In the Wall Street Journal last week, Neil Strauss pondered why so many stars believe their success is part of a divine plan. He cites his interviews with musical superstars like Lady Gaga, Snoop Dog, Christina Aguilera, and sports heroes like Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, all of whom credit God with guiding their fame:
One night last summer, Lady Gaga sat in a tour bus in England, covered in stage blood from her concert that day. She told me that she had cried hysterically before a recent show because she’d had a dream that the devil was trying to take her. She then said, in earnest, that the spirit of her dead aunt was literally inside her body and that she had eaten a bovine heart to face her fear of her father’s heart surgery.
If a stranger on a train had said all of this to me, I would have moved a few seats away. But this was one of the most famous women in the world. “It’s hard to just chalk it all up to myself,” Lady Gaga said of her success, explaining that there was “a higher power that’s been watching out for me.”
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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Cut to…Snoop Dogg in the living room of his home outside Los Angeles, smoking a blunt and discussing his comeback after leaving Death Row Records. “God makes everything happen,” he said. “He put me in that situation with Death Row, and he took me out of it.”
Cut to…a hotel room where Christina Aguilera is gorging on junk food and discussing her success. “All of this isn’t something that I did,” she told me. “It’s something that is totally there for a purpose.” In a separate interview, Ms. Aguilera’s mother explained that fame was her daughter’s destiny: “We thought there must be some divine intervention. Early on, I realized…God has plans for her.”
Do I smell a little Calvinism? Strauss says he originally thought the “I want to thank God” tributes at award shows were about gratitude and humility, but now thinks they’re really about believing God has destined you to be famous and successful, and likewise has destined the rest of us not to be.
Of course, such belief helps you to be successful — that’s psychology 101. It’s not about theology or any adherence to a particular religious framework, but the conviction that you’ve been chosen by God — in this case, for a life of fame and fortune. Undoubtedly, this belief allows a star to deal with criticism and competition.
This makes sense, and there is truth here: God does call people in all kinds of ways. It just seems easy to conflate that sense of calling with one’s own needs to be someone special.
As Strauss points out, very few pop stars declare themselves atheists. Perhaps because most people do believe in some kind of higher power, and any smart star knows that atheism doesn’t play well to the American public. Scientists have shown that “actively seeking God’s intervention has improved people’s odds of survival.” So, too, perhaps with superstars.