Update, Part Two: Sarah knows way more than me about all this. Like me, she thinks there was a story inside that Vanity Fair piece that was basically ignored, and she digs in. Read the whole thing—Palin’s Pentecostal beliefs are a big influence on her thinking.
Update: On Twitter, Sarah Posner let me know that Pentecostals have an investment in this idea, too, and that’s likely where Palin got it. Good to know. I want to be very clear that there’s more than a little cross-pollination of ideas in the world of fundamentalists. The biggest takeaway from this is that Palin is particularly good at swiping ideas and repositioning them to flatter her own ambitions and sensibilities.
This item is a little old, but that’s what happens when you have a three day weekend you’re trying to catch up on. But it’s still important. There was a lot of justifiable criticism of the Michael Joseph Gross piece about Sarah Palin in Vanity Fair. It was full of flashy but ultimately meaningless crap, it engaged in sexism, and it avoided real analysis of important issues. (Though I do think that the fact that Sarah Palin is likely a temperamental monster as soon as a door shuts is important and interesting information, though her viciousness is generally on display in her public persona.) But I want to pull out one discovery Gross made that he didn’t grasp the importance of. To be fair to him, a little googling showed that it passed most people by. It’s this part:
Palin has often stated that the strokes of luck propelling her political success were divinely ordained: “There are no coincidences” is a favorite maxim.
He then goes on to make generic statements about Christian tradition, not even pausing to note how much Palin’s egotistical statements echo those of all sorts of charlatans of the Christian right before her. But what he doesn’t get is that this “coincidences” stuff has a very specific pedigree in American fundamentalist Christianity—it comes from the Christian Reconstructionist movement, a movement that unabashedly calls for America to be transformed into a Christian theocracy, and claims this was the intention of the Founders.
When I was doing the research for my piece on the influence of Christian Reconstructionism on Sharron Angle’s worldview, one thing that Julie Ingersoll, who is writing a book about the movement, mentioned to me is that they don’t believe in coincidences. Or, to be more specific, they are Calvinists and therefore believe in predestination, which means not only that they believe your salvation is a matter of fate, but so is everything that happens. How this comes out colloquially amongst believers is the maxim, “There is no such thing as coincidences.”
Why this is interesting is that, without this religious context, Palin’s little quip makes no sense. Of course it’s not a coincidence that she rose to prominence. The word “coincidence” wouldn’t generally be in play—maybe you might say “accident”, if you wanted to reduce a complex set of circumstances to a maxim. A coincidence is a very specific kind of occurrence, and this isn’t it. She’s only using “coincidence” because “There are no coincidences” is a favorite maxim of hers. And that, as a religious maxim, comes from our modern-day Calvinist Christian Reconstructionists.
Which isn’t to say that Palin is a Reconstructionist, which is something whiny conservatives claimed I was saying about Angle, because they couldn’t deal directly with my actual arguments. There’s really very few ways to know if someone shares their beliefs, because they’re pretty secretive about it. (Which is probably why so many wingnuts have accepted that people could have “secret” religious beliefs, and therefore project that notion onto the President.) But what is absolutely obvious is that whether or not any individual right wing fundie is a pre-millennialist or a post-millennalist, the beliefs of Reconstructionists inform their worldview.
Still, I’d be lying if I didn’t think the “there are no coincidences” thing was kind of weird. Your workaday evangelical fundie doesn’t, as far as I know, have a lot of investment in the idea of predestination. That’s more the world of the Reconstructionists. It’s no small thing that Palin has adopted that as her motto, implying that she shares an interest and faith in the idea of predestination. Maybe she only believes it for herself, that she’s some kind of Chosen One. But as I noted in the Slate article, Palin’s ties to the Alaska Independence Party were alarming for more than the fact than they were a secessionist group. It’s also because they’re a branch of the Constitution Party, which is openly Reconstructionist and demands that America become a Christian theocracy. I suspect she has more than a a passing familiarity with that world, though it’s most likely that she, the ultimate opportunist, just takes what she wants from them and leaves the rest behind.