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. Rod C. Venger

    A saint? No. A visionary? No. An idea-man, yes. He was a carnival snake-oil salesman telling us how much better our lives would be if we only paid him $499 for a newer version of a phone less than a year after the last version was released, and Jobs himself stated the he mercilessly stole others ideas, this long before his "revelation" that Bill Gates stole everything he could get his hands on. Apple has always been the second-tier technology bully in the schoolyard, lagging only behind Microsoft in forcing acquisitions of other companies and their patents. Steve Jobs pretty much epitomizes everything that OWS hates in America. I dunno how anyone could consider him a saint.

    October 26, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
  2. Steve Jobs

    Worship me... we have made several apps that will help you with this.

    October 26, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • Mark Zuckerberg

      I'm dead too guys. Worship me. I sold your souls for you. You just had to "like" it.

      October 26, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
  3. Gumboz1953

    Keep this up, and I'll actually start missing Sarah Palin. CNN latches on to a celebrity, and holds on like a dog with a bone.

    It's true, we're all clicking on these damn stories. But doesn't CNN have any journalistic integrity left? I know, stupid question. ENOUGH already.

    October 26, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • Comportland

      I agree. Lohan comes to mind. I don't even know anything she has acted in except Machete and I get to read stories of her dad...her freakin' dad.

      October 26, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
  4. Dan

    Bunk. Saint? You've got to be kidding. "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." WRONG! A saint is to be admired and imitated. I don't think a saint is an 'esoteric middleman'. I don't even know what that is.

    October 26, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
  5. RobynH

    Like Princess Di,
    Death seems to be a brilliantly strategic career move for Steve Jobs.

    His past disasterous mistakes and missteps, Apple III, Lisa, Mac II, and NeXT. Losing it all to IBM and MS have been if not forgiven, then at least, mostly forgotten. The huberis, hoopla, and hyper hype can now be ignored, and only Steve Jobs, apocryphal lamb of technology remains.

    He had the good sense to leave the stage just as the iPhone4 and iPad2 peaked in a media frenzy love-in of all things Apple. All of the blame for the lackluster iPhone 4s, iPad3, and future Apple tech missteps and *yawn* products can all be layed at Tim Cook's door and Steve Jobs can forever maintain his aura of inscrutable omniscience.

    Well played, Steve.

    October 26, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
  6. jnpa

    I am very sorry that Steve Jobs died. He was a brillant man. But I am getting a little tired of seeing his photo with articles about him and his accomplishments plastered all over CNN everyday. I think it's time we let go of the man and get on with it.

    October 26, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
  7. Mike Hill

    In the end, the "great" Stebe Jobs was nothing but a selfish Objectivist who wanted to make as much money as he could at the expence of everyone else. He closed all of his U.S. computer factories and moved them to China so that he could pay the employees a dollar a day or less, and work them to death if necessary. That actually happened.

    October 26, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
  8. kite005

    Are we making Steve Jobs a saint? He did some pretty neat but I'm not making him a saint. People seem to be talking about him like it though.

    October 26, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
  9. Neil

    Every mortal is flawed, which sort of makes the world go-around. Jobs was a self serving guy who made a significant contribution to a flawed planet. Today, that same planet is improved because of his vision. I am grateful to the man and we lost someone who will be dearly missed.

    October 26, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
  10. Paul J.

    Is he a saint? Amazing that people like to make him into something that can neither be proved or disproved. Call him the second coming of Claus or the Easter wabbit while you're at it, totally worthless topics all the way around. What CNN is really trying to say in not too subtle terms, "Get a life and stop worshiping false hero's suckers (oh, and Cnn hero nominations are being accepted online through August 2012) "

    October 26, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
  11. My opinion

    No, CNN, you are making him a saint. Many of us think he was a pr!ck

    October 26, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
    • Daveid Johnson


      October 26, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
    • cageordie

      Or at least unremarkable. Just a man getting rich using other people to line his pockets. A figurehead for the ignoscenti to follow.

