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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. moonster

    Christianity has blessed and benefited Western thought/society. Sadly, many here cannot see that.

    December 24, 2011 at 8:07 am |
    • Kathy from No. VA

      Agreed.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:10 am |
    • settino

      Yes, it benefited people who made money off it, building fortunes and palaces. Only short sighted people don't see that its all just a scam!!!

      December 24, 2011 at 8:12 am |
    • Mirosal

      "Western" thought and society pre-date X-tianity by several hundred, if not at least 1000 years. While the nomads were wandering around in the land where this jesus guy roamed, the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians all had their laws, governments, philosophy, diplomacy, and yes even militaries. If you take a Western Civ course, or Western Philosophy course, you won't get much further east than Greece. Your entire sentence is both geographically and poltically unsound.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:13 am |
    • E

      Has it blessed all the Native Americans murdered in the name of Christianity? How about the millions of people who were forced into slavery with the Bible justifying it. Were those moral actions that made society better?

      December 24, 2011 at 8:15 am |
    • Abinadi

      Agreed!

      December 24, 2011 at 8:23 am |
    • Jeff Williams

      """Christianity has blessed and benefited Western thought/society."""

      I agree with you to a certain extent. Belonging to a Christian church provides a beneficial social network, but one that mainly benefits the Christians in the network.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:24 am |
    • Abinadi

      We have to conclude that the Catholic Church, in much of its history, wasn't very Christian. For many centuries, it inherited much of the pagan world and was, more or less, a mafia. I think the reformation corrected many of the problems of the Catholic Church, but we are still working on a pure Christianity. One thing is for sure, Christianity has been a superior philosophy to any other philosophical group except, perhaps, Jewish. If this country were muslim, or communist/atheist, or any other group, we'd all be toast. The world certainly was not well off under the pagans!

      December 24, 2011 at 8:27 am |
  2. Blackened6677

    This has got to be the most biased and useless article I have ever seen. THIS is what makes the front page of CNN's website? A poorly written piece talking about how we shouldn't speak ill of the christian beliefs because that is the only thing that stands between us a total chaos then proceeds to use fictional characters to try and prove it?

    Sounds like another piece of literature I know of: The Bible.

    December 24, 2011 at 8:06 am |
    • settino

      Bullseye!!!!!!

      December 24, 2011 at 8:13 am |
  3. Paulina

    Just another leech who profits from a good person having executed in a horrific way 2000 years ago. Not worth reading his garbage.

    December 24, 2011 at 8:06 am |
  4. Alfred Brock

    The use of the word 'genteel' in this article is unsuitable to the material presented. I don't understand the statement, '...in Dickensian fashion...", this phrase seems forced considering the topic. The poll in the article is attributed to 'The Hill', a newspaper printed in Washington DC when Congress is in session. It is a subsidiary of News Communications which was founded by Sun Myung Moon of the Unification Church (they also own United Press International – UPI). "...there is a problem, but efforts to identify the source of it are incomplete, misguided or downright evil."...EVIL? The 'quote' by Willam Golding, author of 'Lord of the Flies' seems less of an actual quote than a widely copied opinion about the meaning of the book...here is an actual William Golding quote : ""Childhood is a disease – a sickness that you grow out of." Here is a quote from Jesus, "Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it." Oxford is in England and the argument is based in the United States...enough read...Merry Christmas!

    December 24, 2011 at 8:05 am |
  5. Child of Christ

    “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
    –Mahatma Ghandi.
    The person that posted that definately makes a point. Reading through posts, which I find interesting and sad, really shows that so called Christians have done a horrible job mirroring our Christ. SHAME ON US!~!!!There is nothing that I can say, nor will I try, to convince anyone of God other than I am sorry for the wrong ideas you have gotten about what a true Christian is. .I do know that by my words, actions and deeds many will look and either see or not. Ignoring those in need, arguing on discussion boards, fighting etc....that is not from Christ. I am sorry that many of you have gotten the wrong idea of what being a Christian is all about. It is about accepting Christ's life and death as a way to the Father and knowing that a wonderful eternity lies ahead. I cry in my heart for all of you who do not or ever will see the true God in your life time. This is not a threat but a promise from Him.....every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. There will be a judgment and He will judge justly.He is loving beyond measure and truly truly wishes that ALL would know Him. Bless all of you and whether you like it or not....I will pray for all of you to know Him. Not all "Christians" are big grin tooth bearing pastors....someday they will know too.

