A Divine Way to Resist Temptation

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Self-control problems often fade away when it comes to obeying religious dictates. These teenagers are eating a kosher meal in Maryland.

I was raised in a kosher household. Though I never fully understood why I couldn’t eat cheeseburgers or pepperoni pizza—the theology still confuses me—I quickly learned to follow the rules. At birthday parties, I always informed the hosts that I preferred my pizza plain. If they forgot, I would just eat the crust.

Though I no longer keep kosher, I’m still puzzled by why I found it easy as a child to follow these faith-based rules. Because it’s not just me: People consistently find ways to obey all sorts of onerous religious dictates. During Ramadan or Lent, for example, the observant manage to be self-denying even as they struggle to stay on a diet or hold back their temper. “The world is full of people who are fastidious about Biblical rules but can’t say no to fast food,” says Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. “There’s something about rules from God that make them easier to follow.”

According to research led by Kevin Rounding at Queen’s University in Ontario and recently published in Psychological Science, Rabbi Wolpe is right: People are better able to resist their desires when thinking about God. In a series of clever experiments, the Canadian scientists demonstrated that triggering subconscious thoughts of faith increased self-control.

In a second study, the scientists tested students’ ability to delay gratification, asking them if they wanted $5 tomorrow or $6 in a week. Those on a religious wavelength were far more likely to opt for the more prudent option. Finally, the scientists showed that God-minded subjects persisted for a longer time in trying to solve a frustrating puzzle.

“If God is always watching, we better not misbehave—he knows about the pepperoni.”

The effect, it turns out, does not require religious belief. More than a third of the students in the studies were atheists or agnostics, yet the scientists found that they were still influenced by subconscious thoughts of God.

But how does religion do this? The scientists think that faith-based thoughts may increase “self-monitoring” by evoking the idea of an all-knowing, omnipresent God. Previous research, which showed that priming people to think of a vengeful, angry God reduces the likelihood of dishonesty, supports this view. If God is always watching, we better not misbehave—he knows about the pepperoni.

Read more in WSJ.


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  1. An excerpt from the writings of the Messiah, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani

    He says about human psychology, sin and salvation:

    It is your daily experience that when something proves to be useful, one is immediately attracted towards it and when something is proved to be harmful, one begins to fear it. For instance, if a person does not know that what he has in his hand is arsenic he might swallow a large dose of it deeming it to be some useful medicine. But he who knows that it is a fatal poison will not swallow even the smallest quantity of it, for he would realize that by the eating of it he would pass out from this world. In the same way, when a person knows for certain that God undoubtedly exists and that every type of sin is punishable in His estimation, all sins automatically fall away from him.

    Someone might raise the question that while we know that God exists and we also know that sins will be punished, yet we commit sins, which shows that we need some other way of avoiding sin. Our answer would still be that which we have already given. It is not at all possible that realizing fully that with the commission of a sin its punishment would fall upon you like lightning, you would yet dare to commit sin. This is the philosophy that is not open to any objection or exception. Reflect well that when you are quite certain of being punished for a sin, you will not act contrary to this certainty. Would you thrust your hand into the fire? Would you jump down from the top of a mountain? Would you jump into a well? Would you lie down in front of a running train? Would you thrust your arm into the mouth of a tiger? Would you present your foot to a mad dog? Can you stay somewhere where lightning is striking repeatedly? Do you not run out quickly from a room the roof of which is about to fall down? Is there any one of you who would not jump out of bed on perceiving a poisonous snake in it? Is there anyone who would not run out of a room in which he is sleeping and in which a fire has broken out? Tell me, why do you do this and run away from all these harmful things, but do not run away from the sins to which I have drawn your attention? The only answer that a wise person can give after full reflection is that there is a difference of knowledge in the two cases.

    In the matter of sins, the knowledge of most people is defective. They consider sins as evil, but do not look Salvation upon them as they look upon a tiger or a serpent. Hidden in their minds is the notion that the punishment of sins is not certain. They even doubt the existence of God and if they believe in His existence they doubt whether the soul survives after death; and if it survives death, they do not know whether there is any punishment for these sins. They may not be conscious of it, yet most of them have these notions hidden in their minds. But with regard to those occasions of danger of which I have cited instances, and which they avoid, they are certain that if they did not move away from them they would be destroyed and so they run away. Even if they encounter any of them by chance, they run away from it in terror. Thus the truth is that with regard to these things man has certain knowledge that they are fatal, but with regard to religious commandments their knowledge is not certain and is only speculation. One is a case of seeing and the other is only a story. Sins cannot be avoided by stories. I tell you truly that not one Jesus even if a thousand of them were to be crucified, they would not procure you true salvation, for it is only perfect fear or perfect love that rescues from sin. The death of Jesus upon the cross is in itself a fiction, and in any case it has nothing to do with stemming the tide of sin. This is a claim which is darkness. Experience does not support it, nor is there any relationship between the suicide of Jesus and the forgiveness of other peoples’ sins.

    The philosophy of true salvation is that man should be delivered from the hell of sin in this very life. Consider then whether you have been delivered from the hell of sin by these tales (vicarious atonement) or has anyone been so delivered through tales which have no truth behind them and which have no relationship with true salvation. Search in the East and the West and you will not find any people who had through these stories achieved such true purity whereby God becomes visible, and not only one is disgusted with sin but one begins to enjoy the heavenly delights of truth, and one’s soul flows like water and falls on the threshold of God and a light descends from heaven and dispels all darkness of the ego.


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