When Steve Jobs Left His Faith

An excerpt from Walter Isaacson‘s new biography about Steve Jobs:

Even though they were not fervent about their faith, Jobs’s parents wanted him to have a religious upbringing, so they took him to the Lutheran church most Sundays. That came to an end when he was thirteen. In July 1968 “Life” magazine published a shocking cover showing a pair of starving children in Biafra. Jobs took it to Sunday school and confronted the church’s pastor. “If I raise my finger, will God know which one I’m going to raise even before I do it?

The pastor answered, “Yes, God knows everything.”

Jobs then pulled out the “Life” cover and asked, “Well, does God know about this and what’s going to happen to those children?”

“Steve, I know you don’t understand, but yes, God knows about that.”

Jobs announced that he didn’t want to have anything to do with worshipping such a God, and he never went back to church.

(Thanks to Rich for the text!)

Smart guy, even as a child… though later in life, he did turn to belief in a god every once in a while (as if that makes any sense…):

“You know, I’m kind of 50/50 on believing in God. But I want to believe that something endures, that your wisdom that you accumulate, that the knowledge that you have somehow is able to endure after you die.”

(via Reddit)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Anonymous

    Pretty hard to paint Jobs as a theist in any typical sense. As a [western] Buddhist, belief in a god was certainly not an emphasized by that practice. As far as I know (and I haven’t read the book), none of us really know to what extent he was a religious man, beyond the fact that he and his wife were married by a Buddhist monk.

    • Pseudonym

      The smartest people in the world are almost by definition not typical. That applies to the theists and the atheists, the religious and the non-religious.

      • Anonymous

        I never meant to use the term “typical” to broadly describe the man, only in terms of any reflection of Jobs ever being a theist. His religious views were progressive, to the say the least, but ultimately I don’t think they guided him so much as his intuition did.

  • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

    ugh… why would you want to convince anyone he was an atheist? just makes us all look bad. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Steve Jobs was a despicable human being.

    • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/5VMOXULR5GJZTQ35VUA2WCHXBE Zebradune

      What makes him “despicable”?

      • http://www.facebook.com/billyup Jesse Jones

        His business practices. His stealing ideas, but not being able to handle people doing it to him. His use of cheap chinese labor. His shutting down of Apple’s philanthropy programs the instant he starts back as Apple’s CEO. I’m sure there is more.

        • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2C6XFSMIUYAZUDZ4CWUWLV7CEY Josh Pearson

          Steve Jobs = Thomas Edison.

    • Pseudonym

      Nobody is purely good and very few are purely bad. Sorry to quote Martin Luther, but Steve Jobs was simul justus et peccator.

      • Justin

        In what world are design and marketing skill considered the traits that make one righteous?

        • http://considertheteacosy.wordpress.com/ Tea Cosy

          In a world where these things have value and use? Where his design and marketing skills helped to create products which actually improve people’s lives?

          • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2C6XFSMIUYAZUDZ4CWUWLV7CEY Josh Pearson

            “Angry Birds” improves your life? No, Steve Jobs mass-marketed tools that can be better used to help people’s lives.

            Hell, Microsoft’s “Kinect” has more potential application than any Apple touch-screen.

            Steve Jobs was all flash, and not the Adobe kind.

            • Stephen Peek

              WTF are you talking about?!?!? you really think that microsoft kinect has more of an impact on the world than apple? apple revolutionized modern technology, the only reason you are able to type that comment into a website is because apple made the pc simple enough for you to use, they paved the road that everyone else drives on, apple didn’t make “angry birds”, angry birds is just a car that drives on the road, are you going to blame the people who build a bridge if some idiot crashes his car and blocks traffic or will you appreciate the fact that if it weren’t for the bridge you’d never be driving to where you are going in the first place

  • Anonymous

    “I want to believe that something endures, that your wisdom that you
    accumulate, that the knowledge that you have somehow is able to endure
    after you die.” Heck, I do too! And that’s why I’m working on this robot… seriously, it’s perfectly natural for a human to want to believe this, even if they *don’t* actually believe it. I want to believe that, in spite of everything, humankind is, as a whole, good at heart. But while I WANT to believe that, I’m not sure I do…

    • Pseudonym

      Now that you mention it, this does kind of explain Siri.

