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. John P. Tarver

    Steve Jobs and PT Barnum, finding suckers everywhere.

    August 18, 2013 at 1:23 pm |
    • Ken

      Religious cults such as the more extreme Christian sects are some of the best places to find gullible people.

      August 18, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
  2. Good Article

    Good Article!!!

    August 18, 2013 at 1:22 pm |
    • Thank You

      Thank You!!!

      August 18, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
  3. Clay

    Way to kill a buzz, dude.

    August 18, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
  4. John P. Tarver

    It is the same social political movement that caused the Nobel Committee to reject Relativity and force Einstein to manufacture the mathematical contrivance of the Photon, as the alternative to Relativity. It is the same social political agenda that causes Wiki to have a fake definition of relativity online today.


    August 18, 2013 at 1:13 pm |
    • Ken

      I somehow doubt your ability to comprehend arguments about GR.

      August 18, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
      • Athy

        Well, he certainly can't seem to comprehend the simple rules of capitalization.

        August 18, 2013 at 4:13 pm |
  5. Colin

    From the national Cathedral to the smallest back country steeple, a million buildings bear dramatic witness to one nation under God. God bless the United States of America, founded by Christians for Christians.

    August 18, 2013 at 1:09 pm |
    • Victor

      Baloney. The founders were deists, dummy.

      August 18, 2013 at 1:10 pm |
      • Victor

        and atheists.

        August 18, 2013 at 1:10 pm |
        • John P. Tarver

          The social political agenda of Apple is the same one begun by the fascists.

          August 18, 2013 at 1:15 pm |
        • evoc

          Atheism is a negative perception of an enlightened state of mind.

          August 18, 2013 at 1:45 pm |
        • Richard Cranium

          Atheism is the dis-belief in gods. Nothing more There are no negative nor possitive spins you can put on it.

          All people are atheists, or they believe in all gods that have ever been worshipped by mankind. If you don't beleive in Zeus, you are an atheist.

          One can have an elightnened state of mind without the need for gods, so you statement is flat out false.

          August 18, 2013 at 1:59 pm |
      • Colin

        Not quite vic but thanks for playing. The God of the founders was the God of the Bible, the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob. The God of Messiah, the Christian God.

        August 18, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
        • tallulah13

          Special Troll for Jesus.

          August 18, 2013 at 1:18 pm |
    • tallulah13

      You are lying Colin, and I suspect you know you are lying.

      August 18, 2013 at 1:17 pm |
      • Colin

        Only a fool would mistake the Truth for a lie. Thanks for providing proof tal.

        August 18, 2013 at 1:27 pm |
        • tallulah13

          Only a complete liar (and traitor to this nation) would make the false claims that you do. You are either ignorant or a blatant liar, but any way you look at it, you are wrong.

          August 18, 2013 at 1:37 pm |
    • Colin

      Truth is never trolling.

      August 18, 2013 at 1:21 pm |
      • TKO

        Unintentionally funny.

        August 18, 2013 at 1:33 pm |
    • Hear This


      The Washington National Cathedral has no more to do with the U.S. government than do National Rent-a-Car or The First National Bank or any others with "National" in their ti.tles. It is a private Episcopal church.

      August 18, 2013 at 1:34 pm |
  6. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things ,

    August 18, 2013 at 1:02 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      Daily pair of lies from the prayer bot.

      August 18, 2013 at 1:08 pm |
      • Colin

        Two wonderful Truths. One with the handle and another with the message.

        August 18, 2013 at 1:11 pm |
        • tallulah13

          Actually, for something to be called a "truth" it has to be supported by evidence. You can honestly say that you think these are wonderful opinions, but you are lying when you call them truths.

          August 18, 2013 at 1:15 pm |
      • Richard Cranium

        How is atheism unhealthy, and why do you think prayer changes things, when it really doesn't?. Studies have shown in actuality that prayer can have negative effects, but there are also studies showing that prayer has no more effect than random chance, so how are the prayer bots lies truth?. By the way, capitalizing truth, does not make it so.

        There is also evidence from your bible, that if it is true, it is god that is not healthy for children or other living things. Your god has a history of wipiing them off the planet, certainly not healthy.

        August 18, 2013 at 1:17 pm |
        • John P. Tarver

          Atheism has adopted the social political agenda of fascists, suppressing science in education.


