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. feline123

    Since he was not an engineer, who actually created these devices for which he is so well known? It seems that he was really a showman. He was known to have been needlessly cruel and overbearing to hapless employees. These products for which he is so well known and praised, will soon be obsolete and thrown away. What remains will be the memories of his character and behavior.

    October 27, 2011 at 11:27 am |
  2. Enoch

    I have never needed, used his products, he has never been part of my life, for me he never existed, like for his biological father. Anyways, R.I.P, Mr Jobs!

    October 27, 2011 at 11:16 am |
  3. Orange

    Steve Jobs was a very nasty man. He is nowhere near qualifying as a saint.

    October 27, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • Fairplay99

      The man is dead, so there is no reason to express a mean-spirited comment. I cannot envision anyone recommending him for beatification, much less sainthood, so it is a moot comment by this CNN journalist. I pointed out in a separate comment on this article, this is a media event, not the mood of the general public.

      October 27, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
  4. Larry

    Steve Jobs was a great visionary however two other people died within the same week. One of these individuals created the "C" programming language and was co-creator of UNIX. Both of these were the basis for most of technology we have today including the internet, smart phones, etc. Another man created LISP, a programming language used in AI–think robotics. Without these great "geeks", the products of Apple, Microsoft, IBM, Cisco and Linux would still be in their infancy.

    October 27, 2011 at 10:50 am |
  5. hippypoet

    771 posts on some loser dead guy named steve who some computer geek thinks should be a saint....771 posts.... yet on the article of religious folks abusing there kids there is only 191... why do people care more about steve jobs then child abuse? or is it because the abusers use religion to back there reasons for the abuse? I DON'T KNOW BUT ITS STARTING TO SICKEN ME!

    this fuking guy is dead! leave it alone!
    the are children being abused as this folks post there stupid posts in reach of humor! fuking sad!

    October 27, 2011 at 10:16 am |
  6. Mark

    Hey we did it with JESUS remember, why not somebody who's revelations and creations aren't going to lead to massacring millions of people throughout human history...

    October 27, 2011 at 9:56 am |
    • Anchorite

      Jesus wasn't made into a saint he was made into a deity. Besides, everything Jesus said, EVERYTHING, was about not massacring people and taking their stuff. It would be like smiting your dark skinned enemies in the name of Martin Luther King in 250 years, that's how messed up non-pacifists are thinking they can call themselves Christians. Jobs on the other hand already started out as kind of an egotistical jerk, so who knows what his message willl be justifying in a few thousand years.

      October 27, 2011 at 10:29 am |
  7. Neece

    Wow! The man was a genius but from what I've read, he didn't perform miracles. So my guess, is not he's not a saint! Come on now! Are we really so far removed from reality that we would glorify a MAN! Really!

    October 27, 2011 at 9:08 am |
    • cjygudwin

      What miracle did Pius XII perform other than assist the Nazis in finding jews who were hiding?
      The cheapening of the definition of sainthood begins at the top.

      October 27, 2011 at 9:16 am |
    • Anchorite

      The Catholic church has typically been pretty anti-Semitic throughout history, but it is not true that Pius XII assisted the Nazis, and he was not canonized. Pius XII is only guilty of doing nothing, the same thing Americans are guilty of while their armies slaughtered Muslims by the millions in the 1990's and 2000's.

      October 27, 2011 at 10:33 am |
    • Mark

      Jesus was A MAN!!!! People like you made him more than that a long long time ago. Maybe in a couple thousand years, everything will be based on the chronology of technology instead of JEsus and Steve Jobs will be the new son of God, for creating the standard for technology, changing the view of the world forever. You people are nuts, Steve Jobs performed numerous miracles. He made it so your MASSIVE book of CDs now can be put onto a hard drive, easily fitting in your pocket. He made sci-fi movies come to life. That's as much of a miracle as anything a saint has EVER done except maybe convert a few million people to become just like them.

      October 27, 2011 at 11:16 am |
  8. caducguy

    Is he still dead? Based on the media reports, thought for sure it would only have been 3 days and then....

    October 27, 2011 at 8:31 am |
  9. eamon

    That will be a really hard job! Saints do not exist, except in the minds of deluded people.

    October 27, 2011 at 6:51 am |
    • oneSTARman

      If you had READ the Article YOU might have a Better Idea of WHAT a Saint IS – It is someone to whom HUMANS attribute special qualities that inspire DEVOTION.

      October 27, 2011 at 9:30 am |
    • Anchorite

      It's not hard to turn him into something that didn't exist except in the minds of deluded people. Remember we're talking about Apple fans here. These people would buy a dog turd for $400 if it said Designed by Apple in California on it. They have even less self-reflection than XBox fans.

      October 27, 2011 at 10:36 am |
  10. Sindhi

    Yeah they are throw pope out of Vatican and hang his picture there!

    October 27, 2011 at 5:40 am |
  11. TampaMel

    WE, the people, are not turning Jobs into a saint, the Media is doing a fine job (no pun here) of that.

    October 27, 2011 at 5:37 am |
    • AGuest9

      CNN, especially.

      October 27, 2011 at 8:04 am |
    • TheGarderner

      wholeheartedly agree. The media have a big mouth. Leave the dead man alone.

      October 27, 2011 at 9:48 am |
  12. MeGeorge

    Holy Cow ! I can't believe how moronic this article is and how in the world it got published.

