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. Prometheus1st

    We don't NEED "Christian Belief".

    We have what we need to make this world a better place WITHOUT 'imaginary friends' and 'make-believe'.

    We all hold in our hands the key to our combined future. If you disagree then explain to me WHY a tribal native in Africa who has never sinned a SINGLE time has ZERO chance of becoming President of the United States? Do you think God will change that....or you and I?

    December 25, 2011 at 2:35 am |
  2. ye shall know them by their works

    "[T]he “Occupy” people blame everybody who isn’t occupying something." Actually, to anyone who isn't blind or buried in denial, the Occupy group is clearly against corporate individuals who are the most greedy and their lackeys in congress. That you go out of your way to lie about the movement so you can mock them ought to be enough to let true believers know whom you represent.

    December 25, 2011 at 2:35 am |
  3. papierbaby

    Basically none of that article has anything to do with how "It's a Wonderful Life" is a metaphor for declining Christianity. He makes a single point to that affect.

    December 25, 2011 at 2:26 am |
    • Richard Alexander

      The article isn't drawing a comparison between "It's a Wonderful Life" and the decline of Christianity; it is drawing the comparison to the decline of the nation.

      December 25, 2011 at 2:49 am |
  4. George

    Mer.ry Christmas everybody!

    December 25, 2011 at 2:20 am |
    • Richard Alexander

      Thank you! You, too!

      December 25, 2011 at 2:57 am |
  5. Terry Smith

    Man is bound and determined to kill himself. Look at the environment look at the way humans generally treat each other. Christian or not we are in a headlong pursuit of our own destruction. It's inevitable. Fussing over a fait accompli is wasting our own most precious personal resource, time. We as a species are in fact on a highway to hell. Faith helps one endure the brief time allotted him or her. Those the have none have the certain fact of their own death alone to contend with.

    December 25, 2011 at 2:12 am |
    • David

      The Christian teachings I grew up with say as much (thought I'm not sure I agree with it). The thinking was that left to his own wicked ways, man would increase his destructiveness as he increased his technical know-how. The end of history would be the literal return of Christ right before man annihilated himself. Just so you know.

      December 25, 2011 at 2:59 am |
  6. Bill

    The author claims that "any society that is liberally sprinkled with [Christians] has a greater concern for the poor, sick, orphaned and widowed"

    If that were true than why do conservatives, who are comprised largely of so-called Christians, so strongly oppose anything that even remotely resembles assistance for the poor (especially if it means rich people like Potter would have to pay a lousy 4% more in income taxes!) and think anyone who has the misfortune to be both sick and without insurance should be left to die? The irony of the movement in this country that proudly label themselves the "Christian right" is that their views are not Christian nor right, and the ignorance they show in proudly imposing them on others is a big reason people question Christianity's place in our society.

    December 25, 2011 at 1:59 am |
    • Someone

      Actually, most of the so-called religious right would agree to helping the poor, it's just that they view tax dollars as being a forced redistribution of wealth, which is socialist. (and I detest the Religious Right really – I am just stating their point of view as I understand it).

      December 25, 2011 at 2:06 am |
    • George

      Speaking as someone from the religious right, we do not want any forced socialist redistribution of wealth. We are all for helping the poor, but keep the government's hands out of the pockets of hard-working Americans.

      December 25, 2011 at 2:19 am |
    • Richard Alexander

      Did you not comprehend what you just wrote? Conservatives don't "oppose anything that even remotely resembles assistance for the poor." As you point out, Conservatives are largely composed of Christians, and per the article, Christians out-give everyone else. You don't see Conservatives telling churches to shut down their charitable giving, do you? I mean, my church is holding its annual gift offering, in addition to its regular donation, and a "Toys for Tots" drive. The trouble you are having is one I have mostly seen from Europe, that is, not recognizing any charity that isn't government-sponsored.

      December 25, 2011 at 2:48 am |
  7. Josh

    CNN racist anti Obama Propaganda...they are pretty much saying this is what happens when you elect a balck president, say goodby to the wonderful life" LOL, none of the garbage here is fact its all opinion. However its Opinion that CNN gives a front page voice to. CNN=Racist

    December 25, 2011 at 1:50 am |



      December 25, 2011 at 2:15 am |
  8. From elsewhere

    why was Jesus a lucky guy?

    -cuz he got nailed three times in one night!

    Why could jesus walk on water?

    -Cuz bullshlt floats.

    Why does Jesus make a bad hockey player?

    – He keeps on getting nailed to the boards

    Whats the difference between a priest and a pimple?

