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.

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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. morbo284

    Read this and then make your choice. Bedford Falls is the most dull, boring town ever invented.


    December 22, 2012 at 11:35 am |
  2. jeffsocrates

    Nice post Larry Taunton. There simply is nothing in this world more fulfilling than a personal relationship with Jesus Christ because it does one thing that no other relationship can, it starts a relationship with Jesus Christ, the Lord and Savior, Son of the only begotten God, who sent the Holy Spirit, that we might be able to see things and hear things and read things, enabled as we are by the Spirit, to ensure our Salvation.

    Then, being saved, we are energized in this selfsame Spirit to do all that is required to finish our faith, which is this –
    to know that we are now a bigger, eternal community, the church, which, also believing in these things, will continue on the other side of mortality, in the immortal, forever.

    So we'll get home to Bedford, Heaven, and be known as we are known, saved, assured, glowing in the presence of our Lord, peaceful, loving and joyful.


    December 20, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
  3. Mohannadp Kiyofumif

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    July 3, 2012 at 1:36 am |
  4. Jordan

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    June 29, 2012 at 4:17 am |
  5. Wendy

    I actually waetchd the video last night, and he looks like a really nice guy I love getting getting a look behind the scenes of how other people work and would say the whole thing was well worth watching.

    June 28, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
  6. Risna

    Naye sapne, naye apne, naye wade, nayi kasmein, nayi manizl, nayi rahein, Aas naya, vishwas naya- Aisa hi ho nav warsh hamare cadre ke liye- Nutan warsh mangalmay ho-

    June 28, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
  7. Osorno

    Atleast in the new year, we will wake up lest we will perish. Please note that no aicton can be taken by the Administration, if we adopt certain permissible methods for agitation. The only method of agitation, which is prone to risk is strike, including mass casual leave. The permissible forms of agitation are (i) Boycott of Excise day celebrations, (ii) Resignation from the Honorary posts such as Recreation club, canteen, welfare society etc, (iii) Refusal to wear the uniform (in view of the order of the Central Information Commissioner to the effect that there are no official instructions available in the Department to insist on Uniform), (iv) Refusal to attend the protocol functions (this decision requires only self respect). It will be better if the Association leadership guides the cadre in the above path of agitation so as to have uniformity in the agitation. It seems Association does not want to displease the Administration as Mr. PV.Raju does not want to displease the Association leadership.If Association does not give the call for agitation, why the officers with self respect cannot do the above, in their individual capacity atleast????.

    June 27, 2012 at 1:04 am |
  8. translations

    Valuable info. Fortunate me I found your site accidentally, and I'm shocked why this accident didn't happened in advance! I bookmarked it.

    May 9, 2012 at 5:43 am |
    • Vahid

      I'm a Christian, and a teen, and I agree that more and more people are being fake' Christians, but I htnseoly believe it's because in the past few decades people have been trying to make religion look non-important. Whether you're Christian or not, religion is important. It's what you base your whole opinion/life style on. EVEN if you don't have a religion.

      June 26, 2012 at 6:20 am |
  9. steve

    the founding fathers the leaders of our nation wanted to follow God while leading our nation we need to get back to what they were trying to do

    February 2, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • Franklin

      To expect a President just enentirg the second year of his term to produce instant results in crucial areas is neither pragmatic nor fair. Statesmanship is not a game played for gallery applause. For White House to give credibility to results of such polls would be unwise.Obama should focus on priorities as spelt out by his conscience. His initiatives ought to spring from the depth of his convictions because those were what he was voted for to power.An ordinary painting becomes a masterpiece only after final finishing touches by a master. Let Obama not be deterred from his path by criticism or praise. For posterity's verdict on his performance would be based on a larger canvas.

      June 28, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
  10. mckinney man

    In reply to AS you want to do "good deeds" because the Creator God of the world put that in your heart at birth. But you need faith in the Creator God also.

    January 17, 2012 at 12:01 am |
    • Renol

      Give the guy a chance! Has any other pneisdert, or any other politician anywhere for that matter, been judged a success or failure after less than a year in office? Considering the mess he inherited, in both domestic and foreign affairs, he has done very well. He has come closer than any previous pneisdert to passing healthcare reform, he has made some progress on climate change albeit not enough and he has done much to restore America's reputation around the globe, as the post below on his multilateral foreign policy notes. The economy will take some time to turn around, but it would be even worse than it is but for his interventions. Also, consider the contrast between the response to the earthquake in Haiti and the response to Hurricane Katrina.The point is that he has made a good start on fulfilling his election promises and has been consistent with his policies. Only children and fools expect instant results and magic wands, something he never promised.The American people should appreciate him. Good luck to him and all his endeavours.

      June 27, 2012 at 2:28 am |
  11. MissusPowell

    Potter was greedy and wanted it all. Baily was self-less, even thought it was a battle at times within himself. It is really a simple story to show that each of us never knows the good we do in life and we must realize we do touch others and we must not give up when things get tough. It is not a big long political nor religious argument. He used an angel to help deliver the message to Baily. The point is STILL being good vs. evil.

