The Apotheosis of Steve Jobs

CNN’s religion blog asked several experts if they thought that the recently departed Steve Jobs has been turned into a secular saint.  I liked what Gary Laderman of Emory University had to say:

Steve Jobs the man is dead. But Steve Jobs the myth is only growing in stature and will only continue to grow as a cultural point of reference as an inspiring model for aspiring entrepreneurs, as a compelling success story with perplexing moral commitments and as an appealing icon whose life, death and products will, for many, cross over the line from profane to sacred.

In a USA Today review of Walter Isaacson’s new book, “Steve Jobs,” the author rightly suggests that no Silicon Valley figure has attained the “mythical status” of Jobs and notes his “almost messianic zeal” for work.

Why the religious language to characterize his life and death? How does a mere mortal transform into a superhuman, glorified cultural hero?

Jobs has been the object of numerous memorials, and tributes – more than a million – are being posted on Apple’s “Remembering Steve” webpage, with condolences as well as testimonials about how Jobs and his products have touched and indeed transformed the lives of countless individuals.

Make no mistake about it, the veneration we are seeing in the aftermath of Jobs’ death is religious through and through – not “kinda” religious, or “pseudo” religious,” or “mistakenly” religious, but a genuine expression for many of heartfelt sacred sentiments of loss and glorification.

It is not tied to any institution like a church or to any discrete tradition like Buddhism; it is, instead, tied to a religious culture that will only grow in significance and influence in the years ahead: the cult of celebrity.

As more and more people move away from conventional religions and identify as “nones” (those who choose to claim “no religion” in polls and surveys), celebrity worship and other cultural forms of sacred commitment and meaning will assume an even greater market share of the spiritual marketplace.

In life Jobs may have been something of an enigma who maintained his privacy and generally stayed out of the public limelight. In death, Jobs now is an immortal celebrity whose life story, incredible wealth, familiar visage, and igadgets will serve as touchstones for many searching for meaningful gods and modes of transcendence.

via Short Takes: Are we turning Steve Jobs into a saint? – CNN Belief Blog – CNN.com Blogs.

I would say that it isn’t just that Jobs has been turned into a saint.  In our newly-minted paganism, he and other celebrities have undergone apotheosis.  That is, they have been turned into gods.  The parallel is what would happen in the Roman Empire.   An accomplished emperor dies.  So the Senate votes to proclaim him a god.  Whereupon he enters the pantheon and citizens are enjoined to perform sacrifices to him.

Laderman’s point about celebrity worship in our current spiritual void is very acute.  The most dramatic examples are the shrines and religious devotion that some acolytes give to Elvis Presley.  We are seeing something similar with Michael Jackson.  The devotees of Steve Jobs are arguably more sophisticated, but still. . . .

What are some other examples of celebrity worship?

HT:  Joe Carter

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • SKPeterson

    To some extent JFK and Abraham Lincoln, although JFK seems to be waning as the Boomers age out. Perhaps these celebrity cults begin to die off as people age and new devotees are fewer and less committed not having intimate contact with or memories of the revered persona. Although Elvis is still an “idol” he’s not quite the social phenomenon he was in, say, 1975. I expect that this was also the cases with Roman emperors.

    There were some demonstrations of this behavior after Kurt Cobain’s death, but they’re on a lower plane, more akin to Jim Morrison-style reverence.

    For a truly twisted and evil version you can reference the embodiments of the Juche way in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the well-known humanitarians of the Kim dynasty.

  • SKPeterson

    To some extent JFK and Abraham Lincoln, although JFK seems to be waning as the Boomers age out. Perhaps these celebrity cults begin to die off as people age and new devotees are fewer and less committed not having intimate contact with or memories of the revered persona. Although Elvis is still an “idol” he’s not quite the social phenomenon he was in, say, 1975. I expect that this was also the cases with Roman emperors.

    There were some demonstrations of this behavior after Kurt Cobain’s death, but they’re on a lower plane, more akin to Jim Morrison-style reverence.

