Short Takes: Are we turning Steve Jobs into a saint?
Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, who died this month, was published this week.
October 26th, 2011
06:00 AM ET

Short Takes: Are we turning Steve Jobs into a saint?

CNN asked four experts on religion and technology to weigh in on whether former Apple chief Steve Jobs is achieving a kind of secular sainthood. Here are their responses:

Steve Jobs for Sainthood? Absolutely.

Gary M. Laderman is chairman of Emory University’s religion department, director of the online magazine Religion Dispatches and author of "Sacred Matters."

The face. The face is everywhere now.

Steve Jobs the man is dead. But Steve Jobs the myth is only growing in stature and will only continue to grow as a cultural point of reference as an inspiring model for aspiring entrepreneurs, as a compelling success story with perplexing moral commitments and as an appealing icon whose life, death and products will, for many, cross over the line from profane to sacred.

In a USA Today review of Walter Isaacson’s new book, "Steve Jobs," the author rightly suggests that no Silicon Valley figure has attained the “mythical status” of Jobs and notes his “almost messianic zeal” for work.

Why the religious language to characterize his life and death? How does a mere mortal transform into a superhuman, glorified cultural hero?

Jobs has been the object of numerous memorials, and tributes - more than a million - are being posted on Apple’s “Remembering Steve” webpage, with condolences as well as testimonials about how Jobs and his products have touched and indeed transformed the lives of countless individuals.

Make no mistake about it, the veneration we are seeing in the aftermath of Jobs’ death is religious through and through - not “kinda” religious, or “pseudo” religious,” or “mistakenly” religious, but a genuine expression for many of heartfelt sacred sentiments of loss and glorification.

It is not tied to any institution like a church or to any discrete tradition like Buddhism; it is, instead, tied to a religious culture that will only grow in significance and influence in the years ahead: the cult of celebrity.

As more and more people move away from conventional religions and identify as “nones” (those who choose to claim “no religion” in polls and surveys), celebrity worship and other cultural forms of sacred commitment and meaning will assume an even greater market share of the spiritual marketplace.

In life Jobs may have been something of an enigma who maintained his privacy and generally stayed out of the public limelight. In death, Jobs now is an immortal celebrity whose life story, incredible wealth, familiar visage, and igadgets will serve as touchstones for many searching for meaningful gods and modes of transcendence.

It has been said that death is the great equalizer - rich and poor, successes and failures, the powerful and the disempowered cannot escape the one inevitable fact of human existence.

Jobs and other celebrities cannot escape this reality, but unlike you and me, they live on in the memories of fans and followers and become guiding lights in the mundane darkness of our ordinary lives.

Reassessing Jobs' elevation to sainthood

James Martin, SJ, is a Jesuit priest and author of "My Life with the Saints" and "Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor and Laughter are at the Heart of the Religious Life."

Asking if we have turned Steve Jobs into a saint is different from asking if he was a saint. The first question turns on how society sees the digital-age genius. That’s a question of perception.

The second turns on how Mr. Jobs lived his life. That’s more a question of reality. The first is easy to answer; the second less so.

So onto the easy answer: Yes, we have turned Steve Jobs into a saint, in the same way that we often project qualities of holiness onto any celebrity with whom we felt affection.

The reactions to his death, which both surprised and moved me, mirrored the ways that many respond to the passing of those revered as “living saints,” like Mother Teresa.

But it wasn’t hard to see why people reacted with displays of quasi-religious affection, like leaving handwritten messages at Apple stores, offering heartfelt tributes on Twitter and posting worshipful photos on Facebook.

After all, he had several things in common with the saints. Steve Jobs was - and obituary writers seemed obliged to use the word - a visionary. (The word originally described the mystics, who were literal visionaries.)

Jobs was the object of a “cult,” in the classic Christian sense: someone who evokes great devotion and whose words and actions are anticipated, catalogued and scrutinized.

Like the saints, he was both worldly (manifestly human in his foibles) and otherworldly (particularly in his protean creativity). He gave us something we didn’t know we needed. He was mysterious.

Finally, Mr. Jobs was, as his now-famous Stanford commencement speech shows, a spiritual man in his own way.

Yet there is a key difference between the saints and Mr. Jobs that we may overlook. For all of his talents, Mr. Jobs did not seem to be - to put this as charitably as possible - the kindest man in the world, which is something of a requirement for a real saint.

Walter Isaacson’s new biography, "Steve Jobs," is chock full of incidents of its subject’s less-than-charitable behavior. And even though the saints didn’t always act lovingly, that is a rock-bottom requirement for a saint: kindness.

