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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. George

    Man that was tedious to read. Pottersville sounds more like the place run by the sanctimonious bibletards.

    December 25, 2011 at 12:55 am |
  2. sdandelin

    Chsitianity Aricle

    December 25, 2011 at 12:48 am |
  3. Jay

    And how dare you, Mr. Tauton speak of Christians today as the poor oppressed "good ole simple folk" that are being repressed by some rich liberal elites waging war on their poor humble religion, when I am so sorry to inform you that in the public eye today, most conservative Christians are associated with the upper tax brackets. They are affluent whites and corporate moguls. Or they actually are simple folk, being manipulated by their richer idols. In any case, it is these very devout charitable Christians that vote time and time again, fight tooth and nail in a no holds barred attack on social programs, health care reform or anything else than to make the rich richer. These charitable Christians will cry and lament over woman's right to choose, but think we need higher and higher jail sentences, more war and that people don't deserve to go to a doctor if they don't have insurance. These Christians who are so materialistic and worship at the alter of individualism and narcissism all while playing lip service to a liberal penniless Nazarene. Yes, so very charitable indeed.

    December 25, 2011 at 12:48 am |
    • David

      Jay, you are either confused or intellectually dishonest (although the evangelical commitment to the so-called war on terror is flustering, I'll grant you that.) But most of the Christians you declaim actually believe that government is untrustworthy in carrying out the tasks of charity. To see why, a book called"The Tragedy of American Compassion" might explain it for you.

      December 25, 2011 at 2:40 am |
  4. Dr Jones

    Really, it's the season for sanctimonious?
    it could be said that it's immoral to judge others as immoral simply because they don't follow your faith.

    December 25, 2011 at 12:45 am |
    • David

      If it is immoral, then are you judging or not? Do tell.

      December 25, 2011 at 2:40 am |
  5. Enlightened

    All I know is Santa just left me a brand new Gibson Les Paul, and Jesus has given me nothing but guilt and fear of eternal torment if I don't kiss his holy behind
    Advantage – SANTA!

    December 25, 2011 at 12:44 am |
    • THE BIBLE IS GARBAGE

      THE NECKS ON THOSE GUITARS FEEL LIKE BASEBALL BATS

      I PREFER IBANEZ

      December 25, 2011 at 12:54 am |
    • Terrie

      @Enlightened You, sir/madam, are a victim of wrong thinking. Jesus died for your sins – there's no need for guilt.

      December 25, 2011 at 6:01 am |
  6. Enlightened

    All I know is Santa just left me a brand new Gibsn Les Paul, and Jesus has given me nothing but guilt and fear of eternal torment if I don't kiss his holy behind
    Advantage – SANTA!

    December 25, 2011 at 12:42 am |
  7. GUTSYCALL@YAHOO.COM

    One of the great American movies of all time. Capitalism kept in check is the greatest source of wealth, and counted in far more terms than only money. Religion – not sure why that's coming up here other than the values of capitalism taking care of the many over the few is on display by this movie.

    December 25, 2011 at 12:40 am |
  8. GUTSYCALL@YAHOO.COM

    Our founding fathers had it right. All 13 states came about by diverse religious beliefs, seeded upon Christian values. There's plenty right about Christianity, although this movie hardly smacks of anything religious. The message is far more revealing about Capitalism gone awry.

    December 25, 2011 at 12:38 am |
    • David

      So angels are not religious? Regardless, I would call this a movie about capitalism set right, not gone awry. Good wins in the end, thanks in large measure to a good capitalist (recall the final scene).

      December 25, 2011 at 2:33 am |
  9. Robert Cherrington

    Let me see if I understand life in Bedford Falls.

    1. Unsupervised children slide onto a half frozen lake, where one falls into the ice water.
    2. A drug store owner beats a child employee so badly that his deaf ear bleeds.
    3. A spiteful date opens a pool onto a crowd.
    4. A women so driven to marriage she does everything to keep her man from living out his dreams.
    5.A thieving banker steals money and get away with it
    6. A town is forced to bail out the bank (sound familiar?)
    7. God and joseph toy with a "simple" angel that has waited 200 years to get his wings

    Tell me more about this Pottersville because Bedford falls sounds worse than Buffalo.

