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. Oh really ?

    As if religion ever did one thing to advance human culture. Why did the god(s) never reveal ONE thing that was not already known in contemporary human culture ? When human life expectancy was 12 years, did the gods lift a finger to improve anything ? I Jesus was really a god, why didn't he divulge the recipe for penicillin ? There are now billions of apps, which have improved the quality of human lives. Which is a lot more than that angry murderous deity Yahweh can claim.

    August 18, 2013 at 9:14 pm |
    • Dan

      If you think religion hasn't done anything to benefit humanity, you're willfully ignorant. A lot of evil has come out of religion, but so has a lot of good. Take for example, organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous. There are also a number of relief organizations that were started for religious reasons. It's irritating when people who don't believe in God take intellectual high ground, yet clearly are unable or unwilling to take an honest look at the impact of religion on humanity.

      August 18, 2013 at 9:33 pm |
      • Oh really ?

        Correlation is not causation. Religion did not start AA. A person, who happened to be religious did.
        Good people do good things. Religious or not.

        August 18, 2013 at 9:37 pm |
        • JaneSaid

          Obilgatory S. Weinberg quote (paraphrasing):

          Without religion, good people will do good things and bad people will do bad things. It takes religion to make good people do bad things.

          August 18, 2013 at 9:39 pm |
        • JimK57

          and bad people do bad things religion or not.

          August 18, 2013 at 9:48 pm |
        • Susan

          Ergo, Jim, following the rest of this same thread, religion is a bad thing. Thanks for playing.

          August 18, 2013 at 10:11 pm |
      • JaneSaid

        It's also interesting to think about how much further ahead medical science and other science would be now if religious nutbars hadn't suppressed and condemned scientists in the past centuries.

        August 18, 2013 at 9:37 pm |
    • Vance

      Which app shelters and feeds millions off poverty stricken individuals around the world every year? I'm having trouble finding it...but i did find Angry Birds! Talk about useful!

      August 18, 2013 at 9:38 pm |
      • JaneSaid

        Try the Gates Foundation.

        August 18, 2013 at 9:41 pm |
      • Oh really ?

        Which god does that ? None.
        If fact, they claim omnipotence, when in fact they are impotent.
        Strawman fallacy.

        August 18, 2013 at 9:50 pm |
    • JimK57

      If you stop thinking of god in human terms it will help you understand.

      August 18, 2013 at 9:40 pm |
      • JaneSaid

        Translation: only if you suspend logic and reason, will religion make any sense.

        August 18, 2013 at 9:41 pm |
        • JimK57

          Sure, you have to do that somewhat. But thats okay.

          August 18, 2013 at 9:45 pm |
        • JFM1973

          Jane, I love you.

          August 18, 2013 at 10:03 pm |
      • Oh really ?

        Yeah, those cognitive dissonances really are a b1tch. You people can cook up that junk so fast it makes your head spin.
        A god who needs apologists, aint' no god.

        August 18, 2013 at 9:52 pm |
        • JimK57

          That is your opinion, it is who you are. Nothing wrong with that.

          August 18, 2013 at 9:55 pm |
        • Oh really ?

          Well since your invisible friend has never once done anything, I guess it's more than an "opinion". You cannot demonstrate any god exists. There is a VAST difference between informed opinion and buying into invisible friends.

          August 18, 2013 at 10:05 pm |
    • Susan

      Christ has conquered death for all mankind. Isn't that good enough for you?

      August 18, 2013 at 10:06 pm |
      • Bob

        Susan, how is it again that your omnipotent being couldn't do his defeating death bit without the whole silly Christ on sticks hoopla? And how was Jesus' death a "sacrifice", when an omnipotent being could just pop up a replacement son any time with less than a snap of his fingers? Pretty pathetic "god" that you've made for yourself there.

        Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement.
        Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.

        August 18, 2013 at 10:09 pm |
      • Doobs

        So I'm supposed to be grateful to a god who created humans, set them up for failure, punished them for failing, then raped a young girl so he could sacrifice himself to himself and we could all go to heaven and offer him worship him for his "goodness" for all eternity?

        Yeah, right.

        August 19, 2013 at 2:05 am |
    • Freeman

      I am still waiting for Free Thinkers Memorial Hospital or Atheist Memorial Clinic....I do see many religious based hospitals.

      August 18, 2013 at 10:07 pm |
    • skytag

      I'm an atheist, but if you can't see the good religion has done over the course of world history you truly are blind and ignorant. It hasn't accomplished that good because there is a God, but because it bonds people together, teaches them to put the interests of society ahead of their own self-interests, and gets them to work together for common goals.

      August 18, 2013 at 10:07 pm |
      • Boxman

        Religion has done far, far more harm than good to mankind. No contest...