    -the pimple waits until your 13 to come on your face!

    a priest, a rapist, and a pedophile walk into a bar…

    -no punch line because its all one guy

    December 25, 2011 at 1:46 am |
    • Labas

      Why would a person take so much time to write suck a sick and ignorant comment?
      -Because you are probably a fat atheist who has no life and sits at his computer playing warcraft all day!

      December 25, 2011 at 2:00 am |
    • Humble Servant

      Reading your filthy comments just further prove Brother Taunton's point. God is holy and so should be His people. You can disagree but read your comments which are full of slander, malice, arrogance, and ignorance. "BS? Come on face? pedophile?" Only filth come of a person of filthy heart. That is the difference. Apostle Paul says to do all things good and honorable. You don't have to believe in God to know that at least they are good values. Why the attack? Because you are in the dark and Christ is the Light that Darkness cannot comprehend.
      Where you there 2000 thousand years ago? You talk like a first hand witness, but in actuality you are just a blasphemer speaking of things you don't comprehend.
      Remember, according to your own statement, if you talk back angrily, it makes you a bigger liar. So think before you open that big mouth of yours that really needs washing.

      December 25, 2011 at 2:02 am |
    • ...........

      A priest and a rabbi were walking down the street. They see some kids. The priest says "hey let's screw em". the rabbi says "out of what?". Now that we've offended EVERYONE, time to take our drunk a$$es off the computer.

      December 25, 2011 at 2:03 am |



      December 25, 2011 at 2:15 am |
  9. From elsewhere

    " Why is it often that, when someone points out the lies of another person, the person who lied gets angry, rather than abashed. Never is this more apparent than when the lie pointed out is a lie to oneself, and the anger never more fierce than when the lie is one of religion." ~ G. Scott Wells.

    December 25, 2011 at 1:32 am |
    • Humble Servant

      Wow, what insight! Great logic! Because you quoted some dude saying religions are lies so you have disproved the existence of all religions merely because of the believers' angry reactions. By the same logic, the nefarious attacks by some atheists against religious prove that they are wrong and that the religious ones are right? So I can say anything malicious, but if you have any negative reactions, it proofs that you are wrong? It is the same ridiculous double standard that some atheists use..."hey since you are Christians, we can attack you all we want in any shape or form, but because you must love us, so take it like a good Christian and don't talk back...it is a one way affair...?"

      December 25, 2011 at 1:52 am |



      December 25, 2011 at 2:13 am |
  10. Chrism

    Every example of violence and wrong doing in the world points to no more than Jesus taught – we have sin and evil in us. Obviously Jesus taught to love one another, endure insults (I'm still working on both) and obviously the world would be better if we followed His teaching. All the waste of posts and arguments. What are you going to prove? It's right there in the bible. If you're so against the inquisition or pedophiles, guess what, you agree with Jesus. So what's the point? Why compare the teachings nearly everyone agrees with to a flying spaghetti monster? Why not have the guts to admit it. You agree with the morality of the bible. Maybe then you can think about how it can be that you agree with this great wisdom yet believe it comes from a deluded nut or is made up by some primitive cult.

    December 25, 2011 at 1:32 am |
    • Eric

      You, like many of your beliving friends, are cherry picking the bible – grabbing those points you agree with and discarding the rest. The bible is clear on the issue of slavery – it's allowed, child sacrifice – it's required at times, and killing others in god's name – often needed. Yet, you would not agree that these are moral. The fact that you can point to a line from Jesus saying love thy neighbor doesn't negate the rest of the book – it only shows its lack of consistancy. The fact is, when it counts, christians will always go with the 'eye for an eye' over the 'love thy enemy'. How many christians rejoyced when a Navy SEAL put a bullet through Osama's head – that is the real test.

      December 25, 2011 at 1:55 am |
  11. From elsewhere

    I am treated as evil by people who claim that they are being oppressed because they are not allowed to force me to practice what they do. ~ D. Dale Gulledge

    December 25, 2011 at 1:21 am |
  12. From elsewhere

    "The Christian god can easily be pictured as virtually the same god as the many ancient gods of past civilizations. The Christian god is a three headed monster; cruel, vengeful and capricious. If one wishes to know more of this raging, three headed beast-like god, one only needs to look at the caliber of people who say they serve him. They are always of two classes: fools and hypocrites." – Thomas Jefferson

    December 25, 2011 at 1:17 am |
    • Not The Case

      This isn't a statement Jefferson made....

