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. RC

    Yep, here's the ignorant uninformed hate. CNN should just get rid of the comments section.

    December 25, 2011 at 9:37 am |
  2. Mark Blaise

    Mr. Taunton,
    In my view, what you say is somewhat absurd. You miss the extremely simple point that one doe not have to believe in God or Jesus to understand that we, as a species, succeed or fail together. Murder is "wrong", if you like, but it is certainly counterproductive and should be deterred, discouraged and punnished.

    I am an unappologetic atheist, and essentially agree with Dawkins about the "God Dellusion" and the incredibly negative consequences of

    December 25, 2011 at 9:34 am |
  3. awasis

    Those who require that their beliefs be sanctioned by the government and be plastered everywhere are weak individuals. They need validation for their beliefs so they seek to shove it down everyone else throat anyway they can. Do you see Buddhist or Hindus complain about not having their religions on public display? No. When it comes to religion, believing that one has the only truth is a sickness. A sickness that leads to division and conflict. The trinity of egotistical religions is Judaism, Christianity and Islam. And Christianity and Islam both sprang from the rotten root of Judaism.

    December 25, 2011 at 9:27 am |
  4. John of Indiana

    "the Corruption of Unbelief"... Yep, saw everything I need to know about this discussion...

    Taunton really had to twist that like a balloon animal to make it come out the way he wanted it to.

    December 25, 2011 at 9:25 am |
  5. William Hopper

    What is "moral" in Christianity has changed DRAMATICALLY over the years, and still varies from country to country, region to region. This is the great deception of the Christian religions: It's really a thousand different theologies. When they need to, they pick the one that fits today's morality and say "See, this is what we've always been." It's a theological shell game. In reality, morals comes from the people. Religions just try to claim them once they're established. ~William Hopper, http://www.heathensguide.com

    December 25, 2011 at 9:14 am |
  6. Laurel W

    and in reference to the "In God We Trust"
    Hmmmm....let's see.....
    Slavery, Women's Rights, Native American Land rights, Child labor.........

    December 25, 2011 at 8:54 am |
    • Todd in DC

      Which is basically Gingrich's platform.

      December 25, 2011 at 9:33 am |
  7. Sterling713

    God bless all of you on this thread and all of the world and Merry Christmas! Sadly, however, as I read these comments, I realize how at odds we are with each other as humans. I do not condemn anyone for what they believe. Everyone has free will, and can do with it as they please. But to those who dont believe (atheists), I have a question...are you anti-belief, or anti-Christian? The reason I ask is because I sense a lot of hostility towards Christianity, and wonder how someone can be so hostile towards something they dont believe exists. A lot of atheists I know, are loud and proud about it...why? What are you trying to prove and who are you trying to prove it to? Why cant you just disregard what you dont believe in? Why must you fight to have it removed from your sight? What about "in God we trust" offends you? Or a nativity scene? Why does just the mere sight of these things spark such hatred in your heart? Why cant you just fold your dollar and spend it? Why cant you just walk past the nativity scene? No one is forcing you to analyze it or even to look at it. Tell me, what is being forced upon you? I know I will recieve riducule for this post. I know some of you will label me a brainwashed fool, a sheep, etc, for this, but will you answer my questions? I believe in Jesus Christ, because thats what I want to do, not because someone told me to. I do not force my beliefs upon anyone, yet I dont hesitate to let someone know about the good word of Jesus Christ. Some of my best friends are hard-core, and I mean HARD-CORE atheists, but I do not judge them...I pray for them. I know some people who claim to be Christians, but are far from being true faithful followers. I am talking about the people who use Christianity to further their own agendas. According to the bible, the will be judge far more harshly than those who dont believe at all................Am I the textbook Christian? No. Am I free of sin? No. Do I do everything I am supposed to do? No. But you know what...I try. And when I fall short of the glory of God (as I do on a daily basis), I pray for forgivness. That may make some of you laugh and ridicule me, but that wont stop me. Its not about religion...its about faith in something greater than yourself. I pray for you all, to one day hear the good word. May God bless and keep you all. May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and give you peace. Amen.

    December 25, 2011 at 8:52 am |
    • steve

      Well said my fellow believer. Religion is mans way to GOD. God has made a way to HIM and that is through is son JESUS CHRIST. Please don't look to me as an example, look to Jesus. We Christians fail everyday because we still have the sin nature in us and we struggle everyday to live for CHRIST. That will not change until we have our new body in heaven. MERRY CHRISTMAS

      December 25, 2011 at 9:08 am |
    • Frank Balta

      "Christians" are the ones who started and fought the crusades. "Christians" are the ones who send waves and waves of missionaries to Asia and Africa and South America to "convert" the natives into Christianity.