So here’s a third question: Is it accurate to speak of Steve Jobs as a saint? Probably not.

There are many other worthy, albeit lesser known, people who have not only accomplished great things but also have done them without, as a New York Times column said of Mr. Jobs, “incorrigible bullying, belittling and lying.”

People who were both creative and kind. Successful and charitable. Hard-working and forgiving.

Perhaps Mr. Jobs is, as all those editorial cartoons have depicted, in heaven showing St. Peter how to use an iPad. I hope so.

But a saint? To answer that question let’s begin not with how successful a person was, or even how much they changed the world, but how much they loved. Even if you spend more time with iPods than icons, “saint” isn’t a word to be thrown around lightly.

How Jobs' sainthood was derailed

Leander Kahney is editor and publisher of CultofMac.com, a news site that tracks Apple and the people who use its products.

Steve Jobs was quickly on his way to becoming canonized when a strange thing happened. Walter Isaacson's authorized biography hit bookstands.

Following his death earlier this month, the outpouring of grief for Jobs was huge and unprecedented. All over the world, people felt a keen sense of loss. Not since Michael Jackson has there been such an outpouring of public grief. And it's never before been lavished on the CEO of a Fortune 500 corporation.

But Jobs was no mere business leader. He was a cultural figure of the highest order. He was an artist whose medium was business and technology.

He crafted superb products that had great impact on our lives, His products, or copies of his products, have become near universal in the West. We all have computers, iPods and iPhones. They are indispensable - at work and play. They are well crafted. Before the iPhone, people hated their cell phones.

The story of Jobs' life also touched many people. He was an adoptee, a college dropout who enjoyed great success but also battled near-devastating setbacks and failures. He became an inspiration to lots of different people, from aspiring entrepreneurs to transplant patients.

He's a good candidate for a saint. There was something otherworldly about him. He clearly wasn't like the rest of us.

His severe aestheticism, his stern, intimidating self-assurance, his complexity: He was a Buddhist anti-materialist who made the world's most desirable products. A leftist multibillionaire who loved Bob Dylan but off-shored production to China. An elitist loner whose stated ambition was to democratize complex technology and make it easy enough for any bozo to use.

He was cut short in his prime. He was just getting started really. For most of his career, Jobs was regarded with skepticism or disdain. The business press regarded him as a mercurial madman who was good at marketing and got lucky with the iPod.

But when the iPhone took off, and Apple became the most valuable company in the world, he was suddenly lionized as the world's greatest CEO.

There was always the problem of his horrible reputation as a manager, of course. Everyone knew about the legendary tantrums, the outburst, insults and humiliations. That often got swept under the rug. It was just Steve being Steve.

Quirks, oddities, the price paid to put a dent in the universe. No one seemed to mention his lack of philanthropy, or the Chinese sweatshops that made his products.

And Isaacson's biography shows that Jobs' mean streak is much worse than we ever suspected. On page after page, the book details just how mean he could be. It's actually exhausting and more than a little bit depressing reading about the incessant torrent of outbursts and humiliations heaped upon his hapless colleagues - even the ones he liked.

The initial reaction is one of muted shock - people aren't liking what they're reading. Headlines like "Jobs the Jerk" aren't helping the canonization process.

But it's early days. The book has been out only a few days. Jobs' life and career were marked by bouncing back. Perhaps his reputation will outlive his own biography after all.

Steve Jobs was a saint. At least partly.

Gerardo Marti is L. Richardson King Association Professor of Sociology at Davidson College and author of "Worship across the Racial Divide" and "Hollywood Faith."

The passing of Steve Jobs provoked an outpouring of appreciation for a man who, frankly, most people did not really know.

Admiring his company, his design, and the devices he promoted, mass sympathy gave way to an idealization of the person behind the products. The recent accumulation of reams of Post-it Notes on retail Apple Store windows is one of many testaments to his status as a fetishized icon.

Should we be idolizing this assuredly genius entrepreneur?

Let's be honest. Steve Jobs was no saint, that much is clear. Every day we know more about his character, most recently through the startling revelations in the best-selling biography published by Walter Isaacson.

Jobs could be callous and cold. He rejected paternity of his first daughter. He refused many co-workers the riches of company stock options. He thought of himself as smarter than just about anyone else he
ever met.

If "saintliness" is measured by the virtues of extraordinary kindness, generosity or humility, Jobs fails the test.

However, "saintliness" in religious practice is less measured by a person's moral perfection than his or her ability to serve as a mediator between the ordinary and the transcendent.

In lived religious experience, a saint is not always admired as a righteous person to be imitated. But a saint is always trusted as a negotiator, a bridge-builder, an esoteric "middleman," who removes obstacles, facilitates progress and promotes blessing.