          August 18, 2013 at 1:18 pm |
        • Richard Cranium

          Atheism is a disbelief in gods. It has no agenda, has no political leanings.

          Perhaps you mean certain atheists?

          August 18, 2013 at 1:27 pm |
      • John P. Tarver

        Your prayers would just stink the place up Dick.

        August 18, 2013 at 1:17 pm |
        • Richard Cranium

          I don't pray since I don't believe anyone is listening. Too many false, impossible claims in religion.
          Now why you've decided to go ad hominem is anyones guess.

          August 18, 2013 at 1:29 pm |
    • Peter Knight

      Yeah. Look at all the religious havoc that has been wrought on all mankind through the ages. We keep murdering each other all in the name of religion. No thanks.

      August 18, 2013 at 1:18 pm |
    • Colin

      Atheists have brutally tortured and murdered more innocent people in the last 100 years than were killed in all previous centuries. Scratch any of the murderous times in history and you will find the ugly theory of atheism. Only a so called atheist could call mass murder healthy.

      August 18, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
      • Richard Cranium

        This claim is made over and over, is always shown to be false.

        This is a troll, nothing more.

        August 18, 2013 at 1:31 pm |
        • gehazi

          yeah so what is the false troll part about stalin and mao being atheists? and them killing more people than everyone else?

          August 18, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
        • Richard Cranium

          Thats easy. It is the reason for the killing. In the case of Stalin and Mao, they did not kill because they were atheists. They killed to gain political power by complete control of the population.

          You cannot site atheism as the cause of their killing, since that is untrue, though you can say they were atheists and they killed. The cause was to gain politically, and for control over the population, they saw rligion as a control of the people so they could not have a control from somewhere else. Study some history.

          August 18, 2013 at 2:12 pm |
  7. LivedThruThoseDays

    FYI the McLuhen phrase actually is: "The medium is the massage". Big difference from the tenth paragraph of this piece.

    August 18, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
  8. patw

    Only a liberal could be sutp1d enough to write something like this.

    August 18, 2013 at 12:52 pm |
    • What is going on? FREEDOM

      Only a dumb conservative would try to create an argument online. (That would be you since you aren't educated enough to understand what I stated.)

      August 18, 2013 at 12:54 pm |
      • BIll

        You seem to be the bigger moron. Go take a class on English, and try posting again.

        August 18, 2013 at 1:10 pm |
    • internetisgay

      How do people like you exist? People who wake up, read the headline of an article and zoom straight to the comments just to say 'only a liberal could write something like this'. What goes through your head? Do you think your comment is going to change someone's view on life? Do you think someone will be offended by your nonsense statement? Do you ever come back to read people's responses to your troll, or do you just leave it there like a turd? I really wonder what people like you look like. How did you learn to use a computer? With video professor?

      August 18, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
  9. yogi

    The author of this silly article should try another method to reach an orgasm.

    August 18, 2013 at 12:52 pm |
  10. Vic

    This is NOT a mockery, it is something I can not help noticing:

    From all the Atheism I have seen so far, none comes across as true reason nor convincing to disbelieve in God, as far as I am concerned! I believe that atheists have a severe commotion blocking God deep inside as well as reconciling God!

    August 18, 2013 at 12:43 pm |
    • What is going on? FREEDOM

      So free will is blocking God? I think not.

      August 18, 2013 at 12:45 pm |
    • Not Too Hard to Understand

      So, using logic and reason to help one in his/her spiritual quest is a "severe commotion?" You sound rather sheep-like, pragmatically speaking, of course.

      August 18, 2013 at 12:53 pm |
    • Vic

      In other words, it seems that atheists can not "not believe" and have a severe commotion blocking it deep inside.

      August 18, 2013 at 1:00 pm |
      • Victor

        Having some testable modern evidence for your god story might help. There just isn't any.

        August 18, 2013 at 1:04 pm |
        • lamelionheart

          1. Atomized Cosmologies...Verifiable

          2. Celestial Cosmologies... Verifiable

          3. Cellular Cosmologies...Verifiable

          We are nothing more then animated constructs of inanimate constructivism established from the atomized cosmologies breeding and brooding naturisms... Our bodies are mere atomized cosmological manifestations of cellular cosmologies born upon a terrestrial realm of celestial cosmology called Earth...

