In my atheist days, when I was dating a Christian, I found the idea of “fleeing from temptation” rather silly. “Won’t you only prove that you’re strong if you face temptation?” I asked. A rather adorable psych study proved me wrong.

A marshmallow was set in front of a young child, who was then told that they could choose to eat the marshmallow then or wait a period of time (studies vary between 3 and 15 minutes) and get an additional marshmallow to eat. As Jonah Lehrer explains in an article at the New Yorker:

Mischel’s conclusion, based on hundreds of hours of observation, was that the crucial skill was the “strategic allocation of attention.” Instead of getting obsessed with the marshmallow—the “hot stimulus”—the patient children distracted themselves by covering their eyes, pretending to play hide-and-seek underneath the desk, or singing songs from “Sesame Street.” Their desire wasn’t defeated—it was merely forgotten. “If you’re thinking about the marshmallow and how delicious it is, then you’re going to eat it,” Mischel says. “The key is to avoid thinking about it in the first place.”

In other words, the key to not giving into temptation is to avoid even thinking about it. If you want to avoid overeating, stop thinking about food. If you want to avoid wrath, don’t think about what makes you angry. If you want to avoid adultery, stop lusting after women.

The point is that human beings are not very good with self-control. We can tempt ourselves – we can touch, smell, and taste the marshmallow – but if we do, we’re probably going to fail and simply gobble it up. The wise ones are the ones who deliberately rid their minds of the temptation. It took hours of research to prove one simple truth from the Bible: if you want to avoid sin, you must flee temptation.

Even atheists can’t argue with it now.

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