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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. ohsnap

    Apple is not a religion?? I beg to differ. Like all religions, their products are confining and are controlled by the Apple gods. They don't let anyone else in and you have to play by their rules. When a new products comes out, the Apple followers respond with a furvor that matches any religious zealot...they line up for days for a new product. Sounds like a religion to me.

    August 18, 2013 at 5:04 pm |
    • rick

      gawd. couple hundred million people use these things and a few line up for a new product and you group them all together. you have a dizzying intellect.
      tell me, what koolaid do you drink? microsoft? cause, you know, they're hole new thing is to copy apple's way. closed garden and all.

      August 18, 2013 at 5:23 pm |
  2. Richard Cranium

    While I am a veteran, and an Aryan, I am not a veteranarian, so it depends, how much can you afford

    August 18, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      Reply button malfunction, belongs below in response to hhari

      August 18, 2013 at 5:00 pm |
      • hharri

        Where's your office?

        August 18, 2013 at 5:44 pm |
  3. Ed A.

    The author is reaching for things that aren't there.
    I agree with a previous post, all religions are false.

    August 18, 2013 at 4:45 pm |
  4. You

    Every religion is faux.

    August 18, 2013 at 4:38 pm |
  5. hharri

    (In Santa we trust
    Bob Bales,,
    "... the complete lack of objective, verifiable evidence for God's existence ... is not a given, but just your opinion."

    So provide some objective, verifiable evidence for god's existence.)

    beautiful but predictable

    August 18, 2013 at 4:37 pm |
    • Observer

      hharri

      "So provide some objective, verifiable evidence for god's existence."

      Obviously, you are stumped too or else you would have provided some verifiable evidence.

      August 18, 2013 at 5:12 pm |
      • hharri

        not bad

        August 18, 2013 at 6:06 pm |
        • Observer

          hharri,

          Yep. You're completely stumped. Just like you have zero proof that Zeus doesn't exist.

          August 18, 2013 at 6:15 pm |
  6. hharri

    captain, it is your life for which you claim a desire to heal. if you don't unleash the volcano within, the eruptions only land on you. come on. explode! your god is waiting with open arms

    August 18, 2013 at 4:29 pm |
    • skytag

      Meaningless drivel. Get a brain.

      August 18, 2013 at 6:15 pm |
      • hharri

        over used. see what i mean?

        August 18, 2013 at 6:28 pm |
        • skytag

          I see you're a mentally ill troll, and it is with that understanding that I view all of your idiotic comments.

          August 18, 2013 at 6:51 pm |
        • hharri

          better

          August 18, 2013 at 11:12 pm |
  7. hharri

    Ayn Rand
    hhari, That dark, incoherent passion within you which you take as the voice of god is nothing more than the corpse of your mind.

    captain, good one. but you need more rage in your posts than that. this is serious business, if you want to get well

    August 18, 2013 at 4:24 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      I can do rage. I am banned for it.

      August 18, 2013 at 4:34 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      I am well, for I don't have the delusion of gods. I do not hate, though you like to claim that people who disagree with you hate. You use the word hate far to liberally, and inaccurately.
      Because I question, does not mean I hate. Because I disagree, does not mean I hate. Because I can put forth a hundred other possibilities as to the nature or origins of the universe, many more probable than the god hypothesis, does not mean I hate.

      August 18, 2013 at 4:36 pm |
      • hharri

        eh. old.

        August 18, 2013 at 4:38 pm |
      • hharri

        thanks captain, but no one said those things. soft

        August 18, 2013 at 4:44 pm |
      • Richard Cranium

        While I am a veteran, I was never a captain.

        August 18, 2013 at 4:46 pm |
        • hharri

          what do you charge to lance an infected wound and to screen for cancer in a 2 year old cat?

          August 18, 2013 at 4:48 pm |
        • hharri

          basic training was where?

          August 18, 2013 at 6:26 pm |
      • hharri

        when did i claim that people who disagree with me hate?

        August 18, 2013 at 6:27 pm |
        • Cpt. Obvious

          Who the fvck knows or cares? The stupidity of the content of your posts is only matched by the stupidity of where you choose to post them.

