The Hierarchy of Allegiances
Disordered allegiances produce disordered lives
All the ends of the earth shall remember, and shall be converted to the Lord:
And all the kindreds of the Gentiles shall adore in his sight.
For the kingdom is the Lord’s; and he shall have dominion over the nations.
All the fat ones of the earth have eaten and have adored: all they that go down to the earth shall fall before him.
And to him my soul shall live: and my seed shall serve him.
There shall be declared to the Lord a generation to come: and the heavens shall shew forth his justice to a people that shall be born, which the Lord hath made.
St. Thomas Aquinas often speaks of order and disorder. It seems our bodies and our emotions often conflict with our souls when it comes to our hierarchy of allegiances. Our animal nature wants to live like animals, satisfying its desires for food, sex, comfort, leisure, distraction, amusement, and pleasure. But our souls long only to rest in the Lord.
From psychology, we learn of the “availability heuristic.” The availability heuristic simply says that we tend over-weight information that is more easily recalled. For example, we have been inundated with information about Covid for two years. When someone tells us they plan to take a trip to Hawaii over the Christmas break, most of us immediately think of Covid protocols involved in traveling. Two years ago, our minds would have conjured up images of sandy beaches and palm trees.
But the availability heuristic goes one step further. Because memories are closely related to emotions, highly available memories also produce an emotional response associated with those memories. Since most of the emotions associated with Covid are both strong and negative, it is reasonable that a colleague’s mention of her trip to Hawaii puts us into a foul mood. We suspect our mood is a result of envy that she’s going to Hawaii and we’re not. This compounds our unhappiness because now we feel guilty (or shallow) for resenting the colleague’s good fortune.
So, the availability heuristic not only affects how think but also how we feel. And the availability heuristic leads to us to a disordered hierarchy of allegiances. Let’s explain.
How much time do you spend in prayer or religious reading each day? How much time do you spend thinking about temporal things like work, school, cleaning the house, the weather, food, sex, politics, health, etc?
To the first question, how much time praying, the average American claims 30 minutes per day, according an Ellis Research study. If we subtract sleep, that means most people spend 930 minutes thinking about temporal things and 30 minutes on the eternal. It looks like this:
With a ratio like that, how available do you think God is to your animal brain? Is it any wonder, then, that when we hear “Hawaii” we think of masks and nasal swabs instead of the Garden of Eden?
More pertinent to our point: what does this 30 minutes of prayer say about our hierarchy of allegiances, especially in light of the availability heuristic?