Fundamentally, a saint is an intermediary who makes the intangible accessible and more readily available.

Jobs had a single-minded vision for the varied media he designed, making complicated technology supremely accessible. He promoted his own genius while striving to bring out the genius of others.

In doing so, Jobs accomplished what few are able to do: connect with everyday lives, enrich people's aesthetics with evidence of beauty and offer tools for exercising personal gifts and talent.

Steve Jobs is certainly not a god-some otherworldly being who wrangles with intangible spirits in a largely unseen realm for justice or glory.

Instead, we see Jobs as an imperfect mortal who crafted software that stimulated our imagination alongside machines that motivated a seamlessness between ideas and objects, making the elusive tangible, decreasing the distance between ourselves and our ideals.

Jobs is being canonized to a secular sainthood as a flawed, charismatic visionary who transformed wires and plastic into sophisticated, supremely handy tools fitted alternatively to the demands and the dreams
of everyday life.

Yes, he altered the trajectories of whole industries, but for the ordinary worshipper, Jobs alleviated our frustrations while allowing us to go beyond them in cultivating words, objects and whole environments that give us fulfillment while productively transforming the world.

The opinions expressed in these commentaries are solely those of the authors.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Technology

soundoff (848 Responses)
  1. Bob

    Unfortunately yes. He was an a$$. Read the book. He did not invent anything. Others did. He was just a good marketing manager. He used other people's abilities: he couldn't write a line code "hello world". And furthermore he was very mean.
    The fan base made him a saint? He was an exploiter border line sociopath.

    October 26, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
  2. PDrapala

    Nope, he just a genius in our times.

    October 26, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
    • Dad

      His legacy is how he treated his family. His company supports a communist country that has a history of human rights abuse. His products will be obsolete in a year or two. He was a hero to his stock holders not to his neglected daughter, he was adored by geeks the world over but not by his daughter.

      October 26, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
  3. Monbois

    Gary M. Laderman is a whack job. The pseudo grief people are "suffering" is not religious at all – it's sad for them to think that someone they've admired so much (because they've been suckered into believing Apple's continuing propaganda) is dead. This doesn't mean the all believe he was saintly in life or is watching over them now like some creepy guardian angel. It means they're sad just as the blind faithful of dictators throughout history are sad when their oppressor dies – they really did believe he cared for them, whereas in real life the deceased conquerer had nothing but contempt for his most reverent followers.

    Obviously Jobs wasn't a political dictator, but he was a corporate one, and his perpetual image during his life and now that stark B&W photo of him being shoved in our faces every day is straight out of '1984' – he consciously and willingly – even enthusiasticall – turned himself into Big Brother. Apple's current leadership must be giddy at the outpouring of grief of so many millions who happily let Apple sucker them out of their money.

    For example, today I'm having trouble syncing my iPhone with iTunes, and even though I bought an expesive warrenty plan, Apple still want's me to pay to address an "Incident".

    Yes, Jobs was a visionary, but he was no saint – he was an aggressive, greedy corporate shark, and the size of his teeth were only matched in life by Bill Gates. And rest assured we'll also be exposed to the same sickening propaganda when Microsoft's founder kicks, too.

    October 26, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
    • me

      hardly... at least Gates gives to charity and research. $teve Job$ or Apple never did. They used their "war chest" for patent trolling and buying up other technologies to call their own. At least Gates is a respected memeber of the charitable community despite his business practices in the 90s. $teve Job$ took his ego and his selfishness to the grave, never giving one thought to helping others.

      October 26, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
    • MattMarkLukeJohn

      I was a Mac user until iStuff turned Apple into a cult. I hate cults, so I switched to Windows, which everybody hates and most people use.
      Steve Jobs knew how to exploit pop culture with gadgets; but in all other respects he was out of touch with reality. I think it was his mental illness that killed him prematurely.
      I used to think Bill Gates was mentally ill; but I view him differently now. His priorities have changed for the better.

      October 26, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
  4. Chuck Creig

    Uh..YEAH, because CNN and other newsmedia keep running stories, bios, restrospectives, op-eds, and every other possible excuse to put that face on the homepage day after day. Here's a tip, the MEDIA dictates the trend, not the people. If you want a story to die, it's up to YOU to kill it, not us. 14 Year old girls will continue to buy Britney Spears albums until the marketing train stops pushing it. And then, guess what happens, 14 year old girls stop buying Britney Spears albums. It's not because they actually LIKE Britney Spears. It's because people en masse respond to what the media tells them. But then, you know this. So don't write an article asking "are we making Steve Jobs a saint?" The answer is no, we're not. YOU are.