      The "Christians" mind everyone's business and belief. They need to stop it retroactively!

      Happy Holidays to you.

      December 25, 2011 at 9:11 am |
    • awasis

      I only have issue with religions that say that they are the only way. The reason is that this belief divides and causes conflict. This belief has caused war and death to millions over the centuries. Jews, Christians and Muslim are all guilty of this. These religions still cause much violence in the world today. Hindus, Buddhist, Taoist, Shinto, Seiks, Jains, Pagans, etc all have no problem living with each other. Not one of these religions condemns any other. They don't require government property to publicly display their beliefs, so why should Christianity be any different? Why is it that Christians feel that they must wear their religion on their sleeve? I know why; many Christians need validation for what they believe so the more that they plaster it everywhere the more it validates what they believe. Christians and Muslims are both guilty of this; at least the Jews are confident enough not to go around trying to convert others.

      December 25, 2011 at 9:19 am |
    • Steve-Illinois

      Merry Christmas!!!!

      December 25, 2011 at 9:20 am |
    • doug

      "A lot of atheists I know, are loud and proud about it...," said the guy whose post is ten times longer than anyone else's. I couldn't care less if you spend your life in church 24/7. I promise I won't come to your church and criticize you. Just keep your religion (and EVERY other religion besides Christianity) out of public schools and the government. If being in church 24 hours a day 7 days a week isn't enough, enroll your kids in a parochial school.

      December 25, 2011 at 9:25 am |
    • emory gayle

      Perhaps all this "hostility" you perceive from atheists derives from being constantly insulted with the the completely unfounded notion (as in this article) that the only way human beings can form a moral society is if they accept certain silly beliefs. Though the author really reaches for "data" from the not-so-unbiased "Barna Group" (just look them up), an open minded observer need only look at the higher standard of living (measured by so many indicators) of the many largely secular, if not downright atheistic, countries of Europe, or the fact that America's most religious regions have some of the highest domestic abuse rates – among many indicators of a not so moral society. Happy holidays - and be good for GOODNESS sake.

      December 25, 2011 at 9:25 am |
  8. Reality

    The Fixed Point Foundation, another red neck Christian "non-profit" with another rip-off, overpaid founder ($125,00/yr) i.e. the author of this article. (ref. guidestar.org)

    Merry Mythmas!!!!!

    December 25, 2011 at 8:52 am |
    • Jailohouse Fingers Bailey

      I just added to his income by buying his book. Thanks for pointing that out, I missed it the first time.

      December 25, 2011 at 9:20 am |
    • Todd in DC

      "Mythmas". I love it. I also enjoy Fish-mas (SImpsons), and a Pi$$-mas, and the ever popular Mission Accomplish-mas.

      December 25, 2011 at 9:37 am |
  9. Everyman

    Potter was the 1% .

    December 25, 2011 at 8:41 am |
  10. Thomas

    Having run a business for nearly forty years I have learned that the more a person professes to be a Christian, the more I need to be on guard. Why would Christians feel they have a claiming to claim they are the main providers of morality and the fabric of society? Have you ever read history?

    December 25, 2011 at 8:39 am |
  11. Laurel W

    Since when are MORALS only a Christian prerogative?
    How about instilling morals in the young?
    A let the individual choose their faith!

    December 25, 2011 at 8:38 am |
    • Jailohouse Fingers Bailey

      Since when is having a point of view only an atheist/secularist prerogative?

      The biggest problem with most of the replies on this article is the blatant hypocrisy of the people who think they are the only ones who are right, even as they criticize others who think they are right.

      December 25, 2011 at 8:52 am |
    • Laurel W

      Since when is having a point of view only an atheist/secularist prerogative?

      Since when is having a faith other than Christian considered atheist/secularist?

      The biggest problem with most of the replies on this article is the blatant hypocrisy of the people who think they are the only ones who are right, even as they criticize others who think they are right.

      Since when is commenting on the point of view expressed in an article published in a PUBLIC forum considered criticisim?

      Every man/woman has the right, the duty, and SHOULD comment, when the point of view expressed is inclusive to one relegion or one view, failing to take into consideration the rest of us who are kind, generous, caring, loving and moral. Right behavior and kindness are NOT the exclusive right or domain of any one relegion. The PERSON should be MORAL because Relegion, as we have seen, does NOT make us moral and is often used as an excuse for persecution.

      December 25, 2011 at 9:17 am |
    • Jailohouse Fingers Bailey

      The people who have responded to this article have, for the most part, not been "kind, generous, caring, loving and moral". They have struck me as being angry, intolerant, and blind to the needs of others. And your point about "Right behavior and kindness are NOT being the exclusive right or domain of any one relegion" is ridiculous, because by saying so you claim the sole right to be the judge of such things.