  • Luce

    His knowledge and wisdom will endure after he dies as long as there are people around to hold and appreciate that knowledge. God, however, is not the answer.

  • Anonymous

    But then in the end, he turned to a wholistic diet  to try to cure his cancer instead of science and medicine.  So while he may have been empirical in some aspects of his life,  it seems  that he turned a blind eye to evidence and logic when it might have mattered the most.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com miller

    I thought for a second Jobs was going to raise his middle finger there.

  • Anonymous

    He must have been religious.  Editorial cartoonists portrayed him in heaven with atheists and free thinkers.

    Here he is with Franklin and Edison: http://designcrave.com/2011-10-12/top-ten-steve-jobs-cartoon-tributes-from-around-the-world/dc101111-08/ 

    Here is a collection: http://blog.cagle.com/2011/10/christian-heaven-for-buddhist-steve-jobs/

  • Erp

    His childhood church was apparently Trinity Lutheran Palo Alto which is a Missouri Synod church (i.e., conservative).   It is located next to the town’s children’s library and not very far from the current main library (though I’m not sure the main library was there then).  

    • ExRev

      His childhood church was Immanuel Lutheran Church in Los Altos, mere blocks from his home on Crist Drive.  While interning at this church in the late ’80s, I visited the father at the home.  He was articulate about his agnosticism; we had a great talk.

  • Anonymous

    It can be a very disappointing to think that our own personal knowledge, gathered at such laborious effort, will simply disintegrate on our death.  I understand that, but that’s the reality.  That’s why it is important to do something with your knowledge so that it will live on after your death.  Build a fantastic company that makes fantastic devices.  Or even more directly, teach other people what you know. 

    I think it’s one of the most beautiful things about humanity that we have a finite life-span.  It requires that we constantly teach another generation what we know, just as they will have to do the same, generation after generation.  We are a species that must teach in order to preserve knowledge.

    • Me

      The reality is that none of us has a clue. If you think you do, that’s your need to know the answers.

    • Sk_90

      I don’t understand why people would bother if they think it’s going to come to a complete end one day? It just seems pointless even for future generations, since they will eventually end as well. It’s like you’re creating a painting that somebody is going to destroy and you know it. What’s the point of doing it at all?

      For people with faith of an afterlife, then living your life actually has purpose since what you’ve done will mean something later.

      • Martin Mcnamara

         SK, Does it have to last an eternity as to not be pointless? Maybe if we just leave it better than we found it, for the future “us”, like our previous generations did for us. Or tried to, I think.This is why your your typical atheist believes life is the most precious of all things. This is not a warm up act. The powerful would like you to believe- that if you do A B and C, you will live forever in heaven. Our religious beliefs will never allow our scientific community to strive for “forever living”, at least for the un-rich. (bet your average Christian billionaire would sign up, which should tell you something about faith.). It wasn’t that long ago, maybe 20yrs, when the scientific community and the religious co-existed just fine, mostly. And remember, YOU wont notice your gone. What we do with the life we have can be meaningful and should be- if you can think in a way that it’s not ALL ABOUT YOU. We are part of things bigger than ourselves- a species, a community- a family- and what should matter, maybe, is your CONTRIBUTION to the planet- Your confused because the people in power want you to reject that- so they can remain in power. I talk this way and I’m labeled a socialist, which I’m not, but I’m sure a lot easier to control when I’m by myself only caring about myself  rather than part of something greater, and paying attention to what’s going on and what’s happening to our only planet. I have nothing personal against an individual’s beliefs- but when those beliefs are manipulated by wealthy entities, and people of faith are used to further some corporate agenda- Ya, their lives are de-valued. For their time is precious and is wasted on a pack of lies- their easy to spot- They devalue education, science, facts, and the knowable truth. They value feelings and tradition superstition, and the para-normal. They’ll tell ya to hate and to be afraid. They’ll tell ya someone or something is coming for your values and you are under attack. Question everything! Maybe that will be your purpose. 