          August 18, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
        • Ken

          Uh, what?

          August 18, 2013 at 1:32 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      Athesis do not believe because we find no logic in believing in a hypothesis as if it were true. To think we are lacking something or that there is some sort of block , is just you creating a hypothesis as to why we don't believe in a hypothesis.

      August 18, 2013 at 1:13 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Vic, the real problem with believing in a god is determining which god. You cannot validate your god any more than someone else in a competing religion can. Unless you provide substantial, sound ,justification for your god, not just baseless claims, they should all be rejected. Your argument here is nothing more that your personal rationalization for continuing your belief.

      August 18, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
    • tallulah13

      You are certainly allowed your own opinion, Vic, even though it has no actual basis in reality. Atheists have many reasons for not believing in gods. Personally, I don't believe because there is no evidence that gods exist.

      Perhaps if there had just been one god all along, the myth might be more compelling, but thousands of gods have existed, each one reflecting the values and behaviors of the culture that created it, each one representing the unknown and uncontrollable facets of the universe. Your god is no different. Gods are simply the the attempt to put a name and face on the unknown, in order to appeal to and control it.

      August 18, 2013 at 1:27 pm |
  11. scallywag

    There is nothing at all scientific about any judeo-christo religions. If there is only one truth, then how come there are over 6,000 different sects of Christianity alone? Point is, that religion can be just about anything anyone says it to be. And you can offer no sensible argument that it is otherwise. There's arguments 7 weeks from Sunday about what Jesus really said, or meant; nothing but more controversy. There are no definite answers in any of your chistian beliefs.

    August 18, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      It's because of the uselessness of faith because faith cannot differentiate between right belief and wrong belief. Faith only strengthens belief regardless of the accuracy of that belief.

      August 18, 2013 at 12:32 pm |
  12. scallywag

    If Jobbs wants to be a Buddhist, why do you care anyway? Let people believe what they want. Myself, I want freedom.. freedom from your religion.

    August 18, 2013 at 12:20 pm |
    • lamelionheart

      scallywag wrote, "I want freedom.. freedom from your religion."

      Funny thing freedom is... One can never find it, freedom that is... Though the plagues of logistics does ever circulate around many conundrums, the bitterness of such plagues will ever haunt the logistical venues no matter one's ideologies...

      August 18, 2013 at 12:33 pm |
  13. scallywag

    uhh, Steve Jobbs never said Apple was a religion. I wish despotic Christians like the author here, would stop harassing people who aren't Christian.
    Let people believe what they want, sheesh.

    August 18, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
    • FrenchChef

      I see I'm not the only one who recognized this article as nothing more than some tiresome Christianist WHINING that we don't share his peculiar beliefs.

      August 18, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
  14. Rainer Braendlein

    The modern media don't tell us any truth but contaminate us with lies, se-x and crime. This is valid also for Apple.

    Nearly the worst modern lie, pomoted by all media, is that it would be indifferent which religion someone accepts.

    Religious freedom was established through the promoters of Enlightenment, for instance Frederic the Great, King of Pruzzia. Yet, what was the background? The background was that the Roman Catholic Church had used religion as a smokescreen for her malice for many centuries. The RCC had hindered the progress of the whole mankind in an outrageous way. The promoters of Englightenment at first wanted to finish the evil rule of the RCC over the minds, souls and bodies of the people, and therefore they established religious freedom. The true Christian Church does not persecute people who have another doctrine but practizes love towards everybody up to the Judgement Day whereby love includes the telling of the truth about Jesus, and a harsher handling of heretics or heresiarchs. Frederic the Great himself was a Protestant, a mixture of Lutheran and Calvinist or better said, he favoured genuine Christianity. His politics of tolerance shows that he haid really understood Christianity. He did not persecute any sect or cult or heretical church in Pruzzia, not even the RCC which wanted to kill him. Frederic tolerated everybody in his country, no matter what he or she believed.

    Religious freedom does not mean irreligion. Maybe today Frederic the Great would promote a law like: Restoration of the appreciation of the New Testament. Frederic the Great certainly could not imagine that there would ever be a time when the New Testament would be diminished like today. The credibility of the New Testament is no matter of faith or disbelief but of sanity and reason. If someone investigates honestly and objectively the history of the emergence of the New Testament, he has to admit that it is indeed a divine scripture worthy to be trusted completely.