    January 2, 2012 at 9:41 am |
  12. democrat12

    The true principles of Christianity can be lived out by people of any religion or no religion and may not necessarily be practiced by people who call themselves Christion.
    When the principles of Christianity are practiced by people of all faiths,society is the better for it.
    When religious practice is confined to rituals,service attendance etc and religious chauvanism and intolerance,the outcome is not so positive.

    January 1, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
  13. southernyankee

    The coolest thing about the author is that he is well respected by people of all faiths, including those who abhor faith. His book The Grace Effect is well written, and not abrasive or harsh toward his atheist friends, including Christopher Hitchens. In fact, they were trusted friends. That speaks highly of Mr. Taunton's ability to convey his ideas, while respectfully listening to others. The frightening reality is, that no matter what all our opinions are, reality will prevail. The next generation will either look more like Bedford Falls, or more like Pottersville...

    December 30, 2011 at 11:29 pm |
    • MissusPowell

      That is why it is important to keep passing your wisdom on...keep telling the stories....keep up the good work...and it won't be as simple as Bedford Falls because it involves many Bedford Falls and many Potter kind of people, so it will take many. But we plant the seed, we water it, but it isn't up to us to make it grow. We have no power to make it grow. Our job is to continue to plant the seeds. Even if our Bedford Falls does become Pottersville, there will those who will carry the seeds and will do the work they need to do to turn it all around again. We must pass it on. It is our responsibility to do so and do so with Hope and Love....

      January 2, 2012 at 8:18 am |
  14. The Dude Abides

    I always thought Pottersville looked like a much better place to live than Bedford Falls

    December 30, 2011 at 12:32 am |
  15. windycitybulls

    So... what's the objective of this article? Promoting Christianity because of it's benefits to society??? I never understood that. Shouldn't Christians promote Christianity because they believe that the bible is the "word of God". Are there Christians that DO NOT believe in God but practice because of the good "lessons" in the bible??? One's belief or non-belief doesn't hinge on theories of its potential societal consequences. Oh, and using the Barna Group study? Really? Check out their website. I wouldn't call them an objective research group. How do these articles get on CNN?

    December 28, 2011 at 10:40 pm |
  16. elizabeth f. spain

    My prayer during this Season is and has been, "God open blind eyes and deaf ears to your Truth". Only He can do this miracle. I know, He did it for me. Hallelujah!

    December 28, 2011 at 10:36 am |
  17. Warrior Chick

    Appropriate analogy. Finally...it's been said. Christians are the glue that keep society together. It's the way we've ensured civilization is secured. It's been done in colonizing the American West. We sent families out west. Christian families. With their work ethic and and their value system. When you devalue that, when you destroy it, you destroy the core of civilization.

    December 27, 2011 at 12:02 am |
    • tallulah13

      So what you are saying is that the slaughter and enslavement of the native population was a christian act? That the theft of land through a series of lies and broken treaties was a christian act and therefore wonderful and good? What a sick human you are.

      December 27, 2011 at 12:15 am |
    • HotAirAcw

      And oh so proud to be a member of a sick cult.

      December 27, 2011 at 12:18 am |
    • evolvedDNA

      Warrior chick..society was around long before Christianity was invented..humans were coexisting and cooperating long before jesus apparently made a visit. The glue in any religion is fear and intimidation.

      December 30, 2011 at 9:47 am |
    • MissusPowell

      I think there are wise and good people who are not Christians who will plant the seeds, too! And there are Christians who do harm as well as others of other religions who do harm. It is really time to work for the good of all people and not exclude any good just because they are of a different faith base or culture. The problem is thinking I GOT IT RIGHT! There are many paths to God. America has made it's mistakes for sure. Christians, Jews, Atheist, Muslims, ALL have made mistakes. But if we would just drop the I GOT IT RIGHT and work with all who work for the good of all people we will do a much better job for all.

      January 2, 2012 at 8:30 am |
  18. Jailhouse Fingers Bailey

    Well, that provoked the usual rash of hate posts from the enlightened non-believers out there.

    December 26, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Do you truly expect silence when someone writes an article that falsely elevates christians over non-believers? This is a nation of many faiths, even no faith. We all contribute to the successes of this country. This sort of article is offensive, unnecessary and untrue.

      December 27, 2011 at 12:24 am |
  19. jameser35

    "Well, now look here Mr. Potter. I've got to get back to the tabernacle to mop the floors before spending Christmas alone in my basement apartment, see.".

    I bet no one out there knows what I'm talking about. Mr Kruger?

    December 26, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
  20. galaxy101

    My oh my ;-P what a gamut of mercurial emotions this sound-off thread has goin' on 😉

    December 26, 2011 at 11:36 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.