Steve Jobs, Secular Savior

I am a huge Apple customer. I work at a place that is swimming in macs, I have 4 on my desk alone. I am typing this on my beautiful 15″ Macbook Pro. I got my first mac in 1992, a Classic II. I still remember how excited I was to get that machine! I think Apple creates fantastic, really great technology.

Steve Jobs was an inspiring guy. He dropped out of college, started a computer company in his 20’s, and became wealthy at a very young age. He presided over the development of the Macintosh computer. He got fired from Apple, then came back and led the company back to incredible greatness. I think we all know about all of this, it is hard to escape right now.

Some people are going a bit further in their honor of the man. Andrew Sullivan writes:

This passage resonates very deeply with me:

“Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

These are the words of a man with great spiritual insight, and the courage to live it (because true spirituality requires extreme courage). His worldview was forged by an eery prescience of his own mortality. He got there long before his cancer diagnosis, which, perhaps, was why he transcended it with six of the most spectacularly creative and successful years of his life. And this fusion of counter-cultural courage with capitalist genius is what defines our time – as well as the fear-ridden reaction against it.

Let’s explore this, because after all, Steve Jobs isn’t JESUS.

I think that people are calling Jobs a secular prophet, and some have implied that there is some kind of transcendance to him, because people are starving for grace and for a prophet if not a savior. There are classic gospel elements: he never cared about the money. He never did market research (he didn’t care about the criticisms and opinions of others), he just envisioned and made great products. In that sense he was a mystic and a prophet – AND he did it in the context of agnostic capitalism! He was fired from Apple (death) but came back and turned the company around (resurrection). He said all of these things about being dead to the noise of the opinions of others to follow your true purpose. This reminds me of the parables of the treasure hidden and the pearl of great price.

People see liberation in technology; the 50′s and the sixties, pre-Jobs, were all about that too, in fact I think a case could be made that the bloom is off the rose now compared to the way people felt about the upward march of human progress back then. But people still see empowerment and liberation in technology, and Jobs tapped into that idea very strongly. As The Onion has implied, maybe he was the last stalwart of American innovation. In a sense he was kind of a savior figure.

What we really see with all of this Jobs worship is that people need the gospel, they are starved for salvation and grace and transcendent purpose. So, they will create gospels and choose heros that suit their preferences so they can go on liberated in their agnosticism and their supposed freedom from religious constraints.

That’s my meager take on the passing of Steve Jobs.

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