Survey: What tempts people, why they give in and how they resist

Published: Friday, Jan. 18 2013 5:00 a.m. MST

Three weeks into 2013 and temptations to blow off those New Year's resolutions are bearing down.

What kind of people will give in and why? What are people's greatest temptations and favorite sins? Who cares to change and how can they do it?

Those are the questions researchers at the Barna Group tried to answer in a recent survey of more than 1,000 adults released at a time when people are in the beginning phases of carrying out resolutions meant to renew themselves for the new year.

While the new study examines the temptations Americans say they most commonly struggle with — and how they resolve to deal with these moral and ethical lures — it also makes a case that technology has provided a new means to commit the traditional seven deadly sins of wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy and gluttony. At the same time, nearly all religious traditions have stories and rituals of repentance or renewal, experts say, that are still applicable to modern challenges.

Nearly four in 10 Americans said spending too much time on the Internet or watching television is their greatest temptation, the survey found, while another 11 percent said "going off" on someone via text or email is another temptation they regret giving in to.

"It’s important to recognize that virtual temptation is more than just online pornography," said David Kinnaman, president of Barna, which does marketing research for Christian ministries and nonprofits. "The more pervasive problem is media addiction and that a lot of our negative emotions like jealousy and anger are being expressed digitally."

Spirituality and stewardship

Kinnaman said the message for faith leaders and their followers is that technology and media need to be part of a broader discussion of spirituality and stewardship.

He explained that in Christian evangelical circles, the notion of stewardship revolves around how believers use their time, treasure (money) and talents.

"We think there should be a fourth 't' included and that is 'technology' because technology is determining so much of how humans are using their time, money and gifts," he said.

Kinnaman said it's a good sign people are recognizing time spent with media as a temptation, possibly indicating that people are thinking about whether time spent on the computer or in front of the television is contributing to a better world, a better family and a better life.

The survey stated that the most technologically oriented generation — the millennials, or those born after 1981 — are more likely than the national average to admit to struggling with the temptations of modern technology.

More than half (53 percent) say they are tempted to over-use screens, and one-quarter (25 percent) feel the temptation to use technology to express their anger at others. When it comes to viewing pornography online, millennials are significantly more likely than other generations to admit to wrestling with this temptation, with more than one quarter (27 percent) saying they are tempted by online pornography.

Reordering desires

The Barna survey was conducted in conjunction with a book project by Anglican Bishop Todd Hunter, senior pastor at Holy Trinity Church in Costa Mesa, Calif. Hunter writes in "Our Favorite Sins" that overcoming temptations or carrying through on resolutions takes more than willpower.

People have to methodically reorder their desires, he explained, so that things they don't want to do are not temptations.

"Willpower is like Congress: it is constantly being lobbied by thoughts and emotions," Hunter said. "You have reorder those things so thoughts and desires become allies rather than enemies."

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