    For a truly twisted and evil version you can reference the embodiments of the Juche way in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the well-known humanitarians of the Kim dynasty.

  • PG

    Princess Diana comes to mind.

  • PG

    Princess Diana comes to mind.

  • PG

    Princess Diana comes to mind. Maybe Martin Luther King Jr.?

  • PG

    Princess Diana comes to mind. Maybe Martin Luther King Jr.?

  • Mary

    Obama
    Perhaps not apotheosis, but celebrity cult worship

  • Mary

    Obama
    Perhaps not apotheosis, but celebrity cult worship

  • Dan Kempin

    I was going to say Lincoln, SK. Much of his life and presidency has been mythologized.

    Help me out, though, Dr Veith. Are we talking about those who were “worshipped” during life and are grieved extravagantly after death, like JFK and Michael Jackson, or do you mean the phenomenon that someone “lives on” or is “still with us?”

    Elvis, certainly. Hendrix. Poe. Perhaps even Crowley, though I don’t know how much of a celebrity he really is.

    What about Shakespeare?

  • Dan Kempin

    I was going to say Lincoln, SK. Much of his life and presidency has been mythologized.

    Help me out, though, Dr Veith. Are we talking about those who were “worshipped” during life and are grieved extravagantly after death, like JFK and Michael Jackson, or do you mean the phenomenon that someone “lives on” or is “still with us?”

    Elvis, certainly. Hendrix. Poe. Perhaps even Crowley, though I don’t know how much of a celebrity he really is.

    What about Shakespeare?

  • Dan Kempin

    (I say “what about” Shakespeare because I am not in literary circles enough to know what people really say/think about him.)

  • Dan Kempin

    (I say “what about” Shakespeare because I am not in literary circles enough to know what people really say/think about him.)

  • Tom Hering

    John Lennon, secular saint and martyr.

    On 9 October 2007, Ono dedicated a new memorial called the Imagine Peace Tower, located on the island of Viðey, off the coast of Iceland. Each year, between 9 October and 8 December, it projects a vertical beam of light high into the sky in Lennon’s memory.

    Every 8 December a memorial ceremony is held in front of the Capitol Records building on Vine Street in Hollywood, California. People also light candles in front of Lennon’s Hollywood Walk of Fame star, outside the Capitol Building.

    In 2009, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s New York City annex hosted a special John Lennon exhibit, which included many mementos and personal effects from Lennon’s life, as well as the clothes he was wearing when he was murdered, still in the brown paper bag from Roosevelt Hospital.

  • Tom Hering

    John Lennon, secular saint and martyr.

    On 9 October 2007, Ono dedicated a new memorial called the Imagine Peace Tower, located on the island of Viðey, off the coast of Iceland. Each year, between 9 October and 8 December, it projects a vertical beam of light high into the sky in Lennon’s memory.

    Every 8 December a memorial ceremony is held in front of the Capitol Records building on Vine Street in Hollywood, California. People also light candles in front of Lennon’s Hollywood Walk of Fame star, outside the Capitol Building.

    In 2009, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s New York City annex hosted a special John Lennon exhibit, which included many mementos and personal effects from Lennon’s life, as well as the clothes he was wearing when he was murdered, still in the brown paper bag from Roosevelt Hospital.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    I guess Shakespeare would be the ultimate example, to the point that he has been taken from “bardolatry” to atheism, with some people denying that he even existed! Maybe some day people will doubt the existence of Steve Jobs.

    As to your question, this wouldn’t apply to people admired during their lifetimes. Apotheosis is bestowed after death.

    In the rotunda of our nation’s capitol, painted on the inside of the dome, is a fresco entitled “The Apotheosis of Washington,” showing the Father of Our Country being taken up into Heaven. And, of course, the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials here in D.C. are, very precisely, Greek temples that contain a statue of the deity.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    I guess Shakespeare would be the ultimate example, to the point that he has been taken from “bardolatry” to atheism, with some people denying that he even existed! Maybe some day people will doubt the existence of Steve Jobs.

    As to your question, this wouldn’t apply to people admired during their lifetimes. Apotheosis is bestowed after death.

