Written by Dr. Todd Daly, Assistant Professor of Theology and Ethics at Urbana Theological Seminary
Last week, the world lost a revolutionary, a giant in the computer industry who has forever changed the way we relate to one another. Immediately after his passing, tributes to Steve Jobs flooded the internet. The major news networks chronicled the life and success of this modern day ‘Thomas Edison,’ praising his innovative way of thinking, his flouting of standard business practice for success, his near impossibly high standards of excellence, his unflinching insistence that his products were exactly as he thought they should be, and his marketing genius. Sure, Jobs may have been unconventional, overbearing, demanding, and difficult to work with, but one cannot argue with the results—products that have changed the world, while generating profit margins that all but the most hardened capitalist would consider obscene.
This of course was to be expected. I was troubled however, to find so many Christians readily joining in the unanimous chorus of praise to the god of Apple. Some echoed the poem on fakesteve.net, extolling the joy created by Jobs, the childlike sense of wonder that he restored, and ‘the belief that something magical was just around the corner.’ Without a doubt, Apple produces amazing products. Whether Christians should so willingly embrace the wonder created by these products is another matter. That we need technology to reinvigorate our sense of wonder bespeaks a malady that was formerly known as sloth, understood as the inability to enjoy true leisure, the inability to be moved by the ‘mundane.’ In a world which increasingly reflects the image of homo faber, it appears that nature is so ‘over’; creation is so ‘yesterday.’
This should not be read as a Luddite rant. Technology has transformed our lives in many positive ways. What I find deeply troubling however, is the way Christians have so readily and unreflectively embraced and even celebrated the pseudo-world we now inhabit. The many comments posted by Christians on the passing of Steve Jobs lead me to believe that too many of us have uncritically become disciples of Steve. The Rapture has indeed come, and those of us who have not been swept up, or at least feel as though we ought to first consider how these technologies may shape us, have been left behind (all apologies to Larry Norman), scorned and ridiculed by Christians who don’t see what the big deal is. Make no mistake, Apple is the perfect religion in a culture that celebrates consumption. And too many Christians have failed to grasp this.
We wait in line at our local Apple store at midnight in expectation of receiving the latest release, celebrating the euangellion with others—the ‘good news,’ boasting of our unflinching devotion to the next evolution of technology that will once again bring us that rush of joy that the current product has long stopped evoking. To be sure, consumption on one level may indeed just be a matter of semiotics, but there is a deeper, metaphysical aspect to our consumption of apple products, a participatory ontology at work which befits the notion of sacrament. Just as for many Christians the bread and wine are a means of grace, signs that point to and participate in the reality to which they point, so the iPad is the new sacrament of this latest ‘Great Awakening.’ To possess one is to participate in a movement bigger than oneself, to become a follower of ‘The Way.’
We fail to see how we have been ‘schooled’ under this pedagogy of desire, trained to want things that will restore our sense of joy and wonderment in a fallen world. This too is deeply ironic. The marketing campaign ‘think different’ is built on the assumption that we must be trained to think alike—that we simply can’t manage without the i-Whatever. Jobs succeeded in convincing us that we’re unique and alike simultaneously, and at the core, consumers. When we dare to ‘think different,’ we are joining the company of revolutionaries like Gandhi, so the commercial suggests, which would be downright laughable were it not so deeply offensive.
It is certainly right to mourn the passing of Steve Jobs. But we should be cautious against praising everything he stood for. While owning Apple products is not necessarily antithetical to being a Christ-follower, we cannot be disciples of Christ and Steve at the same time. It is good to be reminded however that as Christians we follow a true revolutionary, One before whom everyone—including the great Steve Jobs—must give an account. And there’s no app for that.