        August 18, 2013 at 10:45 pm |
    • ro

      Jonah 1:8" Those deceived by worthless things lose their chance for mercy"

      August 18, 2013 at 10:49 pm |
  2. lamelionheart

    The atomic cosmos of which every individualized cellular life form consists of were all made from one cellular object within life's dawning moment here up this earthen world. Just exactly how much of this cellular life's dawning moment is still found inside us? Could there still be within each of our atomized cellular bodies atomic remnants of the very remains of the first made cell of eons ago..?

    August 18, 2013 at 9:13 pm |
    • Oh really ?

      Bull. There was no "dawning moment". The chemical transition from non-life to replicating cells was long and complex. There is no one point you can put your finger on, and say, "there, that was it". Like everything, it was a process.

      August 18, 2013 at 9:17 pm |
      • Athy

        Exactly correct, really. Unfortunately that was one process that left no fossils behind for us to study. All we can do is speculate and try to duplicate that process in the lab.

        August 18, 2013 at 9:24 pm |
      • lamelionheart

        Sired Oh....

        I was referring to the very moment that cellular life began and am not saying Bang it began.. I asked, "Just exactly how much of this cellular life's dawning moment is still found inside us? Could there still be within each of our atomized cellular bodies atomic remnants of the very remains of the first made cell of eons ago..?"

        August 18, 2013 at 9:40 pm |
        • Oh really ?

          No. The rate of atomic "turnover" has been calculated.

          August 18, 2013 at 10:07 pm |
    • Mark9988

      More mushrooms.

      August 18, 2013 at 9:29 pm |
      • lamelionheart

        There be magic in them thar shrooms...

        August 18, 2013 at 9:44 pm |
        • Oh really ?

          That from one who should know.

          August 18, 2013 at 10:12 pm |
  3. Jeremy

    Bach did not write any symphonies.

    August 18, 2013 at 8:49 pm |
    • Mark

      A very telling error :-). I see a lot of five dollar words here, but nothing much of substance. I get the impression is that the author is finding facts to support his preconceived beliefs, rather than engaging in any meaningful consideration of the facts.

      August 18, 2013 at 9:41 pm |
  4. Rodents for Romney

    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.”

    And just what's so bad about that ?

    AT the end of the gospel of Matthew, just before the Ascension, it says even AFTER seeing Jebus, "they doubted but they believed". Clearly something's screwy with that peabodyness. If Thomas saw him, but didn't recognize him, clearly this is allegory, not fact they were talking about. It's all irrelevant. Jebus never existed.

    August 18, 2013 at 8:36 pm |
    • Rodents for Romney

      oops, it says "they SAW, but they doubted".

      August 18, 2013 at 8:42 pm |
  5. myuntidydesk

    If you are dumb enough to worship at the Church of Apple, then you deserve to be disappointed by the jerk they call their messiah.

    August 18, 2013 at 8:27 pm |
    • Rodents for Romney

      Well actually in the long sweep of human history, the introduction of the iPad, and iPhone were significant steps towards the bio-machines humans are becoming, as now humans can no longer live without intelligent electronic appendages.
      Jobs did more for humanity that any religious figure, ever. Hands down.

      August 18, 2013 at 8:40 pm |
    • skytag

      If you're dumb enough to believe there is such a thing as a Church of Apple...

      August 18, 2013 at 10:10 pm |
  6. TAK

    I am no Apple fanboy but I will not let this hack job article stand. The theme is that Apple products are a narcissistic self indulgence. Tell me Mr. Robinson, in your world, is the sky blue? How on Earth could this "author" (who makes up crap- I'll get to that later) come to a conclusion that is 180 degrees from reality? Apple products (and many others in the the last two decades) have brought people closer together than we've been ever been in human history.

    Now on to the lies this hack tries to pass off as facts:
    – The "i" in iPhone, iPad. iMac, etc. stands for "interactive". How did this guy turn it into something selfish?
    – The slogan "Touching is Believing" referred to the pioneering capacitive touchscreen on the iPhone. It makes perfect sense for the product. It is not a reference to some biblical story. Who's the narcissist now, Mr. Robinson, viewing the world through your own distorted religious prism?
    – And the biggest whopper of a falsehood in this story, that Apple represents the fruit of Adam and Eve. Do me a favor, Mr. Robinson, look up Apple's first logo. It's a picture of Isaac Newton sitting under an apple tree. The apple represents the eureka moment. Nothing to do with forbidden fruit.

    In short, this is the most blatantly false article I've ever seen on CNN. What happened Mr Robinson, did Fox News reject it?

    August 18, 2013 at 7:48 pm |
    • Athy

      Actually, TAK, you are absolutely correct. I'm old enough to remember when Apple was born, and they are all true, every one of them. Thank you.

      August 18, 2013 at 7:51 pm |
    • skytag

      Religious zealot + Apple-hater = this article. It's worse than a puff piece. It's garbage.