      Live your own life and let others live theirs, and that includes a man's right to his own opinion. If everyone did that we could solve the world's problems overnight.

      December 25, 2011 at 9:36 am |
  12. Andrew from Canada

    This article is, sadly, typical of the arrogance of many self-proclaimed Christians who believe that only their beliefs are good, that the beliefs of others are evil, and that atheists, in particular, have no moral compass. All of those things are false. Some of the kindest, most compassionate people I know are nonbelievers. Some of the worst money-hypocrites you can see out in the world call themselves Christian at every turn in order to impress their friends, neighbours and voters of their goodness.

    It's a Wonderful life was in black and white. Let's not make the mistake of thinking that the world is the same.

    December 25, 2011 at 8:37 am |
  13. Ed

    Get rid of all religion – that is the solution – religion is the base of all evil and all war – just ask George Bush who he said told him to destroy Iraq.

    December 25, 2011 at 8:34 am |
  14. achepotle

    Great movie! Retarded religion!

    December 25, 2011 at 8:32 am |
    • Nikki


      December 25, 2011 at 8:39 am |
  15. Carla

    I agree with Richard Dawkins. Religion is mankind's biggest threat. Religious extremism has the capacity to spawn crazies that would have no problem helping the famous Christian end times called the apocalypse. Religion is an infantile invention for controlling people by the few and powerful. It's time to grow up...

    December 25, 2011 at 8:29 am |
    • Nikki


      December 25, 2011 at 8:37 am |
    • Frank

      Yes Indeed!

      December 25, 2011 at 8:38 am |
  16. Nikki

    Bedford Falls became Pottersville because George was never born. Had nothing to to with Jesus.

    December 25, 2011 at 8:26 am |
  17. themenwhocant

    The MWC considers the undelying moral to "It's a wonderful life" one of the worst things about Christmas. See here:

    December 25, 2011 at 8:24 am |
  18. Tim

    Religion is about power. Religious is about the Good (or, it should be); it is something Mankind creates because we need it. Equal harm is done by taking it too far in either direction: mitigation or fervid ruthlessness. (Indeed, the Fundamentalist whackos always scared me more than the Communists with their A-bombs.)

    December 25, 2011 at 8:15 am |
  19. Frank

    Pottersville equals the GOP and Beford Falls equals the rest of the country.

    December 25, 2011 at 8:15 am |
  20. Stephen L

    I'm a Christ-follower and Bible-believing, born-again evangelical. This label may be offensive to many of the respondents on this blog. But, I hope that you'll all keep reading.

    Here's a radical concept: Every man, woman and child has the right to believe what they choose to believe. This basic "fact" is one of the underlying tenets of the Bible. We are endowed by God with free will. We can choose. It's a Biblical fact. As a follower of Jesus Christ, I acknowledge that many people will choose not to accept Him. Their lack of acceptance doesn't diminish non-believers' "goodness" or moral standards or ethical integrity. Many good, ethical people are convinced that God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit don't exist. In their minds, it's a "fact".

    Let's also consider other "facts" that have evolved throughout history. It was a "fact" that the Earth was flat until it was proved otherwise. It was a "fact" that that the Earth revolved around the Sun until Galileo proved otherwise. It was a "fact" that gravity would cause all things hurled in the air to fall back until science discovered that we could escape its pull. And, recently, science has discovered evidence of a so-called "God particle" (the Higgs-Boson particle) which may give all things their mass. We as a society are constantly recording new "facts" which disprove or discount formerly verifiable "facts".

    Please consider two more "facts". Christ-followers are not generically anti-science. Many so-called "Christians' claim to love God but clearly dislike many of His creations.

    I choose to have faith and believe in Jesus Christ. I also choose to believe in the Higgs-Boson particle. Neither is mutually exclusive. We, as Christ-followers, must choose to love people of all faiths, religions and, yes, even non-believers. Therein lies the answer to the ills of the world. Thanks for reading. Merry CHRISTmas

    December 25, 2011 at 8:14 am |
    • Troy

      VERY well said! Bravo.......

      December 25, 2011 at 8:38 am |
    • steve

      Totally agree. Infact we as Christians do these acts of goodness because of what CHRIST did for us...not to buy our way into heaven, because NO one could ever do that. We are all born with a sinful nature and the only way to heaven is a our relationship with JESUS. Jesus paid it all, all to HIM I owe. MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!

      December 25, 2011 at 8:55 am |
    • Sitgreaves

      you clearly have little understanding of what a 'fact' is. (hint: it's different from a belief)

      December 25, 2011 at 8:58 am |
    • onewithjoy

      Stephen L- That was an excellent response. Thank you!!! God bless you!

      December 25, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
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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.