Much of The Andy Griffith Show’s comedy genius involves efforts to avoid hurting the feelings of weaker characters. When Barney Fife’s fragile-as-an-eggshell ego is about to get crushed after a disastrous audition for the town choir, Andy and the others find a way to cover for him so he can sing. Social Darwinism this is not.

Even town drunk Otis Campbell (Hal Smith) is treated with affection, if not respect. In an era in which the Dean Martin Show (1965-1974) and others made alcohol abuse seem cute, the Andy Griffith writers may have erred in making light of Otis’s addiction. But their larger point was that Otis, whatever his weakness, was still a valued member of a community, not a disposable human being. In Matthew 25:40, Jesus tells his disciples that they blessed Him by aiding the poor and downtrodden because, “When you do unto the least of these, you do unto Me.”

In Mayberry, the mother of all sins is the sin of pride, just as it is in every human heart. Prideful behavior in Mayberry gets thrashed with comeuppances that don’t exceed the crime. “Fearless” Fife’s pathetically transparent vainglory draws gentle rebukes. For instance, Andy allows Barney only one bullet for his periodically misfired gun – but he doesn’t take the gun away.

In a 1963 episode, Opie displays the power of honesty and the truth of the biblical proverb (22:1) that “a good name is more desirable than great riches.” He comes home one day and tells Andy that he saw “Mr. McBeevee,” a mystery man with a silver helmet who makes a jingling noise and walks among treetops. A day later, Opie shows him an ax that he says “Mr. McBeevee” gave him, and a quarter. Andy wants to trust his son, but the story sounds far-fetched and he questions Opie sharply. Finally, he says firmly, “I believe in Opie.” Later, Andy goes out looking for spiritual guidance, asking aloud what to do about “Mr. McBeevee.” Suddenly, to Andy’s relief and joy, a power company worker in a silver hat and tools jingling, climbs down from a tree and says, “Mr. McBeevee at your service.”

The Andy Griffith Show is an American treasure. The Mayberry tales summon what’s best in us because  they honor the spirit of the One Who created us.

Robert Knight is senior writer for the American Civil Rights Union and a columnist for The Washington Times.

Publication date: July 10, 2012