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The faux religion of Steve Jobs
August 17th, 2013
09:00 AM ET

The faux religion of Steve Jobs

Opinion by Brett Robinson, Special to CNN

(CNN)— Forget the forbidden fruit logo and the cult of Apple jokes. The legacy of Steve Jobs is anything but religious.

Apple was conceived in the heady days of the counterculture movement. While Jobs and friend Steve Wozniak were busy hacking into AT&T’s long-distance phone lines from a Berkeley dorm room in the 1970s, the culture was awash in New Age experimentation and social unrest. Traditional institutions were under siege by idealistic youth rejecting what they viewed as mass-marketed delusions.

At the top of the hit list was organized religion. When Jobs and Wozniak got the phone hacking device to work, their first call was to the Vatican. They proceeded to hang up on the pope’s personal secretary before he could connect the call to the Holy Father. Jobs the iconoclast relished the prank.

Apple’s Garden of Eden logo is one of several religious parodies aimed at the establishment. A 2007 iPhone ad with the tagline “Touching is Believing” mocks the Biblical story of the Apostle Thomas, who needed to touch the wounds of Christ in order to believe in the Resurrection. Apparently, the iPhone apostles needed the same reassurance leading up to the launch of what came to be called the “Jesus phone.”

Jobs left the Protestant church as a young man and sought spiritual enlightenment in the East. At a pivotal moment in his career, Jobs’ moral compass led him to a Zen monastery in northern California, where he considered becoming a Buddhist monk rather than continuing with Apple. But his close friend and Zen priest Kobun Chino Otogawa told him he could do both.

Jobs embraced the challenge by combining the physics of computing with the metaphysics of Eastern spirituality. The minimalism and intuitive design of Apple products are material expressions of Jobs’ Zen ideals. When Edwin Land, the founder of Polaroid, told Jobs to remain at the intersection of technology and the humanities, Jobs knew he had landed at the nexus of a powerful cultural movement.

When a statue of Steve Jobs was erected in Budapest in 2011, it was one of many tributes to the demiurge of digital culture. But to truly immortalize a media technology hero like Jobs, a movie would need to be made.

The din of digital media has eclipsed the dignity of statues, and the screen has become a sacred means for commemorating cultural heroes. Lincoln, Gandhi and Christ have all had their day in the Hollywood sun.

It is fitting that the new movie about his life, "Jobs," edited on Apple computers and eventually distributed to millions of Apple devices, will proclaim the technological gospel fashioned by its creator.

The medium is the message after all.

But baked into Apple products is a troubling paradox. Like a technological Trojan horse, Apple products assail our senses with sumptuous visuals and rich acoustics while unleashing a bevy of addictive and narcissistic habits. The ‘i’ prefix on Apple devices is a constant reminder that personal technology is ultimately all about us.

In addition to his Zen Buddhist leanings, Jobs claimed that trying LSD was one of the most formative experiences of his life. One occasion sounds like a treatment for an iPod ad. After dropping acid, Jobs found himself in a wheat field and felt as though the crops were pulsating to a Bach symphony. It was a sublime experience for the young seeker who saw drugs as a gateway to expanding consciousness and thinking differently – a theme he would return to years later in Apple’s iconic “Think Different” campaign.

Altered perception has become a hallmark of personal technology. The “Music Every Day” ad for the iPhone 5 is a series of visual snippets of Apple users enjoying their music. The study hall, the dance hall and the city are all transformed by the presence of the musical device. Freed from the humdrum of everyday life by their personal soundtrack, many of the actors appear stoned as they enjoy the heightened pleasure of being plugged in.

The Apple religion is not a religion at all, but a celebration of the self through personalized pleasure.

Reflecting on religion later in life, Jobs told biographer Walter Isaacson that different religions were all just doors to the same house, “sometimes I think the house exists, and sometimes I don’t.”

If Jobs had actually spoken to the pope from that Berkeley dorm room years ago, he may have heard something akin to what Pope Leo XIII said in 1885, a century before Macintosh:  “To hold…that there is no difference in matters of religion between forms that are unlike each other, and even contrary to each other, most clearly leads…to the rejection of all religion. ... And this is the same thing as atheism, however it may differ from it in name.”

Steve Jobs did some amazing things, but he was not a prophet. And Apple is not a religion. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

Brett T. Robinson is the author of Appletopia:Media Technology and the Religious Imagination of Steve Jobs . He is a Visiting Professor of Marketing in the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame. 

The views expressed in this column belong to Brett Robinson.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Buddhism • Media • Meditation • Movies • Opinion • Technology

soundoff (974 Responses)
  1. 7

    Gerd Lüdemann's provocative hypothesis that early Christian belief in Jesus' resurrection was the product of hallucinatory experiences originally induced by guilt-complexes in Peter and Paul is...

    sounds like a murdie resource

    October 6, 2013 at 2:21 am |
  2. Dame Parajumpers Marisol

    It is warm that you posted something like this and I am quite providential to know it. Thanks for posting this!
    Dame Parajumpers Marisol http://www.parajumpersdkpjs.com/Dame-Parajumpers-Marisol-PJS-16/

    September 18, 2013 at 10:58 pm |
  3. hharri

    observer
    What point is it you're trying to make?