    December 25, 2011 at 12:36 am |
    • David

      Well, right on 1, 2, and 5. The rest are open to debate. But one thing is certain, the fictional town of Bedford Falls carries a ring of truth: being set on Earth, was not without sin and evil. As Edmund Burke said, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." When, having never been born, George Bailey did nothing, the results were evident.

      December 25, 2011 at 2:29 am |
  10. Tom in Ramona

    This article only proves that art, be it painting, poetry or film, will always be interpreted through the filter of the observer's prejudices. As a Christian, the author finds meaning in the movie to support his own believes and disregards aspects irrelevant to his worldview. I could make an equally refutable argument this movie is about the virtue of alcohol as a means to vision quest a solution to a personal crisis. Simply put: George Bailey, while drunk, hallucinates he meets and angel and thru his own imagination weighs the pros and cons of suicide, deciding too many people rely on him to take his own life. It is only through the power of drink that one can make hard choices. See how easy it is to argue an opinion, no matter how weak the evidence?

    December 25, 2011 at 12:24 am |
    • David

      Yes, it's easy to argue an opinion, no matter how weak the evidence. I think you have demonstrated that.

      December 25, 2011 at 2:22 am |
  11. Kevin

    So, if I disagree with his philosophy then I'm evil? Wow. That's easily as closed-minded, arrogant and self-righteous as you can get. And THAT is a huge part of our problems these days: arrogant, self-righteous people telling the rest of us how evil we are. Sheesh, when's the next spaceship leave earth???

    December 25, 2011 at 12:23 am |
    • David

      Actually, Kevin, you are evil whether you agree or disagree. The question from a Christian standpoint is only whether you are forgiven.

      December 25, 2011 at 2:21 am |
  12. Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer

    BAZINGA!!!!!!!!!!!!

    December 25, 2011 at 12:21 am |
  13. Robert W

    "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."

    ^ That is exactly what I think about Christianity. Thanks for hitting the nail on the head.

    Also, this article is propaganda-based drivel. Where are your statistics for Christians being the most charitable people? What if I said they also commit the most crimes in the United States? There's 246 million of them. It has to be true. Hell, it has more statistical precedence than your half drawn conclusion.

    Take me to Pottersville.

    December 25, 2011 at 12:20 am |
    • Tom

      Well let's start with you Robert. No need to keep dealing in all these ambiguous statistics. How'd your charitable giving stack up in 2011? Would you say gave away 2% of your total income? ...Or 7%? ...Maybe 10%? Just curious.

      December 25, 2011 at 12:38 am |
  14. Nick

    People had wonderful lives before Christianity came around to ruin it, you know. I bet they'd like to go back to it, too. Trouble is, you rubbed most of them out. Is Iran really our enemy because their people are so different than ours? Or is it because they're mostly Muslim, and Christianity is chomping at the bit to engage in Crusades III? Leave others alone to practice what they will. We all find out who was right eventually.

    December 25, 2011 at 12:13 am |
    • Essie

      Oh dear.

      December 25, 2011 at 12:17 am |
    • JustDad

      Let's see you actually believe that the lives described in our known history before Christianity were wonderful? Are you kidding? Do you have any knowledge of History at all?

      December 25, 2011 at 12:18 am |
    • Concerned

      "JustDad",
      it's YOU who shows no knowledge of history by making that post. But by all means, keep posting.
      Let everyone see you and your kind for what you are.

      I've got my bag of popcorn!!

