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

The faux religion of Steve Jobs

Opinion by Brett Robinson, Special to CNN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The medium is the message after all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The views expressed in this column belong to Brett Robinson.

- CNN Belief Blog

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

soundoff (974 Responses)
  1. Apple Bush

    May I just say this.

    August 17, 2013 at 6:36 pm |
  2. Shattered Hope

    Some tribes eat tarantulas. Fry 'em up and chow down. Do you think we can trade our cell phones for their tarantulas?

    August 17, 2013 at 6:34 pm |
    • RyGuy

      I'm sorry, but who ever said that Apple was a religion? What prompted this response article? Apple as a religion is something I would never consider, and something that I've never heard. This whole thing is bologna.

      August 19, 2013 at 6:31 pm |
  3. Reality

    "The legacy of Steve Jobs is anything but religious."

    Welcome to the 21st century !!!!!

    August 17, 2013 at 6:33 pm |
    • Shattered Hope

      Apple sells stuff right?

      August 17, 2013 at 6:35 pm |
  4. Shattered Hope

    Galaxy and HTC are best.

    Apple is crap. Always has been. Except for their computer OS. Very nice.

    August 17, 2013 at 6:31 pm |
  5. Shattered Hope

    I am not in favor of phones.

    August 17, 2013 at 6:29 pm |
  6. Shattered Hope

    Why all the fuss over someone who sold boat anchors?

    August 17, 2013 at 6:18 pm |
  7. skytag

    So, what's Brett Robinson's next big project, writing and article to make sure we all know Sony isn't a religion?

    August 17, 2013 at 6:05 pm |
    • Shattered Hope

      No, he has started a non-profit organization that benefits nations that can't afford razors that make perfect two day shadows.

      August 17, 2013 at 6:23 pm |
      • Apple Bush

        That is a two-hour shadow for me. I'm a man's man. Brazilian everywhere else though, no doubt.

        August 17, 2013 at 6:25 pm |
    • tallulah13

      The gist I get from the article is that the author that using "i" products is fun and that he doesn't like to have fun.

      August 17, 2013 at 7:06 pm |
      • Sara

        That's probably as good a translation of this article as any.

        August 17, 2013 at 10:06 pm |
  8. skytag

    The Belief Blog people are clearly desperate for material. What dumb, dumb article.

    August 17, 2013 at 5:50 pm |
    • truthprevails1

      Oh c'mon...it brings out some of the true freaks and diverts attention back to other articles that didn't get enough comments. All news stations are about viewership and ratings,...keep the comments and Turner happy. Anything to bring in a crowd.

      August 17, 2013 at 7:06 pm |
    • Troll Spotter

      Dumb comment. Go away Troll.

      August 17, 2013 at 9:07 pm |
  9. lamelionheart

    Many folks admire those who have made-the-grade and do idolize them for their intellectual prowess that many do lack... Me..? I admire people who think outside-the-box when it comes to issues of spiritual relativity and godly relationships... According to biblical scripture, we are all sons and daughters of One that most consider to be God, the creator of everything inanimate and all things animated via inanimate constructivism...

    August 17, 2013 at 5:27 pm |
    • truthprevails1

      How is that thinking outside the box? You follow a book that you hold as truth to the answers of our beginnings and are happy with that, not wishing to look further and in so many cases, not willing to accept anything that contradicts what it states.

      August 17, 2013 at 5:54 pm |
      • lamelionheart


        My stating, "God, the creator of everything inanimate and all things animated via inanimate constructivism" is an outside relevancy of boxed biblical scriptures... For something to be animated (such as life being an animation) one needs a constructivism of inanimate objects in order for there to be animations of inanimate structural reckoning beginnings from the atomized cosmological realms... For without the inanimate realms of atomized relativities there could be no animated celestial constructs...

        August 17, 2013 at 6:21 pm |
        • truthprevails1

          Blah blah blah blah...you really need to attempt to hold a rational conversation.

          August 17, 2013 at 6:34 pm |
        • lamelionheart


          Do you now the differences between "animate and inanimate"..? Do you likewise now anything about the atomized and celestial and cellular cosmologies..? Until you do understand such issues all you are seemingly doing is acting out with little purposes except to ridicule my views and perceptions without any real reasoning on your part...