    December 24, 2011 at 8:03 am |
    • Kathy from No. VA

      Amen. Let us Adore Him!

      December 24, 2011 at 8:11 am |
  6. Kira

    Actually, studies show that secular societies have a higher overall quality of life than highly religious ones. They have lower rates of violent crime, teen pregnancy, STDs/HIV, infant mortality and other social ills. But don't let facts get in the way of your atheist bashing screed.

    December 24, 2011 at 8:02 am |
    • settino

      Correct! look at Europe and Canada. These countries have evolved unlike the Americans and Arabs. They stopped believing in BS a long time ago, and they now live happier lives. AMEN!!!

      December 24, 2011 at 8:08 am |
  7. Owl

    PLease allow me to change the word 'Christianity' to 'Christendom' in my reowrd below:

    RE: "This is precisely what Nietzsche, and Hitler after him, hated about Christianity" Not at all sure about Hitler (I thought he and the Catholics snuggled up to each other with the Pax Romano Accord against Jews), but Nietzsche didn't hate Christianity despite popular interpretations of his writings. Nietzsche mocked the hypocrisy in Christendom. God was dead to him if hypocritical Christendom was the only hope for His existence. Rightly so. Christendom remains incapable of representing God himself, because Christendom has fallen into demonic activity under the machinations of the Devil himself. Warfare? Check Christendom's role in World War 1 or 2, or go back to the crusades. The U.S. is, if any nation is, is a 'Christian' nation. But who killed the Christians in Germany? A JUST WAR? No, true Christians leave matters in God's hands as Christ admonished they must. But they would die at the hands of the Hitlers! -we protest. Well...yes. You give your life if it means taking someone else's to live. Chritianity 101. God isn't dead – he lives in true Christianity. Now all we have to do is find it.

    December 24, 2011 at 8:02 am |
  8. Floied

    I really wish there was a God to worship and celebrate, but it's kind of obvious that there just isn't one,

    December 24, 2011 at 8:00 am |
    • T

      Could you define 'God' for me?

      December 24, 2011 at 8:02 am |
    • Child of Christ

      There is a God....just look at the world around you. You can stand on a corner in a city and look across the street and see the buildings...you don't see the people that built them...but you know someone did...same with the world around you. Someone did make the stars, the sky, the green grass, the birds, the flowers with colors and smell that are breathtaking....There is a God....please open your heart to Him....He does love you....look and see and know....there is a creator for everything...including you.......In Christ's love......bless you.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:07 am |
    • settino

      Child of Christ; I know who build those buildings across the street. Construction workers!!! No faith needed here. What a bunch of malarkey!!

      December 24, 2011 at 8:10 am |
    • Mirosal

      Just because I am able to appreciate the beauty of a forest or a well laid-out garden, does NOT mean I have to believe in magical fairies living under the leaves maintaining its beauty.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:19 am |
  9. Texas12345

    I try to be tolerant of those that still profess faith in Jesus, but it's getting a lot harder as it becomes clearer and clearer that they're really just..........sorry.......complete idiots. Christianity makes no more sense than someone jumping around in their underwear holding a snake and screaming incoherently. We'd all agree that they are nuts. Well so are people that think a man walked on water, that Noah saved life on earth in a boat build by hand with stone age tools, that pigs can be demon possessed, etc, etc, etc. It's time for christianity to go the way of the Edsel. And yes, we'll all be better off for it.