      December 25, 2011 at 2:16 am |
    • TheMama

      The Jefferson Presidential Library has searched for the following alleged quotation and cannot find it within their collection of known and verified Jefferson writings. Therefore we think this quotation is probably a forgery and recommend its removal from all quotes collections.
      - Positive Atheism Magazine

      December 25, 2011 at 2:36 am |
  13. Mr. Potter

    I believe Henry potter was also a Christian. He was just a greedy one. Like most religious people Larry here seems to think society would be worse off if not for Christianity. That argument carries about as much fact as the Barna group does. The Barna Group is an evangelical Christian polling firm based in Ventura, California. I see a slight biased there on this particular subject (and probably a few others). To say that Christians on the whole have a better understanding of charity and compassion and love is to say all people who lived before Christ were heathens. So I it goes to say that the Greeks the Romans the Egyptians and every other civilization that created and wrote and built in the name of love and compassion and charity for their fellow men were what.... wrong? Everything Jesus supposedly said and all the ideas that come from the Christian bible are taken from the very groups Larry here is condemning. Listen Larry one fact is true above all others when it comes to any religion, man created them. We infused them with our ideas with our love and compassion and our charity not god. Religion does not make man good, man makes religion good. Good and evil have their own rewards and punishments we don’t need a god to sort it out for us. Happy Holidays all.

    December 25, 2011 at 1:09 am |
  14. Apocrypha

    There seems to be a common confusion between causation and correlation among the religious people I know. Of course modern Western (Northern-european derived) cultures have strong ties to Christianity; they grew up together! What is not proven, or even necessarily clear, is that the divergence of that culture away from strict adherence to the Church is a bad thing. Atheists and agnostic theists I know are not bad people (I belong in the former camp, by way of full disclosure), nor do they overwhelming influence society poorly. Nor are the Christians I know benevolent, loving and selfless to a fault – they are generally good people, but not overwhelmingly more so, on average, than atheists.

    I am reminded of that wonderful H.L. Mencken quote – "Giving every man a vote has no more made men wise and free than Christianity has made them good."

    December 25, 2011 at 1:02 am |
  15. Mattmchugh

    Don't praise Christianity's contributions to society without acknowledging the ills it has instigated. Blame them on perversions of the doctrine if you must, by the war, torment, and oppression perpetrated in the name the faith are as much a part of Christianity's legacy as its beneficial influence on culture and morality.

    December 25, 2011 at 1:00 am |
  16. From elsewhere

    "Today Christians ... stand at the head of [this country]... I pledge that I never will tie myself to parties who want to destroy Christianity .. We want to fill our culture again with the Christian spirit ... We want to burn out all the recent immoral developments in literature, in the theater, and in the press – in short, we want to burn out the poison of immorality which has entered into our whole life and culture as a result of liberal excess during the past ... (few) years."
    — Adolf Hitler, quoted in: The Speeches of Adolf Hitler, 1922-1939, Vol. 1.

    December 25, 2011 at 12:58 am |
    • Bill

      The scary thing is that you could just as easily say one of the GOP nominees said that in one of the debates and it would be completely believable. And most Republicans would agree with that statement too.

      December 25, 2011 at 2:19 am |
  17. From elsewhere

    "I do further promise and declare, that I will, when opportunity presents, make and wage relentless war, secretly or openly, against all heretics, Protestants and Liberals, as I am directed to do and to extirpate and exterminate them from the face of the whole earth, and that I will spare neither se.x, age nor condition and that I will hang, waste, boil, flay, strangle and bury alive these infamous heretics; rip up the stomachs and wombs of their women and crush their infants' heads against the wall, in order to annihilate forever their execrable race."
    — Pope Paul III, 1576.

    December 25, 2011 at 12:57 am |
    • His Servant

      Begone, Satan!

      December 25, 2011 at 1:57 am |
  18. From elsewhere

    Both the Magisterium of the Church. . . . and the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action. The deliberate use of the se.xual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose.
    -Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1994

    December 25, 2011 at 12:57 am |
  19. From elsewhere

    "...Accordingly, every bishop, priest, religious or layman who in the future give support to Jews against the Christian Faith, be it through briberies or favors, shall be regarded as profane and blaspheming God, and shall be excluded from the Communion of the Catholic Church and shall be regarded as not belonging to the Kingdom of God..." (CANON 58, 4th TOLEDO COUNCIL).

    December 25, 2011 at 12:56 am |
  20. From elsewhere

    Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest. .— Diderot

    December 25, 2011 at 12:55 am |
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About this blog

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.