      • array528

        See, this ^ is what makes you a simple minded idiot…

  • Rich Wilson

    The text of the image:

    Even though they were not fervent about their faith, Jobs’s parents wanted him to have a religious upbringing, so they took him to the Lutheran church most Sundays.  That came to an end when he was thirteen.  In July 1968 “Life” magazine published a shocking cover showing a pair of starving children in Biafra.  Jobs took it to Sunday school and confronted the church’s pastor.  “If I raise my finger, will God know which one I’m going to raise even before I do it?

    The pastor answered, “Yes, God knows everything.”

    Jobs then pulled out the “Life” cover and asked, “Well, does God know about this and what’s going to happen to those children?”

    “Steve, I know you don’t understand, but yes, God knows about that.”

    Jobs announced that he didn’t want to have anything to do with worshipping such a God, and he never went back to church.

  • http://twitter.com/deanrobertsnet Dean Roberts

    Too many people just sit on the fence… I have to say as a Christian that it’s the doubt that God ISN’T there rather than that he is that causes so many people to be ‘agnostic’ or something else.

    http://deanroberts.net

  • Nbreiden

    Declaring one doesn’t want anything to do with worshipping a God that allows starving children is much different than disbelief.   Recently I have had conversation with a couple people who indicate they are “atheist” when in actuality they very much believe there is a God, they are just angry at Him and “feel” they can punish Him by declaring disbelief.

    • Anonymous

      You actually know this because that’s what they’ve told you? Or is that just an assumption on your part?

    • Tori

      Oh, whatever.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mark-OLeary/1313741338 Mark O’Leary

    The Lutheran story reminds me of this quote by Thomas Paine:” Any system of religion that has anything in it that shocks the mind of a child, cannot be true.” 

  • Nicole S

    Interesting. That makes a lot of sense. And I can understand wanting to believe. It does make death easier to comprehend. 

  • Anonymous

    Key words in the second quote, “I want to believe…”

    Most of the “believers” I know aren’t religious, most aren’t at all Christian in their beliefs or anything else. But because it makes them more comfortable, they hang onto “belief in something,” the idea that “there’s something out there,” “this isn’t all there is.” You don’t know how many times I hear “well I just don’t want to believe that…” as a reason people won’t give up on spiritual beliefs.

  • Edmond

    Sigh.  Yes, Steve, our wisdom and knowledge does endure after we die.  It remains right here on Earth, in the memories of those who knew us, in the records of what we’ve accomplished, and in the ways that we’ve changed the world and what we’ve passed on to others.  The greater an impact a person had, then the longer their impact will endure.  Even if there were some kind of an afterlife, there isn’t any reason to believe that ghosts or spirits need to retain their knowledge of how to ride a bike or program a computer.

  • Themiddleme

    “Smart guy, even as a child… though later in life, he did turn to belief in a god every once in a while (as if that makes any sense…):”  

    Actually, that makes perfect sense.

  • William Nicholls

    Jobs was a Buddhist and chose to waste time treating his cancer via a vegan diet, acupuncture, high colonic “cleansing”, and consultation with a psychic. Don’t paint this man as some kind of rational hero. Jobs may not have been a theist but he certainly had a taste for New Age bullshit.

    Why does the man have to be made out to be a role model? He was usually a jerk. He was superbly talented at editing ideas that others created for him. He wasn’t an inventor as such, he was a master marketer and perfectionist with pretty good taste. Apple’s products don’t embody great product design, they embody great marketing design. There are hundreds if not thousands of aftermarket products that make iPhones and iPads more rugged and easier to use because Apple’s main consideration is making them pretty and desirable. Jobs insistence on a “walled garden” makes the Apple world relatively safe, but functionally castrated.

  • Alaisdairgillecriosd

    The only one who knows whether he believed in God is Steve and God. Each of us has to answer this question ourselves and decide to what extent we will allow this epiphany to drive us to be a better human being or worse one. There are many examples either way, but I chose to be inspired by those who follow the “better” path. We convict others’ faith more by what we do than what we say anyway.

  • Chigidos

    Jobs just had problem with the Abrahamic ‘God’. The ‘God’ that would inspire Abraham   to deny Sarah as his wife, so as to be accepted in Egypt; the ‘God’ that would instigate Abraham to want to murder Isaac, his son, to demonstrate his faith to God. The ‘God’ of the racist wars of Judeo-Christianity and Arabo-Islam. Any thinking mind usually runs into confusion with the Abrahamic ‘God’, as Steve Jobs did.

