Het omhelzen van universalisme neemt meteen de zwaarte van elk ethisch probleem weg. Wat je ook beslist of leeft, het houdt geen eeuwig risico in. Om een vergelijking te gebruiken; zo worden wij allen ouders die bevrijd worden van de angst dat het met één of meerdere van onze kinderen verkeerd kan aflopen. Het levert onmiddellijk een goede nachtrust op. Maar of het op termijn echt de angst op een nachtmerrie wegneemt, is nooit zeker.
Music interviewer Neil Strauss finds a surprising common thread that separates the famous from the super famous - a firm belief that a higher power is guiding these celebrities into glory. He talks about his theory with WSJ’s Christina Tsuei.
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.”
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.”
When this year’s Grammy winners accept their awards on Sunday night, God is likely to be thanked and praised more than a few times. It’s a longstanding showbiz tradition, after all, prevalent at the Oscars, the Emmys and even the AVN Awards for adult movies. Until I began interviewing many of the winners of these awards two decades ago, I thought this was a sign of humility and gratitude (or at least an affectation of them). But the truth is more interesting than that.
Before they were famous, many of the biggest pop stars in the world believed that God wanted them to be famous, that this was his plan for them, just as it was his plan for the rest of us not to be famous. Conversely, many equally talented but slightly less famous musicians I’ve interviewed felt their success was accidental or undeserved—and soon after fell out of the limelight.
As I compiled and analyzed these interviews for my new book, I reached a surprising conclusion: Believing that God wants you to be famous actually improves your chances of being famous. Of course, from the standpoint of traditional theology, even in the Calvinistic world of predestination, God is much more concerned with the fate of an individual’s soul than his or her secular success, and one’s destiny is unknowable. So what’s helping these stars is not so much religion as belief—specifically, the belief that God favors their own personal, temporal success over that of almost everyone else.
Speaking to the media prior to last Sunday’s Super Bowl, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who went on to become the game’s MVP, explained, “God always has a plan for us.” Similarly, former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Santonio Holmes declared that the game-winning catch that made him the Super Bowl MVP two years ago was “God’s will.” And in the Super Bowl before that, the New York Giants wide receiver David Tyree said of his team’s win, “It felt like it was destiny.… I knew God would do what he said he was going to do.”
Let’s call it competitive theism, a self-styled spirituality that can be overlaid on any religion and has nothing to do with personal morality. This faith gap, I’ve noticed in the interviews I’ve done, is often what sets the merely famous apart from the ridiculously famous. It can make the difference between achieving what’s possible and accomplishing what seems impossible.
Though scientists, to the best of my knowledge, have yet to study the relationship of faith to superstardom, they have studied addicts, transplant patients and natural disaster victims, and they have found that actively seeking God’s intervention has improved people’s odds of survival.
This isn’t to say that every person who tops the charts believes in God’s will. There are plenty of exceptions, but fewer than you’d think. Contemporary pop stars have rarely declared themselves atheists. In fact, the pop stars condemned by religious groups have often been the most fervent believers, from Elvis Presley (who was reading a book about Jesus when he died in his bathroom) to Lady Gaga (whose “Born This Way,” a new single launched with great fanfare this weekend, declares that “no matter gay, straight or bi,” we are all part of God’s plan).
Even a miscreant like Eminem, who is up for 10 Grammys this year, has a sense of divine mission: “God sent me to piss the world off,” he rapped on “My Name Is,” his first hit single. In an article he wrote for Vibe, he said, “I do believe in God, and I do pray.… God is my higher power, and he always has been.”
This hardly proves that there is a God guiding the destiny of these stars. But it does suggest that unshakable confidence and a powerful sense of purpose are good predictors of success. Look at Justin Bieber, who released a single two months ago titled “Pray” and seemed untouched when getting booed recently by fans at a New York Knicks game. Or consider the derision heaped on Ms. Aguilera for botching the national anthem at the Super Bowl. If an unknown singer had made the same mistake, most people would have felt sorry for her.
But the more successful you get, the faster, louder and more savage the criticism becomes. To deal with the psychological burden of becoming a household name and the attacks that come with it, it helps to be thick-skinned. It helps even more to have a sense of divine mission and to feel that, when everyone else seems to be against you, God is walking at your side. Most stars who feel even a sliver of doubt about being in the spotlight will buckle under the constant pressure. Fearing criticism or failure, they become risk-averse and pass up opportunities.
The hip-hop mogul Diddy, for example, has been in and out of courtrooms over the years, facing charges for assault, gun possession and bribery—yet he continually bounces back with a new name and a new career. When I asked him if he ever felt fear, he replied, “My faith is in God. Like, look who I’m rolling with. Look who my gang really is. My gang is God. Come on, now, I don’t have fear.”
The meek may indeed inherit the Earth, but until then, stars who are presumptuous enough to see themselves as God’s chosen ones are likely to dominate the pop charts, award shows and sports championships. Talent counts for a lot, but so too does the motivating power of divine conviction.