      December 25, 2011 at 12:34 am |
    • SkyKing

      And, so for all people, as of this date, about 2000 years ago, you have been given a great gift.
      Until then, as found in the Old Testament, the culture of man was 'an eye for an eye'. Someone did something, and others retaliated, continuing devastation of all, with no way out of the vicious cycle.
      Then came the Gift: the introduction of the concept of Grace. When someone errs, or sins agains the Grand Architect or another, instead of retaliation, Grace is extended. The sinner, or one who did wrong, is given another chance to get it right. When we forgive those who sinned against us, it frees us!
      The baby who was born introduced and taught that concept as he lived. Unconditional love. Like we feel for our children, so must the Grand Architect who created us. As we would give anything for our children, expecting nothing in return, so do we receive 'agape'.
      And so today, we celebrate this Gift of Grace, that all in the world will receive it, and by doing as this common man, Jesus, taught us, we will honor our Creator, by sharing the Good Will we have received toward men. We DID (and do) so receive it, and so we can so impart it.
      Amen! Do you receive it?! So mote it be.

      December 25, 2011 at 12:53 am |
  15. JustDad

    Interesting; the one percent of the population who are angry , lonely, athiests appear to have gravitated to this board because on Christmas Eve they are the only people with nothing to do, no one to be with and , appaerntly no good will in their hearts. At least the Grinch eventually finds something that caused his heart to grow three sizes, perhaps you guys will become lovers instead of fighters one day.

    December 25, 2011 at 12:12 am |
    • Robert W

      You're an idiot. Also, you're here babbling like everyone else.

      December 25, 2011 at 12:23 am |
    • Jay

      I'm an angry, liberal Christian tired of my faith and government being hijacked by fundamentalists and fascists, much like most of the sane world is, whether they're believers or not. Or do I not count as a Christian because I actually believe in what Jesus taught, not what Halliburton and the GOP preach?

      December 25, 2011 at 1:03 am |
    • JohnR

      @JustDad You are a fool.

      December 25, 2011 at 1:11 am |
    • Relictus

      If I could find one woman to love me – just one – I would not have chosen the name "Relictus', which means "Forsaken".

      December 25, 2011 at 1:29 am |
    • Someone

      No – My family is asleep, I am up because I am on call for a volunteer disaster relief agency, I happen to be Jewish, and I do not like the idea that somehow the US is a Chrstian nation that has strayed.

      I guess becuase you're here – what does that say about you?

      December 25, 2011 at 1:51 am |
    • David

      Not me, JustDad! Some of us attended midnight mass. Merry Christmas!

      December 25, 2011 at 2:43 am |
    • doug flynn

      JUSTDAD gets his intellect from Christmas...umm Xmas cartoons. Also, I feel sorry for JUSTDADS children

      December 25, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
  16. Jay

    As a Christian, I get so utterly sick of hearing this type of dribble. You know what the real problem is? One that mainstream evangelical fundamentalist Christianity won't face? is that it has become so anti-Christian in it's behaviors, beliefs and actions, that our society continues to fall down the gutter while they cry crocodile tears and blame everyone else, and go into oppression mode trying to weed out the "evil" they think is everywhere. Jesus loved everyone, he loved the poor, he despised religious hypocrisy and he honored all life. He healed the sick, he didn't require insurance forms or tell people they just weren't working hard enough. Jesus has nothing to do with modern Christianity and THAT is the problem.

    December 25, 2011 at 12:08 am |
    • JustDad

      True!

      December 25, 2011 at 12:13 am |
    • Starbury

      Perhaps you would prefer to listen to a crossover, unless you meant to say drivel...

      December 25, 2011 at 1:01 am |
    • Jay

      Haha, yes, please forgive my grammar fail tonight. It is a holiday evening after all 🙂 Eggnog may have been involved...

      December 25, 2011 at 1:05 am |
    • Tom

      Well said...

      December 25, 2011 at 1:11 am |
  17. Ronald Ewalt

    Unfortunately the author is completely clueless about the Occupy movment. His comment, "the “Occupy” people blame everybody who isn’t occupying something", is reflective of the right-wing Christian approach to anything that doesn't fit its strictlly prescribed definition of America. Let the corporations and their minions create a fascist state; denounce other faiths; destroy the American middle-class; etc, as along as we are Christian in our pronouncements.