    Chidi G Osuagwu

  • Shahid Pir

    it is beyond one reason that to see injustices in the world one should shunt his faith rather it enhances ones faith that varieties as well as disparities are en reaching the some super natural power 

  • Magik13

    The fact that the religions of the world are all bat shit crazy, delusional, and wrong does not necessarily mean that some kind of higher power doesn’t exist. What if we are evolving by our own choices and free will and do so willingly? What if our accumulated wisdom, knowledge, actions, and thoughts are added onto us and become parts of us after we die. We are then better equipped for the next time we live.

    I’m going to push a lot of buttons here. ; ) The Higher Creative Consciousness that is evolving as us and every other living being, planet, process, and thing in the living Universe has nothing in common with the man made anthropomorphic projections that are called “God” in the bible, koran, and other primitive religious texts.

    The Divinity is viewed as an impersonal Field or Force by the Buddhists and Taoists.

    Atheists are absolutely correct. There is no God as it is taught and described and “believed in” by the religious. Such beliefs are indeed irrational. God orders the death of babies in the bible. Atheists have reached a higher level of development than fundamentalists in that Atheists have reached and have committed themselves to the Rational level of consciousness.

    It doesn’t end there however. There are higher levels even still and yes…sorry to disappoint you but there is something there…a Force, Creative Energy, Field, Source, whatever you choose to call it… that is encountered in meditation and altered states of consciousness. One must rigorously challenge one’s inherited beliefs and clear the distortions and inner brainwashing we receive as we are growing up in this world of idiocy and ignorance in order to encounter it directly. Carl Jung called it the Numinous…some call it the Light….some call it God. It exists and we are parts of it. When Atheists reach as high a plateau of growth as they can achieve with Atheistic philosophy, they can then evolve into higher levels and states of consciousness.

  • Magik13

    Steve Jobs was the reincarnation of Charles Babbage the creator of the first concepts in computing. In this life, Jobs took his accumulated knowledge from his last life and increased it exponentially. We even look the same life to life. Don’t believe me? Compare the pictures and lives of Babbage and Jobs and come to your own conclusion. Look at a $20 bill. Andrew Jackson is alive today as John Kerry.

    Reincarnation or metempsychosis is the truth and there is a ton of anecdotal scientific evidence to prove it now. Check the work of Dr. Ian Stevenson who was Dean of Psychology at UAV. This is the first time in our history that we can compare photographic evidence of consecutive lifetimes.

    Reincarnation does not require a belief in “God”. Reincarnation is the only philosophy that makes sense of human life and what we experience here. There is no “god” judging us or that controls the strings of human life. We are an evolving species that is evolving by our own efforts and merits and by our own will. We grown learn, or evolve as fast or as slow as we want to. Make bad choices and pay the consequences. Make good choices and reap the benefits. Get addicted or spread evil and it will come back at you and you will self destruct. This world operates based on cause and effect and natural law….not the whims of some god. Furthermore, we humans created this world of cities,society’s, and governments.

    That there are starving children in Africa and other places around the world…in fact 15 million kids starve to death every year….is not the fault or shame of God but the fault and shame of Human beings. Human Beings created the systems that govern this world and the distribution of food and wealth. So you can stop blaming a god that does not exist and that never existed. Humans are quite pathetic in that people are still starving to death in the 21st century. That is downright stupid and evil. The cost of 1 missile could feed a school house full of starving kids for 5 years. If every human alive gave 5% of their income for 1 year…we could completely eradicate starvation. The problem here is not some imaginary god that does not care. The problem here is that humans are as yet a primitive and relatively unevolved species and lack sufficient empathy and compassion to address starvation and the unequal distribution of the world’s resources.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    Always atheist Rich Wilson says it takes believing in something for which there is no evidence to be a theist.  How stressful it must be to have to convince yourself that something exists when there’s no evidence for it.  But it’s never too late for those of you who are reading this post to look at it rationally.  Once you view religion as the work of man, it all makes sense.


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