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. Donovan

    Christianity is a plague on our nation and the world.

    But so is ANY organized religion.
    Be spiritual, but don't be braindead and blindly follow anyone or anything based on "faith".
    Do good for the sake of doing good. Do so for the betterment of the world, not your own selfish "afterlife" resons.
    If you do this, it doesn't matter what your "faith" is, you'll be fine when you pass ... whatever faith you have.

    December 24, 2011 at 11:39 am |
  2. neutralcarbon

    You can be assured that CNN would love to get rid of Christiniaty and replace it with Obama worship.

    December 24, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • Senor Ed

      Praise Obama, for he shall smite the greedy, selfish evil Republicans who hide behind a false God in their attempts to steal all of the wealth of the Middle Class.

      December 24, 2011 at 11:42 am |
  3. sybaris

    What tripe! What a bunch of christo-centric BS!

    If the premise behind this article were true then all non-christian societies would be in chaos and living in the stone-age.

    No, some invisible sky daddy didn't hand a select group of people morals and ethics to live by. The success of the group evolved over time in parallel with the development of societal codes.

    Apparently anthropology is a subject christians don't favor

    December 24, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • E

      We already know they don't support anthropology, it is science and supports evolution. You can't have facts get in the way of belief, that only leads to thinking and thinking is obviously the end of morality...

      December 24, 2011 at 11:55 am |
  4. Razgovory

    I'm wondering if Atheists came here to be offended and get indignant. I mean, it is called "Belief Blog". What did you expect to find here?

    December 24, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • sybaris

      More arrogance on your part.

      December 24, 2011 at 11:41 am |
    • Bonester

      I was interested in reading about 'reversing the corruption of non-belief'. All I found was an amateurish movie review.

      December 24, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • Razgovory

      Arrogance? I'm not the one with the smug self satisfaction one gets by mocking someone's core beliefs as fairy tales. To often Atheists sound like the kid in school who takes a perverse pleasure and telling the younger students there is no Santa.

      December 24, 2011 at 11:46 am |
  5. neutralcarbon

    BTW ...what happened to all those Occupier losers? Kind of drifted away .....

    December 24, 2011 at 11:37 am |
    • Kingofthenet

      After all you Christian Potters stole everything, no reason to stay...

      December 24, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • Razgovory

      Since you asked, it got cold and people beat them up. Perhaps if were armed like the Tea party and demonstrated a willingness to kill maybe the police wouldn't have beat up on them.

      December 24, 2011 at 11:39 am |
  6. gutsycall@yahoo.com

    Rename Potter'sville Romneyville. Romney made a VAST personal fortune outsourcing middle class american jobs to communists in China. His fortune from being a Hege Fund Manager at Bain Capital truly reflects the absolute worst of what Capitalism is becoming. The caring mom and pop and neighborhood stores are going extinct in America. The belief in capitalism is being shaken to the core. When communists win everything because they enslave their people, we lose. Well, the CEOs win, everyone else loses.

    December 24, 2011 at 11:37 am |
  7. neutralcarbon

    BTW ...what happened to all those Occupier losers?

    December 24, 2011 at 11:37 am |
  8. Jake Fantom

    These religious nuts just don't get it and never will. The US is not a christian nation and never will be. It is a nation of muslims and jews and mormons and 30,000 christian sects that have a billion different weird things they believe in, and atheists and agnostics and christ knows who else. The Founding Fathers knew what they were doing when they separated church and State. Nor was It's A Wonderful Life about christian values. It's about Human values. But like I said, this religious nut will never get it. Sad that there are still people like this

    December 24, 2011 at 11:36 am |
    • just sayin

      human values with a guardian angel

      December 24, 2011 at 11:39 am |
  9. neutralcarbon

    Obama is my Lord...CNN tells me so.

    December 24, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • Comanche 1876

      The real problem is not a lack of professed Christianity in America; we still have plenty of that. The problem is the love of money. Potter loves his money; George Bailey cares for his fellow man. America's "illness" is that we have elevated money over all other values.

      December 24, 2011 at 11:43 am |
  10. Rainer Braendlein

    What is Christmas?

    God wantsto give you a precious present!

    Christ the saviour is born

    The true gospel, which means health for the whole mankind:

    The true gospel of Jesus Christ is not only a gospel of forgiveness, but also a gospel of deliverance or redemption or a gospel of a new life in Jesus..

    It was Jesus, who died for us on the cross and Jesus had a certain lifestyle.

    We should not try to gain forgiveness by faith in Jesus and at the same time ignore the life, which Jesus lived.

    Was Jesus a Philistian?


    Jesus central sermon was the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), which is a sermon of love towards God and the neighbour.

    Obviously, Jesus didn't give merely forgiveness, but a whole new life to his disciples. Forgiveness and discipleship were connected and a unit. Forgiveness exists only within a life of discipleship.

    You may have heard that we get saved by faith alone, for free.

    Yes, we get saved by faith alone, for free. Its only that forgiveness and discipleship are a unit. That means, when we start to believe in Jesus and get baptized, we also have to start to follow him, whereby our discipleship is no own performance in order to gain salvation, but belongs to the new life, which God has given us, when we started to believe.

    The locus in space and time, where and when we receive the releasing power of Christ's death and resurrection is the sacramental baptism, which is not allowed to be repeated. This is a age-old doctrine independent from the Roman Catholic doctrine. I am a Protestant. By the power of Christ's death and resurrection we become able to follow Jesus.

    When Jesus lived on earth he called people to become disciples of Him. This powerful call takes place today through the Church by sacramental baptism.

    In a word, faith and baptism is a unit and forgiveness and discipleship is a unit. We should not seperate, what God has united.

