How can anybody think that they're better than anyone else—that their race is better, their country is better, their religion is better, their people are better....or even that their sport teams are better?
With that, a friend began a heartfelt plea for love and compassion that anyone could shout "amen!" to. But while I add my voice to the chorus, I take exception to his idea that the divisions, wars, hatred, and other evils that beset us are caused by the belief that something special and peculiar to an individual is better than other things of the same sort. I grant that it can appear to be true, but am utterly and completely convinced of this: It is not this belief, this feeling, that is wrong, but rather a twisted, diseased, misuse of it. It's rather like saying, "Money is the root of all evil" when the Biblical text is actually, "The love of money is the root of all evil."
I'm certain my friend thinks his own wife is "the best." And so he should. if he doesn't, he's a lout and a cad and doesn't deserve her. My own grandchildren are the sweetest and smartest grandchildren ever. I love my country more than any other place on earth, closely followed by Switzerland, my country-in-law My husband is the greatest, and there could never be parents and siblings as fantastic as my own. I appreciate many cultures, but like best the immediate culture in which I grew up, and the Western European culture that is my inheritance. This is not a bad thing. In fact, it is very good. In the words we say in church every Monday night, "It is meet and right so to do."
Why? Why do I say it's good to think the best of what is near and dear to us, when that seems to cause such divisiveness?
Because it's the only way to learn the love we so desperately need.
In the words of the Bible again, "He who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen." Or in my own words: Don't pretend you love strangers halfway across the world if you can't even be kind to your spouse.
Love is meant to work outwards, from our families to friends to communities to those more and more "other" to us. We're not meant to start from the outside and work in, because we don't know what love is until we've practiced it small and local. You might as well expect to go from couch potato one day to ultramarathon runner the next. The special feelings that we have about our own particular "small and local" are our coaches, teaching us the skills of love in action and building our endurance.
Where we go wrong is in not taking that training into ever-widening circles. The wise man can hold in his mind without contradiction both the belief that his own wife is the best in the world, and the knowledge that every other man feels (or should feel) the same way about his own wife. That is exactly how it should be, and both are absolutely right.
Our local affections are meant to lead us onward and outward. If instead they become ingrown, they fester and rot. As C. S. Lewis said, the better and higher something is, the farther it falls and the worse it becomes when it goes bad. But the original is good.
It is from a secure feeling of "home" that we can truly value that which is different from our small and local world. I want to learn about French wines from someone who thinks there is no better wine than that which grows from French soil. I want to tour a new country guided by one whose family has known and loved its culture for generations. I'd rather not eat at a restaurant where the chef believes his food to be no better than average. And I certainly would be more comfortable in the company of someone who thinks her husband is the most wonderful man ever, than with someone who entertains the notion that maybe my husband would be a better choice.
Go ahead, love your own family, your own culture, your own country, your own heritage, even your own sports team better than any other.* Then go, have a good laugh with your neighbor, and learn why he feels the same about his family, culture, country, heritage, and sports team. Therein lies joy, and hope.