related to everything living today as well as to everything that has ever lived. You are chemically related to and are of, the Earth. And, you are atomically derived from and are utterly part of the entire universe. This is the reality. Rejecting reality is therefore a symptom of mental virus to be pitied and, one hopes, eventually cured. But rejecting reality can never be indulged because that gives the rejection media religions, respect they do not deserve. In a civilized society we will tolerate religion even as we strive to bring people to their senses to reject faith. However, we can never respect faith; the most we rationalists, those who subscribe to methodological naturalism, can do is tolerate faith. It does not deserve respect. And neither does Taunton’s tortured thesis.

    December 24, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • Draeggo

      Why are you so angry? Why do you hate so much? Does it make you a better person?

      December 24, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  14. Jeff Harms

    What does this author think of George Bailey's "bail out" at the end? I wonder.......

    December 24, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • Jeff Harms

      or does this distract us from that more difficult reason for revisiting this classic?

      December 24, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
  15. st

    Its good to know that one thing hasn't changed: Christians will make up anything to sell a book.

    December 24, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  16. Joe Dugan

    Yes, one can actually measure how much more moral, civil and saner society has become since religious belief has decreased.

    December 24, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
  17. Bryan Barjas

    Lyndon LaRouche Emergency Broadcast; http://www.larouchepac.com/node/20916; Spread this right now to all poosible webpages.

    December 24, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  18. Chris

    From reading the comments here, a reader would assume all atheists are amazing, giving people. If you define morality and ethics for yourself (ie without religion), how can you validate your definition of a "good person"? There's an infinite number of other definitions of a "good person" out there as well. I'm sure all of history's "worst people" (Hitler, etc) truly believed what they were doing was "good". Religion at least provides a common foundation for beliefs. If you don't agree with it, that's fine. You can't say that it is 100% incorrect (or crazy) though, just as you can't prove your beliefs are the right beliefs. As a side note, I agree with the author that everyone has potential "bad" in them. I work as a pharmacist and see this side of people all day long. People seem to only remember their good deeds.

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

      I trust duly elected governments to put in place the basic laws needed for an orderly society. No gods, ghosts, goblins or baby jesus required or wanted.

      December 24, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • cyberCMDR

      The thing of it is, as a Christian you also can not prove that your beliefs are the right beliefs. If you were born and raised elsewhere, there is a good chance you would believe something else. If the primary claim to validity for your beliefs is "that's the way I was raised", then all belief systems are equally valid or invalid. The difference with atheism is that atheists don't turn off their critical thinking skills when the subject of religion comes up. We expect arguments to be backed up with facts, not just because some book says so.
      Also, this argument that atheism equals immorality is nonsensical. We also want a civil society, safety for ourselves and our loved ones, etc. Only children behave because they are afraid of some punishment afterwards. Real ethics comes from understanding our actions and their consequences, and having an honest sense of empathy for others. If anything, all too many Christians use their faith to justify bigotry and hatred for those who don't fit within their group.

      December 24, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
  19. snakebone

    Just another example of the self-righteous calling themselves good. No shortage of that, and certainly not limited to America. Interesting how many today think violence would be an appropriate way to punctuate their goodness. Contemporary Christianity yet again preaches that murder of the godless is perfectely acceptable, even righteous; the driving force behind religious approval of war in the Middle East.

    December 24, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
  20. xvet

    Since the Potter have won and managed to either acquire the Bailey's or run them out of business. We all live in our own little Pottervilles.

    xvet

    December 24, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
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