          August 18, 2013 at 11:15 pm |
  8. hharri

    skytag

    @hharri: "Even devils believe and tremble. Can you imagine what it is like for them?"

    "All of this only exists in your imagination." not true

    "Their fate is sealed. They will burn forever and there is nothing they can do to change it"

    "Why did God create devils whose fate is sealed to burn forever?" ask him

    these questions are diversions based on self-pity and hatred. in fact, captain's hatred is monumental. it is all that is left of her and it burns and burns-her

    August 18, 2013 at 4:16 pm |
    • hharri

      What is a reply button?

      August 18, 2013 at 4:21 pm |
      • hharri

        i dunno i too dumb to use me christian

        August 18, 2013 at 4:23 pm |
        • hharri

          better

          August 18, 2013 at 4:25 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      hhari, If this exists outside of your imagination – provide some objective, verifiable evidence.

      August 18, 2013 at 4:21 pm |
      • hharri

        not bad

        August 18, 2013 at 4:26 pm |
        • In Santa we trust

          ?

          August 18, 2013 at 4:29 pm |
        • skytag

          @In Santa we trust: That's his cowardly way of admitting defeat without admitting defeat. He knows he has no evidence and he knows you know it too.

          August 18, 2013 at 6:22 pm |
    • skytag

      "'All of this only exists in your imagination.' not true"

      If I'm wrong, prove it. Let's see some evidence. Otherwise I am forced to conclude devils are no more real than leprechauns, vampires, or monsters under my bed.

      And just so you know, the idiotic drivel you seem to enjoy posting (such as your "reply button" comments) isn't helping your credibility. I'll use the reply link as I see fit and you are welcome to do the same.

      August 18, 2013 at 6:20 pm |
      • hharri

        good. no, very good

        (who was jesus and upon what do you base your belief? be prepared for that one.)

        August 18, 2013 at 11:17 pm |
      • hharri

        good. no, very good

        (who was jesus and upon what do you base your belief? be prepared for that one.)

        Cpt. Obvious

        Who the fvck knows or cares? The stupidity of the content of your posts is only matched by the stupidity of where you choose to post them.

        at a girl

        August 18, 2013 at 11:20 pm |
      • hharri

        good. no, very good

        (who was jesus and upon what do you base your belief? be prepared for that one.)

        Cpt. Obvious

        Who the fvck knows or cares? The stupidity of the content of your posts is only matched by the stupidity of where you choose to post them.

        at a girl

        and your lawsuit?

        how's that going for you?

        August 18, 2013 at 11:32 pm |
      • Cpt. Obvious

        Who knows psychobabble enough to translate what's going on, here?

        August 18, 2013 at 11:41 pm |
  9. klaus

    So what's your point.

    August 18, 2013 at 3:54 pm |
    • Athy

      Whose point? Try using the reply feature.

      August 18, 2013 at 3:58 pm |
      • klaus

        the author you idiot!

        August 18, 2013 at 4:15 pm |
        • Athy

          You mean you're actually trying to talk to the author? Wow. That's funny!

          August 18, 2013 at 4:17 pm |
  10. Dave Kargol

    Far from being a prophet, Steve Jobs was just another manifestation of the self-obsessed, secular culture that he was a product of and also did a great deal to expand. I have no desire to see a movie about a selfish, arrogant man played by another selfish, arrogant man. When it comes to choosing my heroes, I'll be sure to steer clear of southern California.

    August 18, 2013 at 3:49 pm |
    • Athy

      Jobs lived in northern California.

      August 18, 2013 at 4:00 pm |
    • Mike

      I'm an agnostic and I feel the same about the dead Apple guy.

      August 18, 2013 at 4:21 pm |
  11. Germanicus

    Another hack piece meant to insult people who use another computer then they do. When are computer nerds going to grow up?

    August 18, 2013 at 3:38 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      Why grow up?

      August 18, 2013 at 3:43 pm |
  12. ComeOnMan

    I think religions gave us atheism. I understand Atheists because that thing they call church will warp your brain and then they drag out that Jesus book and read only what they want. Most atheists tell me they believe in nature. Nature was created infinitely by a creator, so hence you are a believer. Just get a personal god and stay out of them houses. Unless they have a killer bake sale.