    October 26, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
  5. jmpgfoto

    People tend to get carried away without even knowing who a person is or was. Steve Jobs (by all accounts) was not a particularly pleasant person and he was not a technical genius, he was a great pitchman and advertising genius, no less, no more. He was autocratic, opinionated, a control freak (do it his way or go away) and he took egotisism to a whole new lever. Did he save Apple, probably, did he invent the products, NO, but he knew how to promote them in a way that no one else had ever done. He dumped other people by the roadside, those who helped him and Apple, without ever looking back certainly not a saintly way of doing things. I think we can call him an icon of advertising but in an age where people are always looking to call someone a hero I think we can safely say that Jobs is not it.

    October 26, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
  6. Bob

    No, you retards.

    October 26, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
  7. Greg

    yes. in todays' environtment we are over stating such an event. he made tons of money off of his great ideas, like he deserved to do so. however, we occasionally deem success as equating to the honors of a hero.

    October 26, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
    • jmpgfoto

      We should get this straight. He was great at promoting the products but he was not the inventor of the products. Other people were responsible for creating the inventions that has made Apple famous and they are not getting the credit they deserve. Apple is not one man and many others have put their blood into those products. Jobs is probably one of the greatest pitchmen history has ever known, a modern era P. T. Barnum but he is not the creator of all he promoted!

      October 26, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
  8. Jesus Is Lord

    Jesus is the answer. He is the ONLY way to the Father in Heaven. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, repent, obey and be saved!

    October 26, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
    • MattMarkLukeJohn

      That was two thousand years ago. Steve Jobs is the latest answer. Get an iPhone and be saved.

      October 26, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
    • WA

      Amen!!! Jesus is LORD.

      October 26, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
    • kire

      You need to repent you filthy sinner, don't tell others to obey anything. Mindless drone.

      October 26, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
  9. Izzie1

    Genious, yes. Fascinating human being, yes. Inventor illustrissimo, yes. Saint, nope. He didn't even believe in God 100%.

    October 26, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
  10. Dan

    No idea who he was, till he died. Does not interest me, at all. The PRESS has certainly made him into a saint. Still don't care though. Sorry.

    October 26, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
    • shoos

      I think someone is trying to make a buck off of a dead person's name.

      October 26, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
    • Hubert Humperdink

      Well, Dan, how enlightened you are! You tried to make yourself look good with your statement, but you just ended up looking like a dope. You may not care about Jobs, his accomplishments, and you may not use any of his products, but to not know who he was just shows how out of touch with reality you are, and how wrapped up and blinded you are in your own smugness. Do try to look down from Mt. Intellectual Superiority once in a while and try to learn about the real world, even if you don't like computer gadgets.

      October 26, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
    • Amy

      I have no idea who you are, but I'm not going to be a jerk and say I don't care about you when you die. Geez.

      October 26, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
  11. MattMarkLukeJohn

    Jobs is beyond sainthood; He is the Saviour.
    Steve Jobs gave his life so the world could have iPhones.

    October 26, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
    • News Flash

      First of all, those 4 "evangelists" were groups of editors, who compiled and rearranged the various early forms of the MANY gospels. Their "books" were no more important than any other ancient Near Eastern manuscripts, until Constantine used the church to organize and unify the power systems in the Empire. Second, if YOU imply that YOU are as important, (self righteous), as they, you are even more deluded than you appear. Third, Jobs was one of the technological pioneers, and in the continuing present day "parabolic" evolution of Ho'mo sapiens, from it's non-tech past to it's eventual man/machine state, he will be seen as a giant. Say bye-bye to your old books.

      October 26, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
    • Monbois

      LOL!!! 🙂

      October 26, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
  12. Portland tony

    The media is going a little over the top covering his death and biography. Obviously he was a visionary. He excelled at industrial design and electronic product integration.! And apparently a financial genius. Yet he was only a man with frailties like the rest of us! You may call him what you choose, I'd call him a man.

    October 26, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
  13. Larry

    Glad I don't own any of this guys gadgets, never have and never will. He might of been a visionary but he also was a fruitcake.

    October 26, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
    • shoos

      I agree, I didn't know squat about the guy until these articles, he came off as a fruitcake to me too. He had a big ego and big dollars to indulge it.

      October 26, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
    • Fred

      This would be like swearing off cars because Henry Ford was a nazi.

      October 26, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
    • Amy

      I'd say someone who wouldn't buy the products of a particular company simply because he feels the late/former CEO was crazy is the biggest nut in the bowl! Look in the mirror...