          August 17, 2013 at 6:59 pm |
        • lamelionheart

          Do you likewise know anything about the atomized and celestial and cellular cosmologies..?

          August 17, 2013 at 7:01 pm |
        • lamelionheart

          Do you know the differences between "animate and inanimate"..?

          August 17, 2013 at 7:02 pm |
        • aao

          yep all of those fancy terms mean exactly nothing – it is in the long line of meaningless phrases religious people made up to justify their faith

          August 18, 2013 at 10:53 am |
  10. Sam Yaza


    August 17, 2013 at 5:24 pm |
    • truthprevails1

      We see that all the time though. Designs get leaked; ideas get leaked.

      August 17, 2013 at 5:56 pm |
    • R.Maurer

      Are we forgetting the Apple Newton? Predates the Microsoft product by a number of years.

      August 18, 2013 at 10:20 pm |
  11. Sam Yaza


    August 17, 2013 at 5:16 pm |
  12. Sam Yaza

    and the first lie about Jobs apple religion,. is that Steve jobs never had an original idea in his life time. he was how ever an exceptional marketer, i still don't own an apple product, because if i get an iPod, you need i tunes for it to work, to get i tunes to work you need an Apple pc, to get that to work you have to join his network, and if you join his network he they have access to every idea you have stored in your mac, wee they then steal it.

    August 17, 2013 at 5:15 pm |
    • skytag

      There's a version iTunes for Windows. Thanks for playing.

      August 17, 2013 at 6:07 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Good news! No one is making you purchase or use Apple products. So why are you complaining, again?

      August 17, 2013 at 7:04 pm |
  13. Thought Purification

    Brett T. Robinson, a Professor of Marketing, marketing himself to the atheist market in the US !!!!

    August 17, 2013 at 4:36 pm |
  14. lamelionheart


    August 17, 2013 at 4:33 pm |
  15. Akira

    Who would ever think Jobs is a prophet and Apple a religion?
    How absurd.
    Brett sounds like an envious juvenile. Boo hoo.

    August 17, 2013 at 4:13 pm |
    • Frank

      The same applies to Jesus and Christianity.

      August 17, 2013 at 4:19 pm |
      • Akira

        Never heard Jesus speak. Does he sound like an envious juvenile, also?

        August 17, 2013 at 4:42 pm |
        • Frank

          He sounds like a dick.

          August 17, 2013 at 4:42 pm |
        • Akira

          Brett Robinson or Jesus?

          August 17, 2013 at 5:05 pm |
        • Frank

          They both do.

          August 17, 2013 at 5:14 pm |
  16. Apple Bush

    I will take no belt of fury

    Get it the box
    Kill it with the rocks

    I will take to food to feed me

    Smash it with chains
    Drunk in the lanes

    I will be no man but bleating

    Cover your hair
    Micro tear

    I will help no hurting child

    Unlock he bank
    Start up the tank

    I will live little in happiness

    Lock the door
    Shut the drapes

    August 17, 2013 at 4:04 pm |
  17. Apple Bush

    With some encouragement, I have decided to adopt a philosophy:

    I am now esoteric in my feelings towards believers that that are agnostic.

    August 17, 2013 at 3:51 pm |
  18. Frank

    All religions are fake. Why not worship jobs? He's a better role model than Jesus.

    August 17, 2013 at 2:57 pm |
    • Athy

      Made a lot more money.

      August 17, 2013 at 4:36 pm |
  19. The Faux Unshaven Face of Brett Robinson

    Many men enjoy poking a little fun at Brett's 48 hour, while others enjoy the rugged look. I am in the clean shaven school. I fine the retro look more intuitive.

    August 17, 2013 at 1:28 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      I like the 24, but the 48 it too heavy and he loses some of his intelligent look. I bit too wizardly.

      August 17, 2013 at 3:53 pm |
  20. Apple Bush


    A man once achieved notoriety when he plastered the walls, ceiling and floor of an entire room with memorabilia from his life. The most sacred of all life’s moments were represented. Birth, marriage, death.

    When he sold the house a few weeks later, he was asked why.

    The man said, “Because I want to see how the new owners will choose to decorate the room.” He snapped a photograph of the house and walked away.

    August 17, 2013 at 1:03 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.