Across the country, fans, coaches, journalists and people looking for ways to make fun of America are preparing for the annual furor over a bunch of inscrutable numbers coughed out by some mysterious, heartless computer program designed by someone who's probably never touched a football.
Yes, it's the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) rankings, which causes more hair-pulling and teeth-gnashing than the evolution/creation debate (a sad commentary, indeed). What was supposed to quell the yearly quarreling over who was the best college football team in the land has only created more confusion and done nothing more than assure that if there are only two major-conference unbeatens left standing, they will meet in the national championship game.
Unfortunately, upstart mid-majors and an odd number of undefeated teams can render the whole system completely worthless.
The attention we pay to this charade testifies to our national obsession with determining who's No. 1. We will devise the most complex, mind-twisting formulas in pursuit of the perfect ranking system (see: Sports Illustrated's Player Value Rankings, which I'm not sure even Stephen Hawking could unspool). Maybe it's a product of our capitalist heritage, but we have an innate need to place a value on everything, including other people. We must find a way to define things.
As the BCS shows, this need to identify the best is often fruitless.
Even if you're able to determine such, who cares? Being No. 1 is nice, but it's a man-made, thus temporal, thus ultimately meaningless, exercise. We have ways of deciding who's the best — say, a playoff system (listen up, BCS bigwigs) — but even those don't always settle the debate. In the most recent example, a lot of people would say St. Louis is not the best team in baseball despite just winning the World Series. The Cardinals went 83-78 in the regular season and nearly saw a huge division lead slip away.
Maybe the Cardinals' winning is a product of dilution. As I am writing this, my wife has made the good point that becoming No. 1 is easier these days. Baseball and the NFL are perfect examples of that. With so many teams, and with so many players reduced to interchangeable parts, winning a championship is a couple of big free-agent signings away.
Our obsession with No. 1 has found a bedfellow in our society's obsession with inclusiveness. Too many parents always let their kids win in the backyard, they whine when their kid doesn't get enough playing time or make the all-star team, and they cling to the delusion that their child is the best one on the field.
And those kids watch as their parents abandon all objectivity as they claim their favorite college team or high school team is No. 1 despite much evidence to the contrary. So those kids learn that being No. 1 is extremely important, and not just in sports. They learn to value only those things that man holds in high esteem, and they learn to place a certain value on everything and everyone they meet and see.
There's nothing wrong with having sound value judgment, but the problem is that the judgment isn't so sound thanks to skewed priorities. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that these judgments are made in ignorance; that is, the wrong qualifications are being used. For instance, much of today's popular music gets heavy airplay despite a gross lack of artistic quality (see: Eminem, Justin Timberlake, Pink, etc.), while a lot of talented, thoughtful artists are banished to the back shelf.
We start attaching such labels to people, too. This guy's great because he's funny, this girl is cool because she's stylish, and so on. High schoolers are quite adept at forming a hierarchical social system based on shallow, materialistic qualifications. A lot of those teens retain that ability well into adulthood.
This obsession quite easily spills over into our spiritual lives. We grade ourselves and each other based on how involved we are in the community, or whether we support a certain bill in Washington, or by how eloquently we present the gospel. That's why the "best" preachers get their own TV and radio shows, and why so many lost souls treat them like heaven-sent prophets, even if they smile like a politician.
We tend to forget that God doesn't rank us. He's already made those He's saved good enough to be in His family through Christ's perfect sacrifice. You want to talk about who's No. 1? Well, what human has walked this Earth without sinning?
There ain't but One.