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. Stayin' Alive

    How can anyone pretend that dishonest people (self-deluded 'believers' who, ipso facto, aren't even being honest with themselves) are morally superior to intellectually honest people (who refuse to believe or promulgate statements that cannot be verified)? The author of this article is simply another shill doing what some evangelical preachers used to call "Lying to the glory of God." Do persons of such dubious personal character (and obvious ill will) actually expect that people will be converted based on lies and misrepresentations? Shame! (And, btw, if you want to see who's really trying to turn Bedford Falls into Pottersville, just check out the Koch brothers, the [Sam] Walton family, or some of the Tea Party 'favorites' in the clown show that comprises the current crop of Republican presidential pretenders. )

    December 24, 2011 at 8:41 am |
  2. Abinadi

    You have to agree that Christians are amazingly tolerant. If this country were muslim or atheist, I think we would all have to agree that we would all be toast! Therefore, it becomes the duty of every group to maintain this a Christian country. Democracy can only exist if it is Christian.

    December 24, 2011 at 8:40 am |
    • BryonMorrigan

      Wow. What an ignorant statement... Pick up a history book some time. Just because Christians have been FORCED to be tolerant in the last century or so, doesn't mean that the religion itself is any less tolerant than Islam. Pragmatically, we'd be a much more tolerant society if we were majority Hindu or Pagan.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:45 am |
    • BryonMorrigan

      And don't forget...Democracy was invented by Pagans (Specifically, the Ancient Greeks), as was Republicanism (but in that case, it was the Romans). That's why there are statues of Greeks and Romans all over the capital...and none of "Jesus." Our country was essentially, founded upon Pagan values. Christianity had always historically supported MONARCHY... Just because you guys were finally dragged into the Enlightenment, kicking and screaming, after centuries of the Dark Ages brought about by your presence...does NOT mean that you can somehow "claim" Democracy. What complete nonsense...

      December 24, 2011 at 8:51 am |
    • Stayin' Alive

      Not since the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Salem witch trials, Southern chattel slavery, or the NAZI-inspired Holocaust (Many high-ranking NAZIs, including Hitler himself, were Catholic or Lutheran) has any sane, historically informed person asserted that Christianity has been a uniformly loving or tolerant belief system.

      December 24, 2011 at 9:01 am |
  3. JoJo

    Why are Christians so scared to death of the rise of Atheism? It means your messiah is coming, right? Why aren't you happy then?? End times are here and now you can go walk thru streets of gold with your deceased loved ones. You can laugh with Jesus. Why so serious?

    December 24, 2011 at 8:40 am |
    • Stayin' Alive

      JoJo, they're afraid of having to sing hymns all day while all the reasonable people "left behind" are enjoying a much more stimulating conversation.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:44 am |
    • Jason

      Because people like you make us sad. Attacks on our beliefs in the media, in classrooms, in politics, and everywhere else do nothing but reaffirm our commitment. We gladly look forward to our reward...we just wish more of you would also partake. Look around you...everyone agrees something terrible is happening in the world. Only we Christians know what it truly means. Merry Christmas, and God Bless!

      December 24, 2011 at 8:57 am |
  4. TB

    Sure, George is a kind and generous man. That's why he responds to the missing deposit money by asking the question, "Where's that money, you silly stupid old fool? Where's that money?"

    Don't try tying morality to Christianity. It doesn't wash.

    December 24, 2011 at 8:39 am |
    • Abinadi

      George, like all of us, is human. Aren't you?

      December 24, 2011 at 8:41 am |
    • John Richardson

      George was a fictional character, and a cartoonish one at that. I wouldn't draw many conclusions from what that puppet of some screenwriter had him do or say.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:46 am |
  5. heimdal

    hmmm this thing seem to blocked my reply, guess they didnt like my sugestion of a section called fabrications we make up when don't like the truth...

    December 24, 2011 at 8:38 am |
  6. Accuratetake!

    Thank you for accurately portraying the reality of what is going on in our culture in spite of the Christian-haters out there. Contrary to a few opinionated people, you are not in the minority, There are still many great Americans who faithfully serve & genuinely love others in this country because the of a greater love they have received-God's love. Merry Christmas (not Season's Greetings).

    December 24, 2011 at 8:38 am |
    • The Phist

      That unicorn you're riding is awfully tall.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:40 am |
    • Greg

      So you claim to be a good person yet go out of your way to snark on anyone who isn't Christian? Not very Christian like. This is how it should be done:

      Merry Christmas! And Seasons Greetings!