      August 18, 2013 at 8:00 pm |
    • John Laughs

      Bravo! Bravo! I read this article and was asking myself "What the heck kind of fruity loom is this?". The author is a peanut-gallery self-proclaimed academic whose sole purpose appears to be to collect 'reads' by combining two generally hot-button topics and 'offering' pedestrian observations upon made-up claims and extrapolations served up explicitly to ignorance.

      August 18, 2013 at 8:45 pm |
    • Bobsuruncles

      Actually the i in imac iPod or iTunes or iPhones stands for internet. Jobs says it in the introduction to the first imac . Not interactive like u say.

      August 18, 2013 at 8:46 pm |
      • TAK

        Not arguing, you may be right. And if you are then you make my point even better than I did. The hack of an author suggested the "i" represents selfish individuals. If it really stands for "internet" then it represents the largest community in human history.

        August 18, 2013 at 9:20 pm |
    • Lars J

      This "article" belongs in a speculative blog that someone who doesn't care much for research would write. You are right TAK, but this isn't unusual. Amateur historians often forget that not everything is drenched in hidden symbolism. Sometimes young people like Jobs and Woz just wanted to make money and prove to their friends that they could be successful. They were concerned that their products work and be cool, not that they change the culture or world.

      August 18, 2013 at 9:15 pm |
    • Larry

      Perfectly put, and perfectly correct. Kudos TAK!

      August 18, 2013 at 9:17 pm |
  7. tony

    Methinks the man sees meaning where there was none. He must be religious.

    August 18, 2013 at 7:47 pm |
  8. Robert Gemerek

    I like his comment about all religions are doors to the same house and sometimes he thinks the house exists and other times he doesn't. That about sums up my view of religions.....even science and religion have similar goals....deep down everyone wants to better understand themselves and the world around them so they can better influence both their internal and external realities.

    August 18, 2013 at 7:30 pm |
    • skytag

      Wanting to understand the world around us drives us to study it, and that's good. Wanting answers regardless of whether there was any reason to be believe they were valid drives people to simply claim a god or gods (or evil spirits) are responsible, and that's not so good.

      For example, people who wanted an answer to the question "What causes seizures?" said they were a manifestation of demonic possessions. People who wanted to understand them discovered they were caused by neurological disorders.

      August 18, 2013 at 8:12 pm |
  9. taxedmore

    What is all this babble? If you are going to write an article, write about something worthwhile.

    August 18, 2013 at 7:29 pm |
  10. puddintane

    Yeah, i, i, i, me, me, me, me – all is vanity, after all. The only thing to get your Average Joe excited anymore is to worship tech and a few stale rock stars. 15 minutes of fame via home video gone viral on YouTube. All is vanity.

    August 18, 2013 at 7:21 pm |
  11. MagicPanties

    And your point is...?

    What a nonsensical bunch of rubbish.
    Steve Jobs was likely an atheist, or a buddhist at best, and because of that, well then, we must come to the conclusion that he and all that he invented must be evil.
    Too funny.

    August 18, 2013 at 7:08 pm |
    • Akira

      He sounds like an envious brat to me.

      August 18, 2013 at 7:15 pm |
  12. ImVoting4Hillary

    Hopefully he found Christ near the end.

    August 18, 2013 at 7:03 pm |
    • Athy

      Where does one look to find christ? Under the bed? In the closet? In my hip pocket? At the mall? I've sure as hell never seen him in a church. Where could he be? You religies never cease to amaze me with your bullshit beliefs.

      August 18, 2013 at 7:13 pm |
      • tallulah13

        Christ must have the worst sense of direction.

        August 18, 2013 at 7:20 pm |
        • Athy

          And he's too old to use GPS.

          August 18, 2013 at 7:37 pm |
        • Doobs

          Too old and too dead.

          August 19, 2013 at 2:12 am |
      • lamelionheart

        Sired Athy Lassie...

        Christ the Lord Jesus is no longer a celestially terrestrial being as we now are... He has made his way into our cellular bodies to become a ruler among those living inside us much like the Star Wars "midichlorians" were shown to be living inside all the Jedi... Our bodies are a very small cosmos of the atomically ordained administered by the most high inside each and every celestially terrestrial life formation from the singular celled to the most complex cellular of life formations... We are all their buildings of which all life that lives upon the atomic scales does reside in...

        August 18, 2013 at 7:43 pm |
        • Athy

          So I need a microscope to find him?

          August 18, 2013 at 7:45 pm |
        • lamelionheart

          LoL Sired Athy...

          There is no microscope made that is powerful enough to peer upon the surfaces of any atomic recesses... Even an electron microscope isn't near powerful enough... 😳

          August 18, 2013 at 7:53 pm |
        • Athy

          So, for all practical purposes, Christ doesn't exist. No surprise there.