    December 24, 2011 at 8:00 am |
    • Esteban

      But again- why do you care? If all Christians are idiots, then you should be thrilled knowing that you are the superior intellect in this world. Christians aren't demanding the eradication of atheism- maybe we are the tolerant ones.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:07 am |
    • Katharine

      At least Edsel invented the seatbelt. Not sure what Christianity ever contributed that wasn't already in human culture...

      December 24, 2011 at 8:14 am |
    • Texas12345

      Why do I care? Because christians, as does the author, continue to claim the higher moral ground which they believe puts them in a position of judgement on all others. As far as christians not trying to eradicate the beliefs of others, you're complete wrong about that. Given the chance they most certainly would has they historically have. They are just to fragmented now to be able to apply the necessary power.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:16 am |
    • Esteban

      USA today online this morning- 2.2B Christians in the world. A third of the worlds population. Too fragmented? I am a Christian with a daughter who claims atheism. Do I want to eradicate her? Hardly...Christian love is all about tolerance. I haven't disowned my daughter, nor have I excluded her friends of similar beliefs from my home. You are claiming moral high ground by claiming how much better atheists are than Christians. I disagree with you but do not disavow your beliefs. In the end, one of us will be right and one of us will be wrong. However, I will never know if I am wrong – and you will never know if you are right. However, I will know if I'm right and you will know if you are wrong! Either way – God Bless you.
      Btw, your opinion n Muslim religion?

      December 24, 2011 at 10:19 am |
  10. Howie111

    If Christians would only act like Christians then this would work. However, they are too busy practicing their "Cheap Grace". Cheap Grace being they make the same mistake over and over and ask for forgiveness which is granted then they do it again. The cycle never stops. No accountability.

    December 24, 2011 at 8:00 am |
    • Kathy from No. VA

      We all fall short of the glory of God and that's why we need Christ. We were never meant to be perfect but we have free will and are forgiven.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:03 am |
    • Howie111

      So it is Ok to repeat the same sin over and over again. I would say you need to read your bible better cause you don;t get it.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:08 am |
  11. mark

    you see it around the world so called good persons doing bad things . bad people doing good things . look at congress all bad coming out off good or socalled

    December 24, 2011 at 8:00 am |
  12. TomPaine32

    Which Christianity is Larry Taunton talking about? If it is George Bailey who can argue against it. But what about the Inquisition? What about the so called Christians on the far right who are intolerant of just about anybody not like themselves? The fact is there are scoundrels of every professed religion as well as people of great kindness and decency. It does not take the Christian religion to make a person or a society virtuous.

    December 24, 2011 at 7:58 am |
    • settino

      Well said. Many forget how many mollions have died for the sake of "their" religion. I detest when others thrust their moral beliefs on those who don't believe in fiction. Let them live their lives believing in frosty, the tooth ferry and the "virgin Mary (wow, how stupid is that?!!!) and leave us alone.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:05 am |
    • ITellYouWhat

      Some Christians view Mormons as being part of a cult; since Mormons baptize the dead which demonstrates they believe that GRACE is not a choice. wikipedia/wiki/Baptism_for_the_dead However if a Christian says they are saved by Grace and not by works, then they are subconsciously agreeing with the Mormons that Grace is not a choice. The point here is that God does not require us to be good, He does require us to Love all that is good. It is a choice to love all that is good, thus to get into heaven one will be chosen by our Lord. The statement “Saved by Grace” has led many to believe that the choices they make do not matter. The fulfillment of the Law is associated with showing us that God is good. Jesus clearly stated that he was God in the flesh, thus God only has good intentions. Therefore, what else could God give you to make you desire to follow his law or to Love him? The question is why does Evil have the power to control Earthly wealth? Jesus was tempted with Earthly wealth by the devil, and in that temptation the devil makes it clear what he wants. Job was a man of great wealth; however he gained that wealth with out a love for money. The rich man in the New Testament had a love for money similar to the parable of the man whom builds multiple storage bins for the excess crops harvested and the next day he died. The love of money is associated with personal control over your own destiny or the freedom to do what you want; thus hoarding results, because work is never easy as Job would attest. If work were so easy, then why do the rich hoard money? 1%?