      December 24, 2011 at 8:49 am |
  7. llɐq ʎʞɔnq

    Wow. What a poorly written article. It is a perfect example of non-critical thinking, one of the HUGE problems of this country it seems. The unsubstantiated as'sertions and as'sumptions here are rampant, and almost every sentence is arguable, but here are just the 3 that stood out to me.

    a. Taunton asserts that evil ("The good I will I do not, and the evil I do not will is what I do", Romans 7) was a discovery of "the monastics". That is simply historically false. The concept of evil, predates "the monastics" by many thousands of years, (and why is he so ignorant of his own Judeo-Christian tradition?). If he didn't mean that the monastics discovered evil, then why say that ? Even the "monastics" would not say they discovered that concept. What have they got to do with this subject anyway ? Even in his own tradition the concept is present in Genesis, and was not original to that text. "History tells us that a given philosophy, creed or religion will either restrain our darker impulses or exacerbate them". Well "duh". So he admits one's personal philosophy is just as effective as one practiced by religionists. the origins of morality are NOT exclusive to religion. (See the article in the New York Times yesterday : (http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/12/18/good-minus-god/). Morality is NOT dependent on the god delusion. His proposition that the only thing that will save the West is Christianity is simply not established.

    b. The entire business of the "Decline of the West" is not supported by any evidence. Anyone with a brain can cite innumerable examples of how Western society is FAR better today than it was 300, 200, 100, or even 50 years ago. A poll of voters does not prove the West is in "decline", (and ever heard of the logical fallacy "Argumentum ad Populum" Larry?). Change does not equal decline, and truth is not determined by polls. He also states that Christians are the most charitable group in society, but provides no evidence of causation. Good people do good things, including those without faith. The causal link is not proven.

    c. Third, his statement that Christianity is justified because humans seem to be "gentled by grace" is also arguable. The vast majority of prison populations in the US state they are Christian. He also assumes that his god only grants "grace" to practi'tioners of that religion. First he implies man's evil nature is (only) gentled by grace, (completely unsupported), then makes the charitable assertion. That entire paradigm of man's "evil" nature is an ancient concept, that apparently Taunton has never examined.

    Again, a very poorly written piece. Someone can surely do better than this.

    Happy Holidays. 😈

    December 24, 2011 at 8:37 am |
    • John Richardson

      Bravo, on all points, Bucky Ball!

      December 24, 2011 at 8:41 am |
    • maniacmudd

      I agree wita all you points...poorly written indeed..his short bio starts out name calling,(how christian), and the story of lies seems written by a child.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:45 am |
    • galaxy101

      Thanks bucky ball ! You helped turn my frown upside-down 🙂

      December 24, 2011 at 8:45 am |
    • Scott

      I read this article because I was curious to see his argument. Which did not exist. Thanks for your thoughtful reply so I did not have to do it.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:51 am |
    • llɐq ʎʞɔnq

      Thanks all.
      Hi JR. Long time no see. If you run into Peace2All, say hi. We were looking for him to join us at a Chargers game, but couldn't find him. Snapdragon Stadium indeed. 8)

      December 24, 2011 at 9:47 am |
  8. John Richardson

    So comments are closed on Goodwin's article. I guess the self-righteous punk (does he ever write about anything other than what supposedly wonderful things he and his family are doing?) can't stand any questioning or criticism. But here's one question: What is the life expectancy in the countries dominated by the Orthodox Church? That should be a reasonable gauge on how far ahead of everyone else they are in their dietary habits!

    As for this article, Taunton is making an irrational leap. First of all, "It's a Wonderful Life" is just a movie and what happened in it happened because the author of the screenplay said it happened. No one can do a real experiment on how different the world would have been without them. I suspect that in lots of cases, all sorts of detail end up wildly different, but we aren't the bulwark against rampant horror we might like to think we are. And most of the people who made huge impacts on the world have been brutal narcissists or at the very least reckless in spreading half- and quarter-truths about like, yes, a disease.

    The assumption that Christianity civilized the west is laughable. Christianity grew up under intense Roman cultural pressure and Rome was already "civilized", even if it could be horribly brutal. But then so was Christianity for centuries on end after Rome fell. Indeed, it was only with the rise of modern humanism that many of the more barbaric practices of the church and its monarchic partners were banned. We still have a very long way to go. But we won't be led there by arrogant little ignorami like Taunton.