    Yes Horus and Buddha came before Jesus. So did many, many other gods and myths. And yes, many parts of the story of Jesus bear striking resemblance to those stories that came before him. And some of the things attributed to Jesus sound an awful lot like the things Buddha is supposed to have said.

    ....so...what was your point?

    your point is that you lie all the time

    agreed, so, point being, beat it

    September 6, 2013 at 7:13 am |
  4. Mensaman

    Little known fact. Pope Leo 13 was a drug addict and alcoholic. He would take the two together. Cocaine mixed with wine.

    September 1, 2013 at 2:31 pm |
  5. TK

    steve jobs was just a man that helped invent over priced phones/gadgets and created a devoted following of nincompoops who probably think jobs was god and the ipone jesus!

    September 1, 2013 at 12:23 pm |
    • shamgar50

      Another Whine-dows retard I see!

      September 4, 2013 at 10:16 pm |
    • The Fladaboscan

      Jobs was such a loser that he created the largest, most successful company on earth. He also brought the mouse, graphical interface and self-installing peripherals to the market.

      Whether you believe in him or his products, he was very good at it and he truly changed the way we interact with the world.

      September 10, 2013 at 11:06 am |
  6. john creek

    Sounds like Jobs was a very smart man.

    August 31, 2013 at 2:05 pm |
  7. sam stone

    sam stone
    we are just attacking the pompous fvcks who purport to speak for god, doogie
    sam stone
    Well, we know for certain that no one speaks for god more than iron age sheep molesters, eh? amen
    sam stone
    nicetry: oooh, proxy threats of hell. pretty scary, for those who believe such tripe. interesting that you wish to spend eternity with a being from whom you have to be "saved". sort of like a spiritual stockholm syndrome. anyway, get back on your knees, beotch

    August 31, 2013 at 11:21 am |
  8. hharri

    Dear Danny and Eric, thanks for encouraging this fascinating international discussion on how believers perceive today's big events.

    thammbo thtoned has much to offer on oral s eks and pleasing jeeebus. she makes for great reading

    August 31, 2013 at 11:17 am |
  9. sam stone

    observer, you seen kelly? the one who teaches fundies how to hack cnn? she was turned off by hharri, but i hope she returns. she's the kind of dishonest, cheating, criminally minded christian that turns me on (and she's over 7 so i can't get arrested)

    August 31, 2013 at 11:13 am |
  10. hharri

    sam stone

    jeebus is waiting for you to take your rightful place on your knees, pleasing him. it is as close as a click away

    August 31, 2013 at 11:07 am |
  11. sam stone

    sam stone
    we are just attacking the pompous fvcks who purport to speak for god, doogie
    sam stone
    Well, we know for certain that no one speaks for god more than iron age sheep molesters, eh?
    sam stone
    nicetry: oooh, proxy threats of hell. pretty scary, for those who believe such tripe. interesting that you wish to spend eternity with a being from whom you have to be "saved". sort of like a spiritual stockholm syndrome. anyway, get back on your knees, beotch

    August 31, 2013 at 11:01 am |
  12. David Mortimer

    The problem is Steve Jobs thought he was God but at the end he could not save him self .

    August 31, 2013 at 6:17 am |
  13. hharri

    tshorey2013
    hharri-The point that was being made was that the sayings of Jesus can be attibuted to earlier sources, not that those sources were any more wise or holy. Nearly everything attributed to Jesus including his life story (born of a virgin, miracles, crucificion and ressurection) came from earlier mythologies. By the way if you are trying to claim the superiority of your own world view it carries more weight if you capitalize your sentences and use grammatical English. Just a tip from your friendly Athie (as you label it).
    hharri, The point is, quote those from whom Jesus is borrowing, okay? Go right ahead athies. Give it all you got. Concepts such as the resurrection and crucifixion may have been around before Christ. No proof he used them. For Pete's sake. He did live them which is more than we can say for athies who are cowardly liars. asked on August 28

    observer "Yes Horus and Buddha came before Jesus. So did many, many other gods and myths. And yes, many parts of the story of Jesus bear striking resemblance to those stories that came before him. And some of the things attributed to Jesus sound an awful lot like the things Buddha is supposed to have said."

    hh, fascinating, observer. again, what did buddha say that was attributed to jesus? no comment? then why keep repeating it if you don't know? who attributed buddha's words to jesus, any idea? and why? to correct the errors you think are in the old testament? according to you, them goat herders had no means, no education, and they were deluded, iron age nomads. so, who were the dudes following buddha 400 years earlier you appreciate so much, einstein and newton? not to worry. i promise you, now, in advance, athies CANNOT offer a serious response. they will not touch it. posted on August 26

    once and for all, they have no answers. they base all their dogma on this ridiculous lie. got nothin girls, but lies

    August 30, 2013 at 8:35 pm |
  14. hharri

    sam

    'Beoitch of the Day' award goes to Chark.

    August 29, 2013 at 11:53 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.