    You want forgiveness? God wants to give you forgiveness and a new life (discipleship) as a UNIT, at the same time. Either you take the whole unit or you will get nothing at all.

    December 24, 2011 at 11:35 am |
  11. Senor Ed

    Pottersville = Tea Party America

    December 24, 2011 at 11:34 am |
    • neutralcarbon

      Thou shalt worship Obama!! He is perfect!

      December 24, 2011 at 11:36 am |
  12. Ray Jones

    "Those wanting to do away with the faith should be careful what they wish for" there is certainly some merit to this statement. It should also be noted that modern American Christians were advised by many of their leaders to vote for George W Bush which resulted in the invasion of Iraq – an innocent of all charges nation – to the eternal shame of the nation. They also to this day many preach to their flocks complete nonsense such as full on BIRTHER dribble and an assortment of warped Koch Brothers / Fox news propaganda which runs contrary to their own best interests. All of it distributed, masticated and regurgitated by Christian religious leaders. So YES be careful what you wish for INDEED!

    December 24, 2011 at 11:34 am |
  13. neutralcarbon

    There is only one Lord and his name is Obama...He is all seeing and all knowing. Praise be His Name!

    December 24, 2011 at 11:34 am |
  14. Matthew

    "It's a Wonderful Life" wasn't about life absent Christian belief. There were certainly plenty of Christians in that town absent George Bailey, yet it still went to pot. It's about life absent someone with the courage and conviction to do right by other people despite temptations and pressures to the contrary. It's an absurd premise to argue that Christians have some ordained right on morality, kindness, or sense of justice. One just needs a conscience and a desire to live in and contribute to a civilized society.

    December 24, 2011 at 11:33 am |
    • Professor

      Well said, Matthew. Well said, indeed.

      December 25, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
  15. gutsycall@yahoo.com

    Very sad to see CEOs who care so little about America they'd ship every middle class jobs to a Communist in China just to ply their finer champagne and larger yachts. The country as a whole is losing to unfree, unfair, unregulated trade where all but CEOs must compete with 8 year old marxist children making $1.00 per day. No one can compete in a free, caring society when slavery of this sort is foisted by a Communist totalitarian government on the bribe wagon.

    December 24, 2011 at 11:33 am |
  16. alpha

    It isn't the exclusive purview of people who call themselves "Christian" to have values worth living out. Christian essentialists need to study history and comparative religion before spouting off like Taunton does. Jesus does not approve!

    December 24, 2011 at 11:32 am |
  17. Happy Atheist

    Wow – this isn't about religion! It's about greed! It's about what happens to society when personal greed becomes more important that helping your neighbor.

    So all of you who vote for "lower taxes and less government" – you're Mr. Potter. Merry Christmas.

    December 24, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • NClaw441

      Of all of the good that was done in "It's a Wonderful Life," none of it was done by government. These were hard-working people who benefitted from the benevolence of George Bailey, not from "government."

      December 24, 2011 at 11:36 am |
    • gutsycall@yahoo.com

      Lacking a protective government, all we'd have is corporatism. The corporations are now as powerful as any government and their influence spread further across the globe. .

      December 24, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • ChrisC

      If you choose higher taxes and larger government, remember this: your party of choice will not always be the one in power. Where those tax dollars go may not always be where your party wants to spend them. Larger government means YOU have less control, and your money can go all kinds of crazy places you don't want it to. Not sure want you want from a LARGER bureaucracy, but beware what you hope for.

      December 24, 2011 at 11:44 am |
  18. ChrisC

    Great article. While I am certainly an imperfect human AND Christian, the life that Jesus led is something I would sure like to achieve. I suppose the folks who judge Christians only by their failures miss a central point of Christianity: Jesus was perfect, we are dreadfully not. I agree with Mr. Taunton. Whatever portion of our country that hopes to immulate Christ's life is a very good thing.

    December 24, 2011 at 11:32 am |
  19. Yule

    God is the glue that holds this Republic together. As belief dissolves, so goes the Republic. Won't be long now.....

    December 24, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • Fleeced Navidad

      Yup. He's a pretty powerless impotent god alright. He sure doesn't want this Christian nation to survive long, now does he ?

      December 24, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • Kingofthenet

      China seems to be going GangBusters as as 'Communist Godless' state?

      December 24, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • Razgovory

      China is going "gang-busters"? The party is holding on by the skin of it's teeth and they've only survived this far because they've thrown out a great deal of their ideology.

      December 24, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • Josh

      The problem is that my God is big enough that He doesn't NEED this "great nation." In the book of Revelation, it states that nobody will stand between the nations of earth seeking revenge on the nation of Israel. Sounds like America isn't around, eh?

      December 24, 2011 at 11:43 am |
  20. heyyouduh

    this is just an insulting and ignorant article to anyone with a thinking mind...

    December 24, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • Yule

      Oh, that's right. Only truly intelligent people know there is no God. And those of us who believe are ignorant, backward, etc. Wow! What a revelation!

      December 24, 2011 at 11:34 am |
    • ChrisC

      Does that mean that anyone that is NOT insulted by this article does NOT have a thinking mind? That sure would be an insulting thing to say...

      December 24, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • rizzo

      Sometimes the truth hurts, Chris.

      December 24, 2011 at 11:36 am |
    • heyyouduh

      Calm down, I made no remarks about Christianity or whatever your faith is, my remarks are directed at this article only. This article is insulting because it implies you can't have morality without Christianity. It's ignorant because it conveniently forgets all the atrocities committed in the name of Christianity.

      December 24, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • heyyouduh

      And before you get more butthurt about my previous comment, you can replace the word Christianity with Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, atheism, whateverism you'd like, the point still stands.

      December 24, 2011 at 11:52 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.