February 8th, 2013
10:25 AM ET
By John Blake, CNN
“Lead me not into temptation. I can find it all by myself.”
That line, taken from the country music song “Lead Me Not,” evokes smiles because it underscores a truth: The struggle against temptation is universal.
A new survey, however, gets specific about the type of temptations most Americans battle against, and shows that men and women seem to wrestle with different vices.
“Temptations and America’s Favorite Sins,” a survey conducted by the Barna Group, a Christian research firm, concludes that the moral struggles that vex most Americans aren’t the salacious acts that drive the plotlines of reality television shows. Most Americans are too worn down or distracted to get snared by those vices, the survey concludes.
The top three sins seducing most Americans: procrastination, overeating and spending too much time on media.
“You would think it would be sex, drugs and rock and roll,” said Todd Hunter, pastor and author of “Our Favorite Sins,” whose book was consulted in conjunction with the survey.
The survey said that 60% of Americans admitted that they’re tempted to worry too much or procrastinate; 55% said they’re tempted to overeat, and 41% said they’re tempted by sloth, or laziness.
The sex, drugs and rock and roll-like vices fell dead last in the temptation categories: 11% of Americans said they were tempted by drug abuse; 9% were tempted by sexually inappropriate contact.
Even young people put sex and drugs way down on their list, according to the survey, which broke down temptations by gender and age. It found that 21% of millennials (born between 1984 and 2002) considered sexually inappropriate behavior their chief temptation. It was the lowest percentage attributed to any vice by millennials. Their top two temptations were worrying too much and procrastination.
The battleground for temptation has also shifted – it’s gone digital, according to David Kinnman, president of Barna Group, which based its survey on 1,021 online interviews with a representative sample of white, African-American and Latinos.
“Temptation has gone virtual, ’’ Kinnman said. “Nearly half of Americans admit to being tempted to use too much media and one in nine admits to expressing their anger digitally.”
Temptation also seems to affect men and women differently – more women said they’re tempted by gossip and overeating, and only 8% of women admitted to being tempted by online pornography versus 28% of men.
Many Americans who admit to being tempted aren’t putting up a big fight. The study said that 59% of Americans admit that they don’t do anything to avoid temptation and half can’t explain why they give into temptation.
Many Americans still can’t explain what sin is, Hunter said. Worrying, for example, is not considered one of the seven deadly sins (pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed and sloth). Yet survey respondents listed it as one of their top temptations.
“There’s no agreement on what sin is,” Hunter said. “It’s one of the aspects of the world we live in. It’s becoming more relativistic. It’s hard to talk about sin when everyone disagrees about what it is.”
Hunter knows a little bit about temptation. One of his is chocolate. He once shot up to 330 pounds because he overate. He said all temptations start with a desire for something good: tasty food, rest, intimacy. They become “disordered” when they enslave people and spread pain through their lives.
“Disordered desires imprison us,” he wrote in “Our Favorite Sins.” “In the end they give us nothing – not one lasting shred of goodness, freedom, joy, or love.”
Hunter’s advice for staying clear of temptation: fasting, praying and staying out of places and relationships that lead you toward temptation.
For those who aren’t religious, Hunter recommends thinking about sports. He cites the practice habits of superstars like NBA legend Michael Jordan. They practice progress, repeating athletic exercises every day until their body complies.
Little victories lead to big things, Hunter said. In his book, he quoted the legendary college basketball coach John Wooden:
“When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur. So don’t look for the quick, big improvement. Seek the small improvements one day at a time – that’s the only way progress happens – and when that kind of progress happens, it lasts.”
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.