    In the rotunda of our nation’s capitol, painted on the inside of the dome, is a fresco entitled “The Apotheosis of Washington,” showing the Father of Our Country being taken up into Heaven. And, of course, the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials here in D.C. are, very precisely, Greek temples that contain a statue of the deity.

  • Booklover

    There is a god who was not comely to look at, and who served others rather than himself, and who died a horrible death for others. Apostles after him died horrible deaths. It is hard to reverence one like that.

    Our culture worships the rich, the gifted, the beautiful. If one embodies all of those traits, then there we are at their pedestal.

    Christians do it, too. The adulated speakers at our fundraisers are generally not ones who build wells or care for orphans in Africa. They are champion football quarterbacks or outwardly beautiful actresses.

    I have noticed the celebrity cult for Steve Jobs. But at least he was truly fulfilling his vocation, and seemed to love what he did. For that he is to be admired.

  • Booklover

    There is a god who was not comely to look at, and who served others rather than himself, and who died a horrible death for others. Apostles after him died horrible deaths. It is hard to reverence one like that.

    Our culture worships the rich, the gifted, the beautiful. If one embodies all of those traits, then there we are at their pedestal.

    Christians do it, too. The adulated speakers at our fundraisers are generally not ones who build wells or care for orphans in Africa. They are champion football quarterbacks or outwardly beautiful actresses.

    I have noticed the celebrity cult for Steve Jobs. But at least he was truly fulfilling his vocation, and seemed to love what he did. For that he is to be admired.

  • #4 Kitty

    C.F.W. Walther~ he’s LCMS’ Chuck Norris.
    You know, the …”Jesus walked on water; C.F.W. Walther swam through land” sort of thing.

  • #4 Kitty

    C.F.W. Walther~ he’s LCMS’ Chuck Norris.
    You know, the …”Jesus walked on water; C.F.W. Walther swam through land” sort of thing.

  • Pingback: Steve Jobs, Jesus Christ, and the Bland Conformity of Western Christianity | Cerulean Sanctum

  • Pingback: Steve Jobs, Jesus Christ, and the Bland Conformity of Western Christianity | Cerulean Sanctum

  • DonS

    I don’t think this is anything new. When someone dies, they are eulogized in the most positive way (we don’t bring up their flaws at their funeral), and this is particularly true when they die young. Sometimes it is the most ridiculous thing, like Bonnie & Clyde, or James Dean, or Elvis. It’s human nature, but I don’t think it equates to apotheosis, at least not among the vast majority of the “normal” population. It’s just a wistfulness about our mortality, and in the case of Jobs, a recognition of the incredible contribution his inventiveness and creativity made to society.

  • DonS

    I don’t think this is anything new. When someone dies, they are eulogized in the most positive way (we don’t bring up their flaws at their funeral), and this is particularly true when they die young. Sometimes it is the most ridiculous thing, like Bonnie & Clyde, or James Dean, or Elvis. It’s human nature, but I don’t think it equates to apotheosis, at least not among the vast majority of the “normal” population. It’s just a wistfulness about our mortality, and in the case of Jobs, a recognition of the incredible contribution his inventiveness and creativity made to society.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Actually, given what I read in the discussion we had on Walther the other day, I’d say Walther is a pretty good suggestion (@10). At the very least, the details of his story (and that of the early LCMS) were new to me — and not quite as shiny as I’d assumed.

    Anyhow, Veith said (@8):

    This wouldn’t apply to people admired during their lifetimes. Apotheosis is bestowed after death.

    But surely Jobs was admired during his lifetime — in my opinion, people mainly projected their feelings towards their computers and phones on to him, but all the same, the man was clearly revered as something of a rock star while he was alive.

    I’m not convinced that we’ll be talking about his “apotheosis” in a little while, though. How many business leaders can you name from twenty or fifty years ago? Okay, now how many of those were good (i.e. not scandalous) business leaders?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Actually, given what I read in the discussion we had on Walther the other day, I’d say Walther is a pretty good suggestion (@10). At the very least, the details of his story (and that of the early LCMS) were new to me — and not quite as shiny as I’d assumed.