    December 24, 2011 at 8:37 am |
  9. Amy

    Just as not every atheist is a lawless, immoral part of society, not all Christians wish to condemn, judge and regard nonbelievers with disdain. Being a Christian, to me, means doing everything I can to help others and show the love and joy that has been instilled in me by God. This love and joy was a gift that I would've never seen without someone being the salt, as mentioned in the article. That's as simply as I can put it. Please do not wage war on Christianity because of the intolerance of nonbelievers. God BLESS you

    December 24, 2011 at 8:37 am |
    • The Phist

      god would have to exist in order for it to instill anything in people. It doesn't.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:38 am |
  10. The Phist

    Look at the photo of the author of this crap. Is it me, or does he look like a man out of touch with reality?

    December 24, 2011 at 8:37 am |
    • Alfred W

      Its you.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:41 am |
    • John Richardson

      Yeah, he looks a little dorky. But it's what he wrote that gives him away!

      December 24, 2011 at 8:42 am |
    • The Phist

      Alfred, you dropped your bible on the ground.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:44 am |
    • Stayin' Alive

      The photo is probably misleading sans his straight jacket. But, ignoring appearances, he SOUNDS like a person out of touch with reality.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:51 am |
  11. Holymoly

    He said simply "Love one another as I have loved you." They don't. Genocide, child molestation, persecution of scientists, hoarding wealth while stepping over the poor, ad infinitum. Christianity has failed, miserably. It has become a spiritual black hole, appealing only to those with something horrible on their conscience that they want to Jesus to erase. Rotsa ruck, you monsters.

    December 24, 2011 at 8:36 am |
  12. Yep, what this world needs...

    ...is more religion. Certainly don't have enough now.

    December 24, 2011 at 8:36 am |
  13. Deborah Rosen

    If your faith is strong and true, you don't need to force it on everyone else. If your values are a part of you, you don't need to make them the law of the land. If your church is living and vibrant, you don't need to have manifestations of it in secular quarters.

    December 24, 2011 at 8:36 am |
    • The Phist

      Thanks for the laugh!

      December 24, 2011 at 8:38 am |
  14. Walker

    It was greedy capitalist crooks that threatened Bedford Falls, not a lack of Christianity. The biggest mistake we can make is to assume that religion (especially Christianity) is the keeper of the moral flame. Long before Christianity, Islam, or even Judaism – were the virtues of fairness, kindness, compassion, and love. Christianity, indeed no religion, had nothing to do with it, and in fact has done a great deal to kill it.. To wit, the most Christian nation on earth – the USA – is the only industrialized nation that still kills its prisoners. It was in the name of God, you will recall, that our "born again" president launched an incinerating war on a people who had not attacked us. Nearly all of the ugliest displays of hatred, bigotry, and intolerance are done in the name of God – in this country, Jesus.

    Some of the most humane nations on earth are highly secularized and seem to be doing quite well in the compassion/human rights department.

    December 24, 2011 at 8:35 am |
    • John Richardson

      Walker, it was a movie. Just a movie.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:43 am |
    • maniacmudd

      good post walker, pay no heed to little johnny there...

      December 24, 2011 at 8:53 am |
  15. dp

    Surprise, Larry! "Judeo-Christian" does not mean "Just christian." Try to read a dictionary once in a while instead of your narrow-minded christian bible.

    December 24, 2011 at 8:34 am |
    • Why bs?

      Christianity or no Christianity, one thing is certain – Larry Alex Taunton beats off! Now, the question is how often? 🙂

      December 24, 2011 at 8:46 am |
  16. SW

    What, is Christianity the only religion of morality and that is why America needs a "Christian" influence the drive moral behavior? And the rest of us who are observant to a particular faith are immoral? I don't judge Christianity – like any religion, there are differences between its core messages and some of the people who observe. But a single religion should not drive a country as large and diverse as ours.

    December 24, 2011 at 8:34 am |
  17. alkan2012

    I'm a little confused about the Christian message of love. Apparently, God expressed his love for all people by torturing and killing his own son. Could someone explain to me how this message can be considered 'loving" and "benevolent"?

    December 24, 2011 at 8:34 am |
    • Mirosal

      We Atheists have been asking THAT VERY QUESTION for a long, long time on these blogs, and not a single "christian" has come up with an answer. But, keep asking, I'm sure it drives them nuts!!!