    August 18, 2013 at 3:30 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      COM
      You were going along so well and then you said " Nature was created infinitely by a creator". No evidence for this whatsoever. There are an infinite number of other possibilities.

      August 18, 2013 at 3:34 pm |
      • lamelionheart

        Sired Richard C...

        What does science truly know about regarding the atomized cosmologies and their nurturing ways that have culminated all variable cellular cosmologies into fermented being upon this earthen realm of celestial cosmology..?

        August 18, 2013 at 4:00 pm |
        • Richard Cranium

          lame
          Do you know that cosmolgy is the study of the cosmos, so to use the word (three times) so incorrectly is a new record, even for you.
          Celestial cosmology would be the study of the cosmos, but only what we can see in the sky, so would be a misnomer.
          Celular cosmolgy would be the study of the cosmos as it relates to cells, whether a mataohor, or the swirling galaxies that make up the atoms in a cell, either way, a misnomer.
          Atomized cosmologies, would be similar to cellular, and would not indicate what you are actually studying, so another misnomer.
          Perhaps if you wrote in conversational English, people may find a point to reading what you post, but instead I will chalk it up to communicative cosmology, or the study of how to blow out what you say into something as large as the cosmos, without saying anything at all.

          August 18, 2013 at 4:15 pm |
        • lamelionheart

          Sired Richard C...

          I know that there was plasma being expelled from the big bang before the atomic cosmologies began to congeal ultimately forming all mannerisms of the celestial cosmologies... Are not atoms themselves the most ancient commodities of relative orders within the grand scheme of multi-cosmological orderliness..? It is like you permeated that cellular cosmologies are made from the atomic cosmological constituencies but just exactly what is the culminating factor(s) for all cellular beings to remain stable and not fly apart..? What is it that glues all the atoms in each and every cell of a human together..?

          August 18, 2013 at 5:25 pm |
    • lamelionheart

      "Just get a personal god" and stay away from any manly built churches is a well intended mantra to consider... Instead of say a "personal god" I would dare suggest there being a personalized son of God to consider holding onto... The Originator of all creation has long gone and is no more while this God's treed family generations do live on inside all cellular cosmologies of every atomized realms from the one-celled atomized realm to the most complex atomized cellular realms of cosmological orderliness ever to have been constructed by and for all God's sons and daughters to take up residencies upon the very insides of all cellular wonders made knowable to us...

      August 18, 2013 at 3:50 pm |
      • Reed

        Are you a stroke victim? I'm sorry.

        August 18, 2013 at 4:02 pm |
      • Krivka

        Actually science does accept the fact of multiple "big bangs". I don't understand a single thing you are attempting to convey in any of your posts. Maybe it is time for your nap.

        August 18, 2013 at 4:38 pm |
        • skytag

          You actually read his posts?

          August 18, 2013 at 6:29 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      "Nature was created infinitely by a creator, so hence you are a believer"

      Funny, that is what religions claim. Do you have any evidence for this?

      August 18, 2013 at 3:50 pm |
    • Mike

      You sound very much like the worst kind of religious zealot. A lack of higher being is your God and you worship it daily.

      August 18, 2013 at 4:23 pm |
      • In Santa we trust

        Is that like" He doesn't collect stamps and attends to his collection every day"

        August 18, 2013 at 4:28 pm |
    • skytag

      "I think religions gave us atheism. I understand Atheists because that thing they call church will warp your brain and then they drag out that Jesus book and read only what they want."

      How would that differentiate them from most Christians? Sorry, but atheism is the natural human state.

      "Most atheists tell me they believe in nature. Nature was created infinitely by a creator, so hence you are a believer."

      More evidence religion makes people stupid.

      "Just get a personal god and stay out of them houses."

      Why, because it just seems like the thing to do? Thanks, but no thanks.