          August 18, 2013 at 8:17 pm |
        • Oh really ?

          hey lamebrain,
          You obviously have a PhD in Woo Woo.

          August 18, 2013 at 10:10 pm |
  13. Use Your Brain

    Brett who? Sounds like little Brett needs a nap 'cause he stayed up too late night after mommy forgot to put him to bed. Thanks but no thanks for your useless my-religion-is-better-than-your-religon rant.

    August 18, 2013 at 7:02 pm |
    • Akira

      It sounds like the old PC vs. Mac debate, with a little religion thrown in to make it justifiable for it to be posted here on the BB, and to shill for his book.

      I doubt anyone with any intelligence takes it seriously.

      August 18, 2013 at 7:18 pm |
  14. Candace Clough

    persecution complex much?

    August 18, 2013 at 7:02 pm |
  15. hharri

    That's better. See? I knew you could do it

    August 18, 2013 at 6:58 pm |
  16. Paul

    People who don't cannot fathom Jobs or MLK or Gandhi as in some parts of the world are illiterate at their best!!!!

    August 18, 2013 at 6:55 pm |
  17. Jon

    Many of the computer scientists at Berkeley who pioneered the first versions of the internet in the 1960's were LSD users, as was Steve Jobs, The Beatles, Brian Wilson, Matt Groening and many other pioneering artists..and it's hardly a coincidence. Yes these people were brilliant on there own, but anyone who has taken this drug understands the power it has to shrink one's ego to the size of a grain of sand and allow all of the universes complexity and beauty/horror pour into your senses like a tidal wave. It's like skydiving for your mind. If it's use was as widespread as alcohol it would end wars, accelerate technological and cultural progress and speed up our evolution. It allows you to truly feel the connection you have with all other people and things on this planet. Before there were individual humans everything on Earth and the Earth itself was a mass of energy that came from inside of our star. You are the chair you are sitting in. You are the strangers in Egypt you will never meet. We're in this together because it is all one biomechanical machine at the mercy of the laws of physics.

    August 18, 2013 at 6:49 pm |
    • Dippy

      Their, not there.

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

        no, its there. he had it right.

        trolls. i swear.

        August 18, 2013 at 6:59 pm |
      • Dippy

        The phrase "Yes, these people were brilliant on there own..." is incorrect. The word "there" should be "their".

        August 18, 2013 at 7:20 pm |
      • Dippy

        Also the phrase "If it's use was as widespread as alcohol it would end wars..." is incorrect. "It's" should be "its".

        August 18, 2013 at 7:22 pm |
      • Dippy

        And, Abenago, it's "fucking", not "fvcking".

        August 18, 2013 at 7:25 pm |
        • Dippy

          I'm dead.

          August 18, 2013 at 8:52 pm |
      • Larry

        No, actually he was right. In that sentence *there* was the correct word. English 101.

        August 18, 2013 at 9:25 pm |
        • Dippy

          No. "Their" is correct. Possessive pronoun, "their own". Ask your teacher.

          August 18, 2013 at 9:47 pm |
      • Athy

        Actually, Dippy is correct. It's like "his own"' or "her own" or "my own". "Their" is a possessive pronoun. "There" is not.

        August 18, 2013 at 9:56 pm |
    • lamelionheart

      Sired Jon...

      Universalized complexities of all celestially terrestrial based cellular organisms are all grown out of and from non-randomized atomized containments which are as duplicated atomic cellular formations within all cellular life commodities becoming atomically endorsed generics from the very first cell of living matter that was ever established here upon this earthen world we call as being our celestial home... We are all atomic gardens of cellular clusters being the firmaments end of genetic complexities around atomized generations within one's embodied electroencephalographic disciplinary hallmarks...

      August 18, 2013 at 7:19 pm |
  18. Miked

    Apple users that would call this company their religion are boring and useless people in society with no life and no real moral code that is respectable.

    August 18, 2013 at 6:49 pm |
    • kenny

      unlike your morals that are defined by your fear of damnation and bribe of eternal paradise if you follow the rules... or at least beg for forgiveness when you don't ... not actually begging the person you wronged but some imaginary sky daddy... yup you clearly have the superior morality

      August 18, 2013 at 7:01 pm |
    • Akira

      This is the first I have ever heard the ridiculous position that people actually think Apple is a religion. I tend to think that someone who would believe this sort of propaganda are themselves lacking critical thinking skills and suffer from cognitive dissonance.

      Not that I doubt there are some people out there that would use this to slam people who don't believe exactly as they do.

      August 18, 2013 at 7:05 pm |
  19. Dick Wiggler

    Gotta laugh at Jesus freaks accusing new agers of narcissism. The idea that their god will ignore a million children macheted to death in the third world, but float down on Sunday to help Tebow make a touchdown is the most narcissistic thing imaginable.

    August 18, 2013 at 6:46 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.