      December 24, 2011 at 8:40 am |
    • TexasSky

      Christ is God, and the love you see is in the fact that God willingly took the punishment that others had earned, and he had not earned, so that others would be spared. There is much more to Christianity though. Christ's entire message during His time on earth was forgive, love, treat others the way they wish you would treat them, don't hate." He taught us that even hating our enemies is wrong. The cross, however, showed us, besides the sacrificial love of God, the fact that man hates that message of love so much they will do everything in their power to silence it. Even torture and murder an innocent man.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:45 am |
    • killr0y

      Maybe you need a history lesson. God didn't kill his son. People (given free will) did.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:47 am |
    • galaxy101

      @ Mirosal... Well, they DO come up with answers, many of them involve circular reasoning, most of them are downright full of piffle... but it DOES seem to drive quite a few of them nuts, especially the ones who can't truly believe what they are saying.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:53 am |
    • lmagee010

      God is righteous and just. Hence, no one can enter Heaven unless they are righteous and just as well. However, since Adam sinned in the garden of Eden, he condemned us all to be afflicted by sin (read: unrighteous and unjust, in nature). So, wer're not qualified to be in God's presence in Heaven

      While sacrifices of unblemished animals (i.e.: lamb) in the Old Testament were intended as a sacrificial offering to atone for sins. The use of these animals for sacrifice was largely symbolic and...as far as people go...was simply an act of religion before long with litte value or care placed on it by those who participated.

      Ultimately, God provided an ultimate sacrifice and that was his son: Jesus Christ, the lamb of God. He's referred to as the lamb of God because he's the umblemished, undefiled, "personification" of holiness that is to be sacrificed to cover our sins. He was (and is) the only person to ever have existed in humanity to ever be righteous and just. To those who in their hearts believe on His sacrifice and ressurection, their sins are covered and paid for. Though they may still live in a body of sin, the acceptance of this sacrifice enables God to disregard your sins: past, present and future. What this means is that you are no longer under judgment by God and will not be condemned to everlasting torment in the lake of fire.

      You see, God wants to have a relationship with those He's created. However, he cannot compromise his holiness to do so. Hence, the sacrifice of His son Jesus Christ - the spotles lamb of God - was the only way to bridge that gap between His holiness and our humanity.

      December 24, 2011 at 9:13 am |
    • Jeff Williams

      """since Adam sinned in the garden of Eden, he condemned us all to be afflicted by sin"""

      This makes no sense at all. If your god is all powerful, he makes the rules. And he can change them. And he can forgive Adam. But then that ruins the fable.

      December 24, 2011 at 9:29 am |
  18. Tom Tindall

    Very well put.

    December 24, 2011 at 8:33 am |
  19. Jason

    This has always been one of my fundamental problems with Christianity – the notion that man's inherent nature is flawed and evil. I think that says a lot more about the true nature of the people who hold to that idea than it does about anyone who doesn't ascribe to any sort of religious belief.

    December 24, 2011 at 8:33 am |
    • TexasSky

      You speak as if Christians are the only group that feels that man, at his base line, is evil. Every religion or moral creed in the world teaches that man without self-control is a dangerous and terrible thing. Society outlaws thousands of things because man has proven, over and over again, that without laws or moral codes spelled out, men do terrible things to one another. Can you honestly look at history and tell me that you believe men are not naturally evil?

      December 24, 2011 at 8:50 am |
  20. Greg Conn

    It's the erroneous mindset of people such as the writer of this article which helped me, several years ago, come to the realization that many Christians are delusional in their world view. Judging from the overwhelmingly negative comments beneath this article, there are many who feel the same way.
    People such as Larry Taunton are living their lives in a pitiful state of naive self deception as they attempt to promulgate innuendos such as the notion that atheists, agnostics and free thinkers are not capable of building a decent and upright society, when in fact, many, many atheists, agnostics and free thinkers live decent and upright lives on a daily basis.
    People such as Mr. Taunton also continue to foster the mistaken belief that our Founding Fathers were Christians and founded America on Christian "principles," when in fact, the majority of the Founding Fathers were Deists, not Christians, as is readily evident by statements they made in letters and other types of written media. However, when persons such as Mr. Taunton are confronted with something that gives evidence of anything other than their preconceived opinions, they simply deny it.


    December 24, 2011 at 8:32 am |
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