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.
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