"They call it Christianity. I call it consciousness." —Emerson
You are going to miss it. You’re distracted. Sit up straight. You’re not paying attention.
All sins are just variations on that same desire to do something else when you’re already doing something. Multitaskers are children of the devil. You can’t serve two masters. Divided attention is just dressed up inattention.
“Hear, O Israel,” the Shema begins, “the Lord our God is one Lord!” (Deuteronomy 6:4) But are you one? Or do you keep getting shucked, splintered, and spread by every distraction that wanders by?
Put your phone away. Recent studies agree with Jesus. In their distressing 2009 paper “Cognitive control in media multitaskers,” Ophir, et al. found that heavy media multitaskers (or HMMs) “have greater difficulty filtering out irrelevant stimuli from their environment.” They are “less likely to ignore irrelevant representations in memory.” And they are “less effective in suppressing the activation of irrelevant task sets.”
Does this remind you of anyone? Do you know anyone who can’t filter out irrelevant stimuli? Do you know anyone who keeps getting sucked down black holes of memory and fantasy? Do you know anyone who can’t suppress the impulse to do something other than what they’re supposed to be doing?
Hmm. Do you know anyone who doesn’t fit this description?
Such is the human condition: unable to filter stimuli or shunt impulses, everyone sins. “There is none righteous, no, not one” because sin beds down in the distraction of our day dreams (Romans 3:10).
Jesus’ canonical take on multitasking looks like this:
No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. (Matthew 6:24)
When Jesus says that “no man can serve two masters,” I understand him to mean that no one can pay attention to two things at the same time.
Serving means paying attention. You serve by attending, by giving your full attention to even the least little thing at hand. And, when you attend to the least among these things, it is the same as attending to God himself. “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40).
How freely Jesus allows you to substitute even the least little thing for himself!
Jesus doesn’t worry about these substitutions. He encourages them. He doesn’t worry about you serving mammon because “mammon” just names your avoidance of service. “Serving mammon” is oxymoronic because serving mammon is just a way of serving yourself and serving yourself isn’t actually service.
It is impossible, then, to serve both God and mammon because it is impossible to serve mammon. Mammon names that bifurcation of attention that follows from your failing to serve and attend. To serve is, by definition, to serve God.
When Jesus says that no one “can serve two masters,” which two masters does he have in mind? The particulars of the first may vary – doing it unto the least of these is the same as doing it unto God – but the second always seems to be the same: you.
You are mammon. You can either serve God by attending to others or in attending to others you can try to serve yourself.
Self-interest is this second master that halves your attention. You double your interest in every least little thing with an interest in yourself. Before it even pops up you’ve already started to ask: how might this little thing either harm or benefit me? Will I love it or hate it? What does it have to do with me?
Often, your double vision is so bad that you can barely even see that little thing because you’re so intent on seeing yourself. Then, having failed to see the least among these, you inevitably fail to see God. And you’re sad.
Trying to serve two masters, attention falters. When attention falters it bifurcates into love and hatred. “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other.”
Instead of serving things in terms of what they need from you, you end up judging them in terms of your own preferences, in terms of your own likes and dislikes. This bifurcation of attention into modes of preference – that is, into modes of loving or hating – is the root of sin because it turns attention back on itself.
Attention neither loves nor hates. It serves.
And, in serving, it even loves what it hates by serving it.