      October 26, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
  14. Dot44

    If Steven Jobs didn't take Woz's computer public...Woz would still be living in his parent's garage. Jobs had the vision and ability to make the hobby machine a world changer. IBM would have sat on it for an eternity and we would still be using COBOL & punch cards.

    October 26, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
  15. Jatodog

    CNN sure is trying. CNN has more Apple/Jobs coverage than all the other major news outlets combined.

    October 26, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
  16. Norm

    For those of you who think this guy personally invented and designed the gadgets you have, you have been brainwashed by the media once again.
    Maybe CNN can the right thing and mention the hundreds if not thousands of talented individuals that did the actual miracle work so this guy could stand up in front of audiences and take the credit (and profits) for it.
    It disgusts me to see daily praise here at CNN for this guy.
    Why not give credit for the smart phone to Alexander Grahmbell for that matter.
    Same scenerio.....
    Let Jobs go.
    You're making everyone sick of hearing his name.

    October 26, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
  17. orp_MD

    Steve Jobs, and "secular sainthood" (<-whatever that is...) can be argued without limits. "Secular" or not, the following, attributed to Saint Thomas Aquinas, 'hits the nail on the head': “To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.” St. Thomas Aquinas.

    October 26, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
  18. iMacMike

    The more I read about Jobs, the more I think he had undiagnosed Asperger's Syndrome. His lack of social skills, his laser-like focus on small details that most people don't see or care about, his obsessive compulsions with various diets and alternative medicine, and his total intolerance of anyone who would dare disagree with his analysis of anything. It all fits. Even his clothing style seems compulsive... jeans, turtle neck, and converse sneakers. He wore the same thing whether doing a Macworld demo or lounging at home.

    Not to take anything away from the man... if he did have Asperger's, it makes him even more interesting.

    October 26, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Interesting observation. Thanks for sharing.

      October 26, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
    • Amy

      Possibly a mild form, but he certainly had strong (VERY strong) social skills. Yes, he yelled at employees, but he was also extremely charismatic, which is why he had a cult following. He was the one who enthusiastically marketed the Apple I initially. He was famous for his charisma.

      October 26, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
  19. cajuncatdude

    Apple haters aside, I never was a Jobs admirer. I read "The Journey is the Reward" almost 30 years ago and knew if I ever met him he'd remember it In recent years I received an iPhone 3 as a gift, and regardless my feelings for Jobs, finally became an Apple fan boy. Saying he is a saint is an insult to sainthood. The only diety he worshiped was Steve Jobs . Even Bill Gates is busy trying to buy his way into heaven after years of cut throat business. Please folks, lets pick our saints based on more humane requirements. Let God judge Jobs and Gates.

    October 26, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
    • Norm

      Let's be real.
      This is a guy that stole most of his concepts through corporate espionage and rushed them out onto the market, unfinshed and untested so he could claim credit for the idea.
      The media is a sickness that thrives on invented propaganda.

      October 26, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
    • me

      Gates made billions and is now giving billions back through charities. When did $teve Job$ EVER give money to charity? When did he EVER give money to cancer research? When did he EVER compensate those families of people needing transplants just because he bought his way to the front of the line. Mind you, people with cancer rarely ever get transplants. Steve Jobs hired smart people to design smart things for him while he took the credit and marketed the heck out of them. People need to quit thinking that Steve invented the iphone. HE DID NOT. He hadn't invented anything himself over the past 20 years. FACT.

      October 26, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
    • Fred

      @ Norm
      Jobs NEVER claimed to be an inventor, but he was a heck of an innovator and he had ideas and charisma. How many great inventions go nowhere because the inventor can't get people to buy in? It's almost a backlash isn't it? People are so upset with his success that even when his raw humanity and imperfection is exposed (not that we didn't know already) and there's still people who feel the need to pile on. Never mind that he changed the world as we know it.

      October 26, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
    • Amy

      Steve Jobs DID give money to charity, mostly through his wife's name. He just didn't feel the need to get a publicist to announce it to the world, because he was donating because he wanted to, not because he wanted publicity.

      October 26, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
  20. Joe

    This is just a timing thing – give it 5 years and he will be barely remembered.
    There is a good reason the Catholic Church (which sitll amazingly believes in Saints) has time limits before anyone can be nominated precisely because of this phenomenon

    October 26, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
    • me

      i hope so.. the masses are suffering from Apple fatigue yet the media still feels the need to continue with this fallacy.

      October 26, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
    • Amy

      I will ALWAYS remember and miss Steve Jobs. ALWAYS!

      October 26, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
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About this blog

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.