      October 26, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
    • ConcernedNetizen

      Indeed, it seems the media has taken a bit too much to "wag the dog". People around the world have grown aware of its spin. Moreso than certain people calculated, judging by the Occupy Wallstreet Protest turnouts..

      October 26, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
  12. PRISM 1234

    According to all that's known about him, and his private life, this man was nor is a saint and he did not know Jesus Christ, nor did he trust in Him for the atonement of his sins.
    No one on this earth can proclaim someone as a Saint. What Catholic church is doing is totally unscriptural. Either one is a child of God by adaption into God's family by Jesus Christ His Son, and that makes him/her a saint, or they are not , and they are separated from Him. No special privileges for "top ranking few", and no middle ground...
    But STeve Jobs has missed the mark, by looking for answerrs anywhere else but to the Person of Jesus Christ, the ONLY name under the heavens by which any person may be saved! What a sad waste of a life lived amiss!

    October 26, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
    • Jerry1970

      I don't know if you read the article, but I believe you are taking things too literal...

      October 26, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
  13. Wheeler1

    One can not draw a comparison between sainthood and Mr. Jobs who was a capitalist who without doubt has accomplished some great things, none of which would earn him saint status. He was a capitalist, not a humanitarian by any stretch of the imagination. That said a capitalist can become a humanitarian like Mr. Gates, maybe Mr. Jobs just never got the opportunity before his time ran out. May he rest in peace.

    October 26, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
  14. walnut

    Does CNN own Apple stock or vice versa? Everyday CNN has several articles about Apple that seem designed just to keep the newest iphone or Apple products in the news. Give it a break!

    October 26, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      CNN used to be interesting to watch until they went out of their way to bash Jesus. Now they grab at straws for any form of news since they are constantly on their secret mission behind the scenes of bashing, bashing, bashing Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.


      October 26, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
    • texaschick9

      They have click counters, so they know what people read, and they use that to decide what to post. Don't want to see any more stories about Apple? Stop clicking on stories about Apple.

      October 26, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
  15. Jenn

    maybe if you stop reporting on it every single day then it wouldn't seem this way. How about reporting some real news... like the peaceful civilian protestors who are being shot with rubber bullets and tear gas, & police critically injuring Iraq vets... WHAT THE HECK is wrong with you CNN?? This isn't news anymore... he died DAYS ago. I thought reporters were supposed to unbiasly report what is going on in the world... you know, that's why it's called NEWS!!

    October 26, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
    • Jenn

      I'm pretty sure Steve Jobs would want you to be reporting OCCUPY and other important matters and not dwelling on his death... it's done, OVER

      October 26, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • Jenn

      oh but that's right, there's a little section on the side of the page that you can hardly see for those things.... and you report them well after they happen. So much for breaking news and important headlines.

      October 26, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
  16. pastafaria

    Unlike religious saints, as well as everything else connected to religion for that matter, there is no dispute regarding the existence of the products he created, or the many benefits these products had to our society. The most recent person to be beatified by the Catholic Church was John Paul II, because he supposedly cured one woman's Parkinson's disease despite the fact that during his reign millions of other believers suffered and died from Parkinson's and other horrible diseases despite their faith and prayers – even Apple's ill fated Newton was a much better and more reliable product than this alleged saint's so called miracle healing power. Also, it's worth pointing out that so far there have not been any allegations of widespread pedophilia among Apple executives that were swept under the rug while Jobs was CEO. So no, Steve Jobs is not a saint and CNN is insulting his memory by even mentioning him in that context.

    October 26, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  17. John

    He made electronic do-dads.

    October 26, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  18. Joe

    They should vacuum desiccate his remains and sell them (excluding dust made from his head) – they can build them up as the best thing since white bread and call them iDisks like the Ferengi SOB he was – 6 moths later they can repackage them with the head dust included and call them iDisks II.

    October 26, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
  19. Eric McNew

    And so what if we are making him a saint? He's done more for humanity, and taken less for it than most of the 'saintly' people that so many people idolize

    October 26, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
  20. Skegeeace

    Innovation, wealth, power, and an interesting personality are nice traits to have...BUT...a virtuous person they do not make.

    October 26, 2011 at 3:54 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.