    August 18, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
    • A Dose of Reality

      Um religious FREEDOM also means FREEDOM FROM religion. Or shall we go back to the DARK AGES?

      August 18, 2013 at 12:23 pm |
      • tallulah13

        Rainer never left the Dark Ages.

        August 18, 2013 at 1:28 pm |
  15. huamichaelchen

    BS article....

    August 18, 2013 at 12:10 pm |
  16. revbates

    " ... what came to be called the “Jesus phone.”
    I have never heard this before. What a silly comment and a nonsensical article. Shame on the editors at Belief Net for giving this nonsense publicity.

    August 18, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
  17. zeep42

    This is worthless article. Steve Jobs and company only had one thing in mind when they developed the original Mac (as well as the IMac, IPhone, etc...), and that was– to improve the lives of the common individual through the use of technology.
    There was another genius in America during the turn of the century who had the exact same thing in mind. His name was Henry Ford. Both Jobs and Ford believed that by simplifying technology, and make it accessible to coomon folk, it would have the ability to transform a society. And they were right, but turning this into a discussion/comparison about religion is absurd, even for CNN.

    August 18, 2013 at 11:48 am |
    • zeep42

      My appologies on the gramatical mistakes. I should havd bought an iPad insteas of this silly Galaxy Tab 🙂

      August 18, 2013 at 11:51 am |
    • Phelix Unger

      Neither Henry Ford or Steve were concerned with societies well being, they were worshiping the dollar like all industrialists. The only difference between the two is that Ford put Americans to work, Jobs and Apple put Chinese to work and screwed the American working people, then sold their product back to the American people as if it were a product of the US. Apple avoided millions in taxes and took jobs away from the American economy, that isn't something to be celebrated, they should have been slapped back until jobs were being put back in the American economy, a long with all those taxes they avoided putting in the American coffers. Just because a man can exploit another's ideas for his own financial rewards doesn't make him a god, it just another industrialist. In the end where did the billions of dollars get him, it couldn't buy him one more day on this planet. If you live past 57 you'll of had something jobs couldn't afford, another year on this rock we call home. Hey but seeing as everyone else has fantasy gods, why not a real man playing god. Worship him if you like it seems as though that is what people would rather do. He was just a man and nothing more, no grandiose thought process beyond the dollar. After all do you think he who built his toys or how they were treated, not a second thought. He deserves no more then that as well.

      August 18, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
    • Trent

      The purpose was to make boatloads of money by convincing stupid people to buy their products. It worked.

      August 18, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
    • Woody

      "Steve Jobs and company only had one thing in mind when they developed the original Mac (as well as the IMac, IPhone, etc...), and that was– to improve the lives of the common individual through the use of technology." – zeep42

      I believe that improving the lives of the common individual was probably somewhere down on their list. Right there at the very top of the list was making a ton of money. They succeeded.

      August 18, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
    • Vic

      Did you know that Henry Ford was a Christian?

      August 18, 2013 at 12:20 pm |
      • tallulah13

        Did you know Steve Jobs wasn't?

        August 18, 2013 at 1:29 pm |
    • lmolmud

      Very well said!

      August 18, 2013 at 12:41 pm |





    August 18, 2013 at 11:38 am |
  19. bostontola

    "Religion is an organized collection of beliefs, cultural systems, and world views that relate humanity to the supernatural, and to spirituality" Wikipedia.

    Mr. Robinson's own description of Job's beliefs are a disorganized collection of beliefs, no cultural system, no world view relating humanity to supernatural. Mr. Robinson doesn't distinguish beliefs from religion. Job's wasn't a religion, he didn't even seem to have one. More like an unaffiliated. Mr. Robinson, like many religious people, react defensively to unaffiliated or people with hard to define beliefs.

    August 18, 2013 at 11:37 am |
  20. MACT

    the "i in Apple products refers to their use of the internet, not the user.

    August 18, 2013 at 11:30 am |
    • bostontola

      Yup. Lots of unsubstantiated assertions in this piece.

      August 18, 2013 at 11:38 am |
    • tallulah13

      The author appears to be an idiot. Another "i" word.

      August 18, 2013 at 1:29 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.