    Anyhow, Veith said (@8):

    This wouldn’t apply to people admired during their lifetimes. Apotheosis is bestowed after death.

    But surely Jobs was admired during his lifetime — in my opinion, people mainly projected their feelings towards their computers and phones on to him, but all the same, the man was clearly revered as something of a rock star while he was alive.

    I’m not convinced that we’ll be talking about his “apotheosis” in a little while, though. How many business leaders can you name from twenty or fifty years ago? Okay, now how many of those were good (i.e. not scandalous) business leaders?

  • Patrick Kyle

    The part that gets me is that by all accounts , Jobs was an exceptionally cruel man. Friends and enemies alike agree on this.

    Personally, I think that cruelty disqualifies a man for adulation. True, he did great things and changed how many of us live, however Paul’s words that without love we are nothing seem to somehow apply, after reading several examples of Job’s poor treatment of friends and co-workers.

    I realize that all this is lost on our culture and even large portions of the church, but I think it is an important point.

  • Patrick Kyle

    The part that gets me is that by all accounts , Jobs was an exceptionally cruel man. Friends and enemies alike agree on this.

    Personally, I think that cruelty disqualifies a man for adulation. True, he did great things and changed how many of us live, however Paul’s words that without love we are nothing seem to somehow apply, after reading several examples of Job’s poor treatment of friends and co-workers.

    I realize that all this is lost on our culture and even large portions of the church, but I think it is an important point.

  • Dan Kempin

    Wait, if Steve Jobs has undergone apotheosis, and his existence may one day be doubted, (I loved that!), does that mean that Patrick, #13, is now blaspheming?

  • Dan Kempin

    Wait, if Steve Jobs has undergone apotheosis, and his existence may one day be doubted, (I loved that!), does that mean that Patrick, #13, is now blaspheming?

  • Pingback: A La Carte (10/27) | My Blog

  • Pingback: A La Carte (10/27) | My Blog

  • kenneth

    I wonder if Jobs even improved lives in any sense. As he was characterized as cruel, his products offer nothing at all except perhaps for the cruel who want to “learn”.

    Okay, we talk alot more, we text, we always picture but it is all a far cry from knowing neighbors and loving them for all their faults. That is improving lives, ourselves and an ever widening circle of the inclusive church growing in kingdom values.

    Love God and your neighbor is what many in technology want because it furthers their controlling schemes for power and they become prime candidates for the celestine apotheosis. You know we just float into ever expanding space, and that is just for the “few”.

    One might think Martin Luther a prophet warning time and again against earning your way into heaven. And the fans? To become and be “self righteous”. It is a sad sad world, we should all face it.

  • kenneth

    I wonder if Jobs even improved lives in any sense. As he was characterized as cruel, his products offer nothing at all except perhaps for the cruel who want to “learn”.

    Okay, we talk alot more, we text, we always picture but it is all a far cry from knowing neighbors and loving them for all their faults. That is improving lives, ourselves and an ever widening circle of the inclusive church growing in kingdom values.

    Love God and your neighbor is what many in technology want because it furthers their controlling schemes for power and they become prime candidates for the celestine apotheosis. You know we just float into ever expanding space, and that is just for the “few”.

    One might think Martin Luther a prophet warning time and again against earning your way into heaven. And the fans? To become and be “self righteous”. It is a sad sad world, we should all face it.

  • Tom Hering

    In 1977 a second attempt at Apple logo design was undertaken by art designer Rob Janoff. The logo design was very simple- an apple with a bite taken out of it, adorned with all the colours of the rainbow, albeit in the wrong order. The symbolism here was genius; the bite symbolized knowledge, as in the Garden of Eden, and was also a play on words, as in computer “byte”. The colours suggested vibrancy and energy, but the wrong ordering of these colours suggested a break from the establishment- freedom, daring and enterprise, sentiments most befitting such a revolutionary technology. As Jean Louis Gassee put it, “You couldn’t dream of a more appropriate logo: lust, knowledge, hope and anarchy”.