    December 25, 2011 at 12:02 am |
  18. Josh B

    Wikipedia states that the Barna Group is "an evangelical Christian polling firm based in Ventura, California." Wow, and this firm's research concluded that "Christians are the most charitable segment of the population by a substantial margin." This is similar to United Health Groups' ownership of the research firm The Lewin Group that concluded private insurance companies are better for society than the public option etc. What next? McDonald's owns a research group that concludes regular consumption of Big Macs add 10 years to a person's life? The Emperor's research group concluded that Luke Skywalker sucks?

    December 24, 2011 at 11:50 pm |
    • David

      Of course, Josh B. Religious polling is better done by secular outfits, which never have any biases of their own.

      December 25, 2011 at 2:45 am |
  19. Bob Hope's Ghost

    Potter < Voldermort

    December 24, 2011 at 11:50 pm |
  20. The_Mick

    The "corruption of belief" is to assume that humans would be evil without religion: that kindness, a sense of fair play, etc. would not exist without it. Instead of simply assuming he's a know-it-all like Larry Taunton, paleontologist Richard Leakey, who found the oldest near-complete human-ancestor skeleton: the 1.5 million year old "Turkana Boy," has spent a lifetime examining the fossil, DNA, and archeological records for hints as to how we developed our humanity. In his book "Origins Reconsidered," he points out that the human mind is advanced beyond what is needed to be a hunter gatherer and that one reason for our large brains is that even two million years ago: "On top of the technical skills of planning, coordination, and technology, there was, equally important, the social skill of cooperation. A sense of common goals and values, a desire to further the common good, cooperation was more than simply individuals working together. It became a set of rules of conduct, of morals, and understanding of right and wrong in a complex social system." Our hunter-gatherer ancestors HAD to develop ethics to survive! Leakey says that if chimps and other primates could talk they would tell us that the strangest thing about humans is that they don't keep their food to themselves and eat it where they find it: they bring it to a base and SHARE it with others. NO other primate does that! And we've been doing it for MILLIONS OF YEARS! Consequently, Taunton's simpleminded idea that religion is the reason for "good" behavior is clearly b.s.

    December 24, 2011 at 11:50 pm |
    • Essie

      And everything that you have been saying is merely the musings of one man.

      December 25, 2011 at 12:15 am |
    • Concerned

      No Essie,
      what he's "saying" (posting) is one of the findings of someone who has dedicated their life to understanding the factual science of humanity and it's origins. Sharing it here on a public forum is just that, sharing it. You are free to use reason and critical thinking to agree or disagree, but please – if you DISAGREE, cite a study or fact or post the published results of repeatable experiements to add merit to your position of disagreement.

      Attempting to marginalize it as the "musings of one man" would not in your mind be a fair critique if it were leveled against, shall we say, Jesus or one of his apostles, would it? You attack only what you do not understand as soon as you identify it as outside the sphere of your narrow worldview.

      December 25, 2011 at 12:40 am |
    • JohnR

      Actually. cooperation and food sharing exists in some other social species. But that, of course, makes it just all the more obvious that "morals" are a natural endowment, not a set of commandments from some goofy god.

      December 25, 2011 at 1:15 am |
    • Klemola

      There is one big difference between the two. The ethics of our primative ancestors were not learned and were not practiced by choice – one either had those instincts and survived or did not and perished. On the other hand, religion provides a system through which all of those without these insticts can still make the choice to follow a path to survival. You're making a mistake if you believe that the spiritual and scientific points of view are mutually exclusive.

      December 25, 2011 at 2:56 am |
    • Concerned

      @Klemola
      No, I made no mistake, and for you to assert (without evidence, I might add) that the "ethics" our ancestors was not learned is contrary to common sense, the model we see in nature, and why should it be any different from our own? It's absurd, as is the entire premise of religiion.
      As I see it, you're defending an indefensiblem position there.

      December 25, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
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