The Downside of TED Talks as ‘Secular Megachurches’

Bouncing off some of the issues about seculars and the need (or lack thereof) for religion and church-like ritual I and others have been posting about over the past couple of days, I tweeted this yesterday:


Ha ha ha, right? If you’ve read more than a handful of my work, you’ve already seen me go on and on about how I half-jokingly consider Apple my “religion” and The Steve (peace be upon him) my prophet. Ha ha ha. Old news.

But when I made that tweet, I had no idea that this piece by Benjamin Bratton in The Guardian would go up hours later (thereby confirming my psychic powers). The subject? How TED talks have become, as Bratton describes them, “middlebrow megachurch infotainment.”

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On Being an Apple ‘Catholic’

It is no new thing to compare Apple, Inc. to a religion. The fanatical devotion it has inspired over the decades has made many outsiders eye it suspiciously, as it hawks a kind of techno-faith in which the textbook charismatic leader, Steve Jobs, emits a Reality Distortion Field that turns the skeptical into zealots, hungry for the latest sleek combinations of glass and aluminum like the damned crave absolution. The term “Cult of Mac,” begun by Leander Kahney in his book and website of that title, both pokes fun at and celebrates this comparison.

Those who live inside the Reality Distortion Field, in my experience, rarely resent this. Just as true religious zealots do not mind being known for their blind faith, but wear it as a badge of honor. This is a bit of an exaggeration, of course, as even the most doughy-eyed Apple user will still vent criticisms and complaints, but very often this is done in the spirit of keeping true to a central credo; as in, if device X does or does not have Y feature, is that really keeping with The Apple Way? Is it What Steve Would Have Done? Et cetera.

I, too, have embraced this. Being an atheist, in particular, it’s actually kind of fun to have a pretend religion to subscribe to. I follow the teachings of The Steve, Apple keynotes are like a twice-yearly mass, and I look for signs from the prophets Tim Cook and Jony Ive, just as much as I shook my head in despair at the heretics Scott Forestall and John Browett as they fell from grace.

At New York Review of Books, Edward Mendelson explores the idea of Apple-as-religion anew:

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