      God desires to have a relationship with us through the power of the Holy Spirit. The love of money makes this impossible to accomplish, the devil knows this and promotes it by getting us to believe what others think of us really matters. Fame... One day the Earth will be engulfed by the Sun and all that we have done will be gone. No evidence will exist that we were ever on this Earth. No one to believe or carry on to the next generation anything you said was true. The love of money is a false illusion of eternal remembrance.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:09 am |
    • Abinadi

      We have to conclude that the Catholic Church, in much of its history, wasn't very Christian. For many centuries, it inherited much of the pagan world and was, more or less, a mafia. I think the reformation corrected many of the problems of the Catholic Church, but we are still working on a pure Christianity. One thing is for sure, Christianity has been a superior philosophy to any other philosophical group except, perhaps, Jewish. If this country were muslim, or communist/atheist, or any other group, we'd all be toast.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:13 am |
    • Abinadi

      @Tellyouwhat. I thought your post was very thoughtful, but I must disagree that Mormons don't believe in grace – I ought to know, I am one. We baptize the dead because the Christians baptized the dead when the apostles were still alive in order to give them the choice. Baptism is an earthly ordinance that can't be done in the spirit world and so it must be done here. Since God is just, the spirits must have the choice to accept the gospel or not.

      We believe that a man or woman is saved by grace after all we can do. We believe that Jesus only was perfect and so no matter how good we become, we must still rely on Jesus to make up the difference and so we certainly do believe we are saved by grace.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:22 am |
  13. mac jones

    Yes it's true. Greed, avarice, promiscuity, and corruption are destroying America.
    HAIL SATAN!!!

    December 24, 2011 at 7:57 am |
    • Ricky

      Ironically, most of that is coming from the Christian right! Look at the mega churches and the money flowing in (but not out) to them, look at the hypocrisy from the pastors and followers (where is tolerance and helping your fellow man – all I see is hate and venom spewing from their mouths). It is religion in general that is causing much of the pain and suffering today...

      December 24, 2011 at 8:09 am |
  14. Robert Allen

    Amen and Amen.

    December 24, 2011 at 7:57 am |
  15. Owl

    RE: "This is precisely what Nietzsche, and Hitler after him, hated about Christianity" Not at all sure about Hitler (I thought he and the Catholics snuggled up to each other with the Pax Romano Accord against Jews), but Nietzsche didn't hate Christianity despite popular interpretations of his writings. Nietzsche mocked the hypocrisy in Christianity. God was dead to him if hypocritical Christianity was the only hope for His existence. Rightly so. Christianity remains incapable of representing God himself, because Christianity has fallen into demonic activity under the machinations of the Devil himself. Warfare? Check Christianity's role in World War 1 or 2, or go back to the crusades. The U.S. is, if any nation is, is a 'Christian' nation. But who killed the Christians in Germany? A JUST WAR? No, true Christians leave matters in God's hands as Christ admonished they must. But they would die at the hands of the Hitlers! -we protest. Well...yes. You give your life if it means taking someone else's to live. Chritianity 101. God isn't dead – he lives in true Christianity. Now all we have to do is find it.

    December 24, 2011 at 7:57 am |
  16. Jeff Williams

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

    The film is a feel good fairy tale, obviously written by a Christian. Of COURSE it's such a metaphor. But it's still a fairy tale. Get serious.

    December 24, 2011 at 7:56 am |
  17. Esteban

    Many of you are drastically missing the point. Christianity is the foundation for the majority of our moral values, structure of our laws, and expectations for how treat each other. Can anyone argue that respect for these values isn't in decline? Atheist have every right to believe whatever they choose. The real question is his – why do atheist, who supposedly believe in nothing – have such hatred and vitriol for Christians and their beliefs? Why are atheist trying to tear down Christianity? To what end? I would submit that atheist are better categorized as "antichristian" than simply people who believe in nothing.

    December 24, 2011 at 7:55 am |
    • Jeff Williams

      """Christianity is the foundation for the majority of our moral values, structure of our laws, and expectations for how treat each other."""

