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. heimdal

    hmm ok i give up u winn cnn, they blocking out replys from people that contain certain things no idea what its not cussing

    December 24, 2011 at 9:05 am |
    • John Richardson

      The problem you are running into is an idiotic word filter that sees parts of words as full words and blocks them. T it is "naughty" word according to this filter, and because of the way the filter function, so therefore are inst itute ent ity and plent itude

      December 24, 2011 at 9:07 am |
    • just helping out

      but you can call john richardson an ass hole and the filter doesn't flinch – go figure.

      December 24, 2011 at 9:14 am |
  2. Astra Navigo

    ""It’s a Wonderful Life" is a fitting metaphor for a nation absent Christian belief. "

    There are so many flaws with this statement and the verbiage to 'support' it that it's impossible to deal with it all in a comment.

    So, I'll just say, "Nonsense!" – and leave it at that.

    December 24, 2011 at 9:05 am |
  3. lloyd roberts

    Amazing, this author speaks like a child. Do you know how much death and torture and wars and hatred and poor treatment of fellow man has been fostered in the name of religion. Forced conversions or death, my God is better than you're God, and if you don't believe that I'm going to kill you and your family. For God's sakes, nothing in history has turned man against man more than competing religions. Even today, our wars are still of a religious nature. Good people will do good deed whatever the religion, not because of the religion, but because of what is inside them

    December 24, 2011 at 9:04 am |
    • Michael Forham

      Acting like a child? This is one of the most narrowminded comments I have ever heard. You are a disgrace to liberals and atheists everywhere!!!

      December 24, 2011 at 9:17 am |
    • lloyd roberst

      Gee Michael, narrowminded, disgrace, all real nice words. You must be really religious = hateful, cause I musta hit a nerve

      December 24, 2011 at 10:59 am |
  4. Rolf Stiefel

    You lost me when you combined Nietzsche with Hitler. And Hitler was a Christian...Catholic to be precise.

    December 24, 2011 at 9:04 am |
  5. popseal

    If I cut through a history soiled by human nature, the shallowness of pop culture religion, and ignore the skeptic and his necessary nihilism, I arrive at a profound spirituality and practical ethic that speak of the divine origin of Christ. Merry Christmas, God bless us all, every one!

    December 24, 2011 at 9:03 am |
  6. The Rugged Gent

    Great article about the national myth that the founding fathers were christians at theruggedgent(dot)com

    December 24, 2011 at 9:03 am |
  7. Rainer Braendlein

    I think many people would go to Church, if they would not find Philistians (Babbitts) there again.

    Go to Church and even there people evaluate each other considering social status, nationality, color, etc.. This is not exactly, what Christ intended. Christ's love is independent from social status, nationality, color, etc..

    Most responsible for that are the leaders of the Churches. If the leaders of the Churches would be good examples of good Christian behaviour much more people would go to Church and would feel comfortable there.

    However, like Christ has foretold, wolves in sheep's clothing or false prophets have entered the Churches and have taken over rule. That is the misery.

    December 24, 2011 at 9:02 am |
    • Jeff Williams

      """wolves in sheep's clothing or false prophets have entered the Churches and have taken over rule. That is the misery."""

      That is the history. That is the reality. And whose fault is that?

      December 24, 2011 at 9:54 am |
  8. Aaron

    Really?! While faith and belief in a higher power is certainly part of the story line, the primary message is about the power of community, helping others, and a self sacrifice. George Bailey is "worse than sick, he's discouraged" . . . just like all the right wingers in this country who have lost their way and no longer care about the "commonwealth". They paint anyone who's in need as a lazy, good for nothing bum. In 2011, George would be branded a "libretard" by all the Potters in this country. This movie is about the power of community and inclusion.

    December 24, 2011 at 9:02 am |
  9. Texas12345

    Taunton claims to have been friends with C Hitchens. I wish Christopher were here to respond to this steaming pile of crap article. What nonsense. Why, why, why does CNN run this BS? It's time to find a different internet news outlet.

    December 24, 2011 at 9:02 am |
  10. Tony

    I blame the Federal Reserve

    December 24, 2011 at 9:01 am |
  11. Martha

    People can be ethical, responsible and caring without being Christian. I am Christian, but I know many people who practice other faiths, or none, who also keep our community strong and safe. They aren't "secular elites" they're little league coaches and class moms. Live and let live, Taunton. What a bigot.

    December 24, 2011 at 9:01 am |
  12. Abinadi

    Here is a nice Christmas story: http://www.ksl.com/?nid=148&sid=18617717&s_cid=rss-148.

    December 24, 2011 at 9:00 am |
  13. Joe

    Bah humbug! It was distressing to find a link to this article on the front page of CNN. As a Christian, I'm sick and tired of idiots like this guy taking the spotlight. Note to the world: some of us realize that we're not the only game and town and that faith, hope, and charity are staples of most world views, religious or otherwise.

    December 24, 2011 at 8:59 am |
    • Martha

      Amen, as we say!

      December 24, 2011 at 9:02 am |
    • John Richardson

      Thanks, Joe! Merry Christmas!

      December 24, 2011 at 9:02 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Bravo! Excellent comment.

      December 24, 2011 at 9:32 am |
  14. thegadfly

    "It’s a Wonderful Life" is a fitting metaphor for a nation absent Christian belief.

    Nostalgia for a movie made 65 years ago is a fitting metaphor for the Christian world-view.

    December 24, 2011 at 8:59 am |
  15. JoeT

    Not an apt comparison, because Mr. Potter's motivation was not anti-Christianity, but avarice. Does anyone else here think Dick Cheney looks more than a little like Potter?

    December 24, 2011 at 8:57 am |
    • Writerscramp

      Dick Cheney would not whine like this sissy article, If Dick Cheney had any problem with any anti-Christian, he would just take that person out duck hunting

      December 24, 2011 at 9:03 am |
  16. Amy

    AMEN!!! I love your article and I agree 100% !!!!! 🙂

    December 24, 2011 at 8:57 am |
  17. Chopper

    Wow. Not sure why atheist let Christians ruffle their feathers so much about the subject of religion. I am a Christian and I personally don't care if you believe in god or not. I don't think your beliefs are any better than mine as we are all created equal. Equal to choose the life you live. There are evil and good people in any with religion or without. Hating people for believing in god is would be just as bad as hating someone for being an atheist. The choice is for an individual to make not for others to decide what is right or wrong for them.

    December 24, 2011 at 8:56 am |
    • John Richardson

      This is a discussion blog and on a discussion blog, articles are posted as fodder for discussion. Non-believers are ripping Taunton's idiocies because they are, in fact, idiotic. And since thinking like this is part of the political agenda for a large segment of the populace, it is important for people to familiarize themselves with this stuff and be prepared to rebut it.

      December 24, 2011 at 9:00 am |
  18. Why bs?

    Once upon a time, 99.9% got subjugated into believing that Ra is our god. It's too bad that we stopped worshiping Ra! The Egyptian civilization is in shambles, as a result! 🙂

    December 24, 2011 at 8:55 am |
  19. IECR2008

    Happy Holidays.

    December 24, 2011 at 8:55 am |
    • RLM

      And a Happy and Blessed New Year!

      December 24, 2011 at 9:10 am |
  20. Patty

    If all Christians are Republicans, then who elected Jimmy Carter, John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon?

    December 24, 2011 at 8:55 am |
    • Satan

      I appointed them.

      December 24, 2011 at 9:09 am |
    • JoeT

      Um, you *are* aware that you listed 2 Democrats and 1 Republican president? Were you attempting to make some point?

      December 24, 2011 at 9:13 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.