Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Honor Tree

On the news the other day I saw a story of a rather ostentatious Christmas tree that was on display in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The report said that the tree was worth millions, having been decorated with ornaments made of gold, diamonds, and that sort of thing.

Presumably that tree was ultimately financed in some way by money derived from the sale of oil. And you have to wonder why that money isn’t going instead to aid the poor in Muslim countries, especially when some Islamic apologists claim that those countries are poor because the West is holding them down. I’d also like to know if there are any atheists criticizing this sort of thing – maybe they will when they take a break from criticizing Joel Osteen or so-called Vatican “wealth”. (The tree does have some critics, at least; see story at end of this entry.)

But as to why I wanted to note this – it’s most likely a good example of what we could call honor gone wild. Tekton has discussed how honor and shame affected the Biblical social world quite frequently, and the UAE remains an honor-based culture. For that reason, this tree was most likely a case of someone trying to do it up for the sake of public honor.

Of course, this is an abuse of that principle, a quite obvious one, and one that the backlash is not letting them get entirely away with. On the other hand, you can imagine how in the Biblical world, a king like Herod or a Roman Emperor could get away with it. They had the armies, and there was no media to call them down for the abuses. The average joe couldn’t do a thing about this. (On the other hand again, we might point out that the pressure doesn’t seem to be causing the makers of this tree to do more than pass the buck: It’s certainly not being dismantled yet, much less are the ornaments being sold to feed the poor.)

In light of all this, you can see how radical the Christian message was in its time. The rich would be more inclined to use wealth to gain honor than to spread it around for the greater good – though if they happened to be able to get both at once, that was fine with them too. And even then, there would be no inclination to share the wealth unless public shame to do so was heavy enough to prompt it.

Either way, the Dubai tree is a reminder that if we really want to know who is responsible for the world’s problems, the first place we need to look is the closest mirror.

See the story on the tree here.

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