      Only in the sense that Christianity is the latest evolution of the concept. Christian "values" were incorporated from prior sources. It was not the first to promote them, it will not be the last.

      December 24, 2011 at 7:59 am |
    • Howie111

      you got it all wrong.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:03 am |
    • Kathy from No. VA

      Esteban, great comment. We believe Christ is the Messiah so how can anything else be believed by Christians? It's not fair to ask us to "accept" other viewpoints if this is what we believe. With that said, we are also not to judge others and the "greatest of all commandments is to Love One Another". There is no greater joy than to have Christ in charge of your life.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:07 am |
    • settino

      unstable people believe this B S

      December 24, 2011 at 8:17 am |
  18. Emmanual Veritas

    I completely agree with this article. I have a loving 30 year marriage, and I am a successful scientist and engineer with multiple degrees. I've had plenty of successes in my life, but I'm also very type A, very stressed out most of the time, and much more easy to anger than most. As a teen, I had a lot of rage issues, and honestly I think I still do. But passing me on the street, you wouldn't know. The teachings of Jesus Christ continually help me and remind me to be loving, patient, kind and generous. We give 10% of our income back. We try to show compassion to those in need, and understanding to those who struggle with sin and foolishness (just like me). I am absolutely positive that I would be a much, much more hateful, dangerous person without the teachings of Jesus in my life. He has probably saved my life, and the lives of many people who would have been the objects of my wrath. But God is merciful, and it's only fair that I should try to be also. It has been my experience that for every person who has abused faith (like any other powerful thing, such as firearms, alcohol, rock music) there have been tens of thousands of persons who are helped by it. Ex: I paid a stranger's water bill twice to prevent her water from being cut off. That is the kind of of person Jesus wants me to be.

    Peace.

    December 24, 2011 at 7:54 am |
    • Kathy from No. VA

      Thank you for writing this, God Bless and Merry Christmas!

      December 24, 2011 at 8:01 am |
    • Wolf

      I'm in a 28 year relationship. I have a great job, I volunteer my time at a local women's shelter and I just donated $500 to that shelter for Christmas gifts. My home is neat and clean, and I treat my neighbors with respect. I don't lash out at people who are inconsiderate. I teach children right from wrong. I loved my parents (both of whom are now deceased.) I give shelter to two friends who are out of work and provide them with food and clothing when necessary.

      All this, and I'm an atheist. I didn't get my morality from a book. Morality was taught to me by my parents and by the culture we live in.

      It's not just Christmas time when I choose to be "good for goodness sake," it's every day.

      And let me remind folks here that there have been no wars fought in the name of Atheism. It takes a loving God for that to happen.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:04 am |
    • Travis

      Emannual,

      "I am absolutely positive that I would be a much, much more hateful, dangerous person without the teachings of Jesus in my life. He has probably saved my life, and the lives of many people who would have been the objects of my wrath."

      This says far more about the evil that lies inside you than it does the benefits of religion. You should be embarrassed...

      December 24, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
  19. Robert

    "Love your neighbor as yourself" a Christian may forget for an instant but a Christian eventually returns to that foundational motivator – to the long-term benefit of all. Good article.

    December 24, 2011 at 7:53 am |
  20. Just_the_Facts

    Which came first, Christan values or societal values? Christianity isn't the only religion to promote the values shown in the movie. Perhaps the underlying source produced both the good in society and the good in Christianity.

    December 24, 2011 at 7:52 am |
    • Jim

      While religions (belief systems) all teach morals there is just as strong a case to be made for athiesm or agnosticism to guide a moral life. Morals (life code) are really common sense if you are looking to promote good health and well being in a community. I would be most interested in seeing a society where the morals were based and taught on the basis of common sense and not the heaven/hell (carrot/stick) that most religions warp young people with. The fantasy of religions does not seem to provide the basis for resolving the great issues we face as a country or a planet.
      Peace to all of you during this season of reflection.

      December 24, 2011 at 8:18 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.