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. Andrew

    Yes he was very saintly stealing from his friends, using sweatshop labor and cutting all philanthropic activities of Apple.

    October 26, 2011 at 10:11 am |
    • cody

      hows that hateraid taste? hey who stole the GUI from Xerox and made it better for the average person? oh thats right apple. no one else was apple to see the potential in that technology but jobs. hey who still this idea from apple oh thats right Bill Gates. PIRATES OF SILICON VALLEY. you're sh it is old news homie.

      October 26, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
    • beelzebubba

      RE: "cody... who stole the GUI from Xerox and made it better for the average person? oh thats right apple....hey who still this idea from apple oh thats right Bill Gates."
      Cody, do know who Jobs hired to write the code for that GUI? You should sit down... it was(ulp!) Microsoft. But you shouldn't feel like a fool... there are millions of fanboys just like you who also believe fairytales like "Apple computers don't have Microsofts security problems 'cause their operating system is based on UNIX. Right, fanboy?

      October 27, 2011 at 2:04 am |
  2. John

    This continued coverage of Steve Jobs only reinforces how much of a cult leader Steve Jobs became and continues to be even in death. Even the media has become caught up in the cult nature of his image. He certainly was no saint and those of us who did not have a blind eye to what he really was always believed that his image was tarnished but kept hidden. I admire his professional work. But I never admired him as a human being. I think he was selfish, ego swollen and manipulative. Later in life I think after being diagnosed he started to change. But I think his time had run out.

    October 26, 2011 at 10:11 am |
  3. DaiBry

    He was a LEGEND!!! Nuff said "people of earth." peace! DaiBry OUT!

    October 26, 2011 at 10:10 am |
    • John Farmer

      He was a legend as a salesman, but nothing more. He didn't invent anything, he just took what other people had done, made it look pretty, slapped an Apple logo on the back and sold it to the masses. He knew all the Apple fanboys would buy it up regardless of how he sold it.

      October 26, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
  4. General Specific

    Enough with Steve Jobs! Let the man rest in peace for crying out loud. CNN is especially bad about propping up Mr. Jobs with these ridiculous articles on a daily basis. Trying to get cheap hits, come on CNN..there IS other news out there.

    October 26, 2011 at 10:10 am |
  5. DaiBry

    He was a legend. Nuff said!

    October 26, 2011 at 10:09 am |
  6. V. P.

    Yes, mostly you resporters are trying to make Mr Jobs look like a saint. But when I heard how Mr Jobs denied one of children for years. That told me that he is just another human just like the rest of us, or no excuse me not like me. Because I raised my child as a single parent and never denied her. He was a visionary but certainly NO SAINT.

    October 26, 2011 at 10:09 am |
    • becer

      I agree, no one is a saint...He was , smart, he was rich and now he's dead.RIP let's move on. Also CNN, how long do you plan on leaving this story, the Bieber adoption non-story and the J-Ho breaking down on stage story on? Come on man, give me something worth reading. I guess I'll visit the Faux News for about a week until you guys decide to change this crap...

      October 26, 2011 at 10:14 am |
  7. Perspective

    I see Steve as a thief of other's ideas which the Apple cult followers religiously and blindly attribute to him. I mean seriously what product did he invent? Everything Apple makes is a knock off. I will give Apple credit that it does a great job of ergonomic design and marketing, that is its strength. Which again can be attributed to other agencies such as design studios like Frog. Therefore Steve cannot be considered a saint. He should be revered along side many captains of industry who used unscrupulous business practices to where the end justifies the means.

    October 26, 2011 at 10:08 am |
    • cody

      apple didnt invent... everyone stills ... jobs/apple simply saw the potential in technology where others didnt. thats the point. please you sound really really ignorant about apple. do your research before you talk cr ap. you just sound like every other apple hater talking out of their as s.

      October 26, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
    • Paul J.

      "Everyone stills" ??? You continually call people ignorant and then misspell words in your posts calling them as such. Not very bright cody.

      October 26, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
  8. bbuvie

    The press is making him a saint and it's very sad. There are so many developers and programmers that worked on those products that have been left by the wayside in light of a man who seemed a bit arrogant albeit a visionary. The media is out of control on so many fronts.

    October 26, 2011 at 10:07 am |
  9. Wanna be Saint

    Would it make me a Saint it i say I predicted this just after he died....

    October 26, 2011 at 10:06 am |
  10. Sheeple

    Nobody who has a child and publicly refutes her existence is a saint.

