This is counter-intuitive. Suppressive avoidance is what the mind knows how to do. A highly religious young man struggling with pornography viewing is likely to criticize himself horribly, and then try to eliminate the urge and suppress all thoughts about it. It almost looks as though that is the moral thing to do, but instead this research suggests that it is a route toward more struggle, more suffering, and ironically toward more obsessive viewing.
It has to be said: this is is also bad theology. Even Christ was tempted, after all. Simply having a thought or feeling a temptation is not yet sinful in major religious philosophies. Sins require an act of the will. A normal problem-solving mode of mind can’t quite get that distinction.
There are ways of thinking that are scientifically known to be harmful, and certain strains of religious thought are particularly rife with them. Unfortunately, naive people tend to revere religious figures whose only real talent is in churning out grandiose words / ideas that sound superficially pious, but are not actually the products of true wisdom.
1 Thessalonians 5:21
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
21 but test everything; hold fast to what is good;