    http://www.thelogomix.com/blog/apple-logo-history-10051720.html

  • Tom Hering

    In 1977 a second attempt at Apple logo design was undertaken by art designer Rob Janoff. The logo design was very simple- an apple with a bite taken out of it, adorned with all the colours of the rainbow, albeit in the wrong order. The symbolism here was genius; the bite symbolized knowledge, as in the Garden of Eden, and was also a play on words, as in computer “byte”. The colours suggested vibrancy and energy, but the wrong ordering of these colours suggested a break from the establishment- freedom, daring and enterprise, sentiments most befitting such a revolutionary technology. As Jean Louis Gassee put it, “You couldn’t dream of a more appropriate logo: lust, knowledge, hope and anarchy”.

    http://www.thelogomix.com/blog/apple-logo-history-10051720.html

  • Bob Buchanan

    Perhaps John Lennon. Each year there is a gathering memorializing his death at Strawberry Field in NYC. If he may not have become a “god” in the Jobs’ sense, his Imagine doctrine has not left us.

  • Bob Buchanan

    Perhaps John Lennon. Each year there is a gathering memorializing his death at Strawberry Field in NYC. If he may not have become a “god” in the Jobs’ sense, his Imagine doctrine has not left us.

  • fws

    Pat Kyle @ 13

    Lots of wisdom in what you are saying my dear brother. I miss you. I hope to see you during Holy Week 2012.

  • fws

    Pat Kyle @ 13

    Lots of wisdom in what you are saying my dear brother. I miss you. I hope to see you during Holy Week 2012.

  • Dust

    nothing new under the sun…ever hear of albert einstein?

  • Dust

    nothing new under the sun…ever hear of albert einstein?

  • Roger Gallagher

    In Australia, you would have once said Ned Kelly, and definitely Sir Donald Bradman. In New Zealand at present, you’d definitely say Richie McCaw, the captain of the national All Blacks Rugby Team, who’ve finally won the Rugby World Cup again (thus denying us Auusies of being able to taunt the Kiwis about being World Cup chokers).

  • Roger Gallagher

    In Australia, you would have once said Ned Kelly, and definitely Sir Donald Bradman. In New Zealand at present, you’d definitely say Richie McCaw, the captain of the national All Blacks Rugby Team, who’ve finally won the Rugby World Cup again (thus denying us Auusies of being able to taunt the Kiwis about being World Cup chokers).

  • MrDan

    Being from down South, I used to think the last cultural icon to be deified was Princess Di; until Dale Earnhardt died.

  • MrDan

    Being from down South, I used to think the last cultural icon to be deified was Princess Di; until Dale Earnhardt died.

  • Grace

    Patrick Kyle @ 13

    Your comment: “Personally, I think that cruelty disqualifies a man for adulation.”

    I agree, when someone is cruel, treating their co-workers with little or no respect, I see no reason to set them, as an example to follow.

    Silicon Valley has many such people. Perhaps it’s the industry they represent. We are very well acquainted with two who behave very much the same way. Their social behavior is abominable.

  • Grace

    Patrick Kyle @ 13

    Your comment: “Personally, I think that cruelty disqualifies a man for adulation.”

    I agree, when someone is cruel, treating their co-workers with little or no respect, I see no reason to set them, as an example to follow.

    Silicon Valley has many such people. Perhaps it’s the industry they represent. We are very well acquainted with two who behave very much the same way. Their social behavior is abominable.

  • Grace

    MrDan

    Princess Diana was certainly the most famous of the time. Her funeral was watched around the world, as was her wedding to Prince Charles. Very sad ending!

  • Grace

    MrDan

    Princess Diana was certainly the most famous of the time. Her funeral was watched around the world, as was her wedding to Prince Charles. Very sad ending!

  • Pingback: Highlights (11.05) | Alex Speaks

  • Pingback: Highlights (11.05) | Alex Speaks

  • Pingback: Highlights (11.05) | Entreprelife

  • Pingback: Highlights (11.05) | Entreprelife