    October 26, 2011 at 10:06 am |
  11. MiddleWay14

    I'm not. The media and his fanboys, on the other hand, certainly are.

    October 26, 2011 at 10:04 am |
  12. Tannim

    "Saint" Steve Jobs?


    Google Dennis Richie to discover the real man behind the Internet and 99% of modern computing, without whom Jobs (and Gates!) are zeros.

    October 26, 2011 at 10:02 am |
    • Matt

      You obviously have no clue what your talking about but its funny how idiots like you spout out statistics like that with no evidence. Typical liberal fuking doosh bag.

      October 26, 2011 at 10:07 am |
    • Sheeple

      Matt, are you serious? Did you even bother to Google Dennis Ritchie? The man created the C programming language as well as UNIX which, by the way, ALL of Apple's OSs have been based off of.

      October 26, 2011 at 10:10 am |
  13. Ken


    October 26, 2011 at 10:01 am |
    • Matt

      Yes, exactly. Americans are fat and lazy. I will never hire an American when a hard working immigrant needs a job. Americans want $50 per hour to sweep floors and want to work 1/2 days. That is why we all outsource you fuking idiots.

      October 26, 2011 at 10:08 am |
    • Adam

      Matt, you seem to hate this country so much so do us all a favor and leave. You state so elequently that you would hire immigrants over American labor so cut out the middle man and open a sweatshop in China. You'll be loved so much, almost as much as Gaddafi, oh wait his own people shot him in the face.

      October 26, 2011 at 11:36 am |
  14. Scott

    Only a religious man would try to bring religion into this. Maybe you should do an article on how all the jocks in the country routinely idolize Ruth, Jordan, or Brady as patron saints of sports.

    October 26, 2011 at 10:01 am |
  15. icy

    yes we are enough already from a man not even smart enough to grow up and get back right with God.

    October 26, 2011 at 10:00 am |
    • hippypoet

      please, which god do you speak of for there are many?

      October 26, 2011 at 10:01 am |
    • Paul J.

      Which god icy? The eye for an eye god or the reinvented turn the other cheek god. Christians make it up as they go along.

      October 26, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
  16. hippypoet

    saint hippypoet... i like it, it has a certain ring to it.

    October 26, 2011 at 10:00 am |
    • Chuckles

      I like Saint Chuckles, the patron saint of Laughing a lot better

      October 26, 2011 at 10:09 am |
    • hippypoet

      yes laughter is good, but i am the patron saint of passing it left, and short term memory loss... i create the laughs foundation!

      October 26, 2011 at 10:11 am |
    • Chuckles

      Well the right aint right..... and so Saint Hippypoet would be the patronsaint of the herb?

      October 26, 2011 at 10:12 am |
    • hippypoet

      i can ROLL with that! LOL

      October 26, 2011 at 10:36 am |
  17. EdR

    A saint? More like a hand job.

    October 26, 2011 at 9:59 am |
  18. Clyde M

    Maybe our society is in a dark and scary place and in need of new age saints.
    If our society wants to find elevated value in innovation, creativity, productivity, and responsible success...I say its about time. I'll take Steve Jobs on our society's highest pedestal over the Snooki's and Michael Vicks of the world any day.

    October 26, 2011 at 9:54 am |
    • Happy

      I would put people who volunteer their time in a soup kitchen on a pedestal before I would any of the people you mentioned.

      People that give and expect nothing in return are the true Saints of the world.

      October 26, 2011 at 9:57 am |
    • Happy

      Sorry, I should have worded that as my opinion and not a fact.

      October 26, 2011 at 9:58 am |
    • Ian

      Snooki is a degenerate self-absorbed young woman. Michael Vick is just a guy that passes a ball and screwed up really bad once.

      October 26, 2011 at 10:02 am |
    • johndanger

      @happy. well said. you're absolutely right. thankyou.

      October 26, 2011 at 10:09 am |
  19. palintwit

    The canonization of Sarah Palin is imminent. Why not Steve Jobs ?

    October 26, 2011 at 9:53 am |
  20. Happy

    No, "WE" are not turning him into a Saint. iSheep look at him as a Saint. I actually read a post referring to him as God and going as far as to say a prayer to him. I have no choice than to view that type of behavior as a major malfunction.

    October 26, 2011 at 9:53 am |
    • deemery


      October 26, 2011 at 9:58 am |
    • 2cent

      ^^ This!!. Agree 100%

      WE the normal people ARE NOT making him anything. The idiot press wants too!

      October 26, 2011 at 9:59 am |
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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.