    October 27, 2011 at 5:03 am |
  13. Mickey Farrer

    Please excuse my lack of education about the U.S. Who is Mr Steve Jobs? Was he a dentist or something?

    October 27, 2011 at 4:50 am |
    • AusieSceptic1

      don't know Mickey
      I'd never heard of him before he died

      October 27, 2011 at 5:00 am |
    • TheGarderner

      Steve Job is not a genius, please. Media talks bout him too much.

      October 27, 2011 at 9:50 am |
  14. africanhero

    i live completely well and happy without any apple products, its not a necessary item at all.

    October 27, 2011 at 4:23 am |
  15. Phart

    What kind of moron would call Jobs a saint? Sure he will be a historical figure of our times but to compare him to being anything like a saint is ridiculous and insane. If this guy somehow brings forth a new religion and becomes the first saint of it I will truly start to believe that the world has turned to crap and that the end of the world is truly on its way. Also to say that “we” project qualities of holiness onto any celebrity that we have felt affections for is a little bit lame and I for one although I have enjoyed the talents of entertainers all my life have never put one up on a pedestal in any way and think that anyone who does go so far as to think of a celebrity to be anything holy is an idiot and needs help! I hated this article for so many reasons, poor writing indeed!

    October 27, 2011 at 4:11 am |
    • jOE

      Your moron is Gary M. Laderman chairman of Emory University’s religion department, The disease of religion has an answer for everything..

      October 27, 2011 at 9:32 am |
  16. Mike H.

    Steve Jobs was a technological whiz, an entrepreneur and gifted at marketing. Lots of people fit that description. That does not make them, or Jobs, a saint.

    October 27, 2011 at 4:08 am |
  17. Dawn

    Steve Jobs was who he was. The media put out endless glowing reports on Steve Jobs following his death, introduced the term saint in relation to Steve Jobs, and now asks: "Are WE turning Steve Jobs into a saint?"

    This is media hype. Most people had respected for Steve Jobs as an innovator but knew very little about him. Steve Jobs was a very private person. Now that we know more about him, we realize that he wasn't a perfect person. Nobody is without flaws, including saints.

    October 27, 2011 at 3:57 am |
    • Judith

      I quite agree with you and I doubt that Jobs would have seen himself as a saint.

      Unlike what somebody else wrote, he was not a son of satan.

      Jobs was a man with vision for design and inovation, if Mr Sugar had that vision where would Amstrad be today?

      October 27, 2011 at 4:27 am |
  18. Patricksday

    Holy People become Saints, this man was NO Saint.

    October 27, 2011 at 3:28 am |
    • bob tom

      u r absolutely right....

      October 27, 2011 at 3:46 am |
    • Judith

      Usually Holy people are made saints: However you do not have to be holy to be a saint.

      Unfortunately too many people believe the hype of religion that all morals come from religion: However humans are programmed to know right from wrong and many atheists have very strong moral fibre.

      I do not kill because I do not want to be killed, I do not steal because I do not want to be robbed but more importantly it is against my moral belief that those things are wrong but that is not based on the ten commandments; it is based on my upbringing and my care and respect for every other person no matter who they are. My father is not a religious man at all but he brought me up telling me that: "If you cannot do somebody a good turn, do not do them a bad turrn."

      October 27, 2011 at 4:37 am |
    • AGuest9

      Pontius Pilate was made a saint in the Eastern Orthodoxy.

      October 27, 2011 at 8:06 am |
  19. Ted Perlman

    He's gone home to his father Satan. Not a good guy by any means.

    October 27, 2011 at 3:20 am |
    • mikwy

      yea whats next now a movie? o wait thats what the humancetipod was for

      October 27, 2011 at 4:51 am |
    • AGuest9

      Zuckerburg had his own movie, why not Jobs? A lot of what we do is based on Jobs' work. Microsoft computers didn't use Windows until after the Mac introduced the GUI to the masses.

      October 27, 2011 at 8:08 am |
  20. watermaple

    Steve was not a saint, but just a really good person. He deserves a little respect for what he accomplished in his life. He helped to make this world a better place. Never forget that!

    October 27, 2011 at 2:46 am |
    • Pjames7

      I do agree with you on the saint thing. He was a man who understood a thing or two about being a human being. He produced something that was special, created wealth for himself and added value to the rest of us. We all benefited from his creations. He gave back. This aura of sainthood is manufactured by the media.

      October 27, 2011 at 3:47 am |
    • jOE

      Why did he export employment to China? He had items that were unique, desirable and highly profitable, yet he chose to go for the money when he could have created something great for other americans. It was all about the money, nothing else, nothing at all

      October 27, 2011 at 9:36 am |
    • ES

      Jobs didn't invent the technology behind any of his most recent products, none! He incorporated finesse, creativity, art into the products but he did not invent the hardware, apps, networking technology that powers ALL cell devices on the planet.

      October 27, 2011 at 10:28 am |
    • TheGarderner

      Better place? I am sure he helped to create a more materialistic world where people especially teens turn the world into one of consumption, indulging into what we WANT more than what we NEED __ and where does that paradigm of indulgence best played out: CHINA. Steve Jobs: Do the capitalist, Sabotage the Economy _

      October 27, 2011 at 11:25 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.