      August 18, 2013 at 6:27 pm |
  13. Extra Medium

    hey , jobs is another man with beard, he is allowed to have his religion and cult followings just like another 2 men with beard that I can think of. ;-0)

    August 18, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
    • Reed

      This guy seems to think that Jobs was Jesus 2.0. What a dork.

      August 18, 2013 at 4:08 pm |
      • In Santa we trust

        There is verifiable evidence for Jobs so if anything he would be Jesus 1.0

        August 18, 2013 at 4:25 pm |
  14. Don

    " “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.”

    If my "theism" does not match your "theism," I must have the wrong one. I wonder what God thinks about this.

    August 18, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
    • lamelionheart

      Theism is most popular among the theistically disciplined who banter about and bicker upon the sameness over and over never breaking free of such frivolities... What does anyone truly know about atomized and celestial and cellular cosmologies..? Which one came first and then secondly and likewise lastly..?

      August 18, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
      • Fionahhh

        Well, what do you actually know about "atomized and celestial and cellular cosmologies", yourself? And if very little, why keep posting about them?

        August 18, 2013 at 3:50 pm |
  15. Don

    "The ‘i’ prefix on Apple devices is a constant reminder that personal technology is ultimately all about us."

    And so the "Rob" prefix on the authors last name is a constant reminder that . . .

    August 18, 2013 at 3:14 pm |
    • jj astor

      🙂

      August 18, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
  16. oussu

    Jobs didn't unleash narcissistic habits, he just cater to them. It may be a fine line, but it's an important one. If parents would stop raising magpies and start raising kids, a lot more individuals would be educated and productive. Instead we have a generation of kids with weak will and weaker physical ability. The Chinese think generationally (albeit iron-fisted) in most aspects of governing, the Europeans have ingrained research and education (Finland KILLS us educationally) culturally, and we in the US can focus 2-4 years out for the current election cycle and can't remember how we were last bamboozled in the current decade by the same group of politicians. We are in serious trouble.

    August 18, 2013 at 3:12 pm |
    • skytag

      Americans are obsessed with individual freedom and liberty.

      As great as that sounds in theory, in practice it means lots of freedom to cater to our worst traits and do as little as possible to better ourselves. Thus we have a generation of people who waste most of their free time texting, tweeting, updating their Facebook pages, playing video games, talking on the phone, watching useless YouTube videos, making useless YouTube videos, listening to music everywhere they go, watching porn, and in general making sure they can get through entire days for weeks at a time without spending a single minute contemplating anything.

      August 18, 2013 at 6:39 pm |
  17. Eric

    Steve Jobs is one of many to convince anti-consumption hippies to be yearly consumers... Apple is a store for consumer sheep.

    August 18, 2013 at 3:11 pm |
    • jj astor

      Hypocrisy runs deep in life...yes Jobs was basically a phoney....Religion is phoney...I believe in a life void of the selfish influence of men...and their "Gods" and their "Beliefs".

      August 18, 2013 at 3:14 pm |
  18. Sahari

    I couldn't disagree with the last paragraph more. "To hold... there is no difference... " for there IS no difference between anything or anyone IN THAT it is/we are ALL Love, which IS Consciousness. This is the missing piece, the Truth that transcends religions, that we are all OF LOVE and have the ability to create with intention. Granted Earth is a low-density Matrix of thought form that is sadly, or perfectly, reflective of a collective agreement that has become quite twisted in the experience of Our Selves (seemingly) separate from God, but Love it is nonetheless. As far as Steve Jobs goes (and I have never been an Apple fan-atic), his last words said it all, relative to the existence of the 'house' he was unsure existed: "Oh Wow."

    August 18, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
  19. jj astor

    This article is complete BULLsh-T... The "i" is for Internet...NOT I as in a person. retard

    August 18, 2013 at 3:08 pm |
    • Don

      Very good point.

      August 18, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
    • Reed

      Robinson sounds completely jealous to me. Boo hoo, Brett.

      August 18, 2013 at 4:14 pm |
  20. Observer

    Well, a Reality Distortion Field is a central part of any religion.

    August 18, 2013 at 3:06 pm |
    • lamelionheart

      So says a cellular being of atomized cosmologies...

      August 18, 2013 at 3:12 pm |
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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.