Steve Jobs, Apple founder, dies

We may have anticipated the news but it’s still such a shock to read about Apple founder Steve Jobs’ death, likely from pancreatic cancer. Many of us first read or heard the news on Apple products. I write this on my iMac with two iPhones, an iPad and two Macbooks nearby. And I’m not even one of those Mac evangelists. I just really like the design and function of the products.

My brother called me when he heard the news and recounted stories about how he and his best friend took programming courses because of Jobs and how they dreamed of a career such as his. And this was in the 1980s. Who can forget that brilliant Ridley Scott commercial announcing the release of the Apple Macintosh? The first layout design I ever did on a computer was on an Apple. It was so user-friendly and intuitive and fun. It feels weird to be so profoundly sad at the death of a CEO, and yet very many of us do.

I was curious how obituaries would handle Steve Jobs’ religion and values. Part of that curiosity had to do with having heard he was catechized by one of the best pastors I have ever known. The Rev. Dr. Martin Taddey was pastor of Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Palo Alto. When I grew up in California, Taddey served as a confessor for my father, also a pastor. Members of Trinity and our congregation used to go on camping trips in Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Forests. Mostly what I remember is that he would wake us up very early chanting matins. Anyway, I also heard that Jobs had converted to Buddhism. I was curious how all that would be handled.

This New York Times obit was thorough and long but it did not mention anything about religion, except to say that when he was a poor college-aged kid, he used to walk across town to a Hare Krishna temple for a free meal once a week. Many other remembrances, such as the one I embedded above, focused on the products Jobs helped create as opposed to much about Jobs as a person. But some articles ventured into faith.

CNN ran an entire article on the religion and values of Jobs, headlined “The spiritual side of Steve Jobs.” From the lede:

As with anyone, Jobs’ values were shaped by his upbringing and life experiences. He was born in 1955 in San Francisco and grew up amid the rise of hippie counterculture. Bob Dylan and the Beatles were his two favorite musical acts, and he shared their political leanings, antiestablishment views and, reportedly, youthful experimentation with psychedelic drug usage.

The name of Jobs’ company is said to be inspired by the Beatles’ Apple Corps, which repeatedly sued the electronics maker for trademark infringement until signing an exclusive digital distribution deal with iTunes. Like the Beatles, Jobs took a spiritual retreat to India and regularly walked around his neighborhood and the office barefoot.

Traversing India sparked Jobs’ conversion to Buddhism. Kobun Chino, a monk, presided over his wedding to Laurene Powell, a Stanford University MBA.

The article is somewhat disappointing, giving me a “look what I read about Buddhism on Wikipedia and then tried to match up with details from Jobs’ life and work” feeling. A discussion of the rather unfortunate way that Jobs handled getting his girlfriend pregnant is tied into karma, for instance. Or like this:

The Buddhist scriptures, according to tradition, were transmitted in secret, as were many of Apple’s business dealings and Jobs’ personal struggles. Like the paranoid secrecy that surrounded product development at Apple, Jobs spurned most reporters’ interview requests, misled them in statements he did give, refused to disclose details of his cancer to investors until undergoing an operation and became shrouded in a scandal involving backdating stock options.

The article harshes on Jobs for not doing more philanthropy (apparently creating jobs, increasing efficiency and standards of living don’t count) and has a somewhat interesting discussion of simplicity being a guiding principle for the company. I was surprised that there wasn’t any mention of that discussion he had with a complaining customer about the lack of porn available on the iPad. He’d said something about wanting a world with “freedom from porn.”

I appreciated that the article didn’t gloss over some of the complaints about Jobs’ treatment of other people but the article itself was just disjointed and shallow.

There is certainly room for a better discussion of Jobs, his religious views and ethics outlook on life and death. And I bet that doesn’t even come close to some of the interesting religion angles that might be out there for a story on the outsized influence of the world that Steve Jobs helped create. It’s also interesting how some of the tributes and shrines to Jobs treat him as a beloved saint. See, for example, this very interesting essay about how a journalist confessing his sin to Jobs absolved him of his writer’s block.

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  • sari

    Given Job’s penchant for privacy, wouldn’t comment on his religious beliefs, whatever they were, boil down to speculation?

  • Mollie


    He was a bit paradoxical with regard to privacy. He was considered by many reporters to be extremely open and engaging and it was not unheard of for him to just call people up. Friends and neighbors say the same thing. On-the-record discussions were a bit different, of course.

    So I’m not sure how easy or difficult it would be to navigate the privacy issues to discuss ethics, religion, etc.

  • Steve

    “harshes on Jobs”. Harshes on? Is this ebonic-chic, like “hatin’ on”? Not appreciated.

  • Bill

    It makes sense that Jobs was enigmatic and often reticent. An astute person in Jobs’ position, where anything he says might cause a substantial shift in his company’s shareholder value, would be careful with his words.

    I smiled at Mollie’s description of being surrounded by Apple products. We’ve got two Mac Pros, one iMac, two Mac Air Books, two iPhones and an iPad going. I well remember the “1984″ commercial. I was slogging through TRS-DOS on a TRS-80 Model III (48K ram and two, count ‘em TWO floppy drives!) I bought a Mac when it came out and never looked back. It was also great fun to join in the early Mac vs PC skirmishes. Those were the pre-Web days of CompuServe and CIS forums, and it was astonishing and exhilarating to be able to connect with people all across the world with similar interests. A few became long-time friends.

    Counting machines for business and family, I’ve bought more than 50 Macs over the years. They are wonderful machines, but just machines. Like the horse collar, the steel plow and movable type, the personal computer has changed our lives in ways we see and ways we do do not yet perceive, but human nature remains what it always has been. Computer technology is beneficial and safe only so long as we don’t make it a Golden Calf. As Gen. Omar Bradley wrote: “We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount. … The world has achieved brilliance without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants.”

    I believe Steve Jobs knew that.

  • sari

    Heh, Bill. Though I have no strong feelings in either direction, we live on the other side of the divide. My husband’s been in software development for thirty-five years and committed to PCs early on. He found the Apple user interface too free form, a sentiment shared by many of his engineer colleagues.

    Mollie, my question concerned how open Jobs was about his religious beliefs and how they informed his behavior. If he stayed mum, then what’s left is second hand material from sources of varying reliability and a lot of extrapolation. And, while he created jobs and an industry, charitable giving matters. Most organized religions, including Buddhism, emphasize caring for the less fortunate. … I, as a reader, would like to know if he gave and, if not, why.

  • Bill

    Sari, isn’t it wonderful that we have a choice of operating systems? I’m tempted to make some smart crack about Mac vs PC, but GR would be an inappropriate place to start a religious war.

  • J.W. Cox

    To sari’s points….

    Even (or maybe especially) where someone does NOT “stay mum,” there’s more to evaluating how a person’s professed religious beliefs affect their behavior. And that actually gets done from what sari calls “second hand material.”

    From what I can tell, Jobs was intensely private and perhaps especially with regard to religion.

    The issue of charitable giving raised by CNN and others refers, I think, to Jobs’ decision to curtail Apple’s CORPORATE giving. One account that I read attributed that to cost-cutting after he returned to re-take the company’s helm in the ’90s. Based on the limited coverage I’ve seen so far, I’ve not seen any reference to his PERSONAL charitable activities. My gut feeling is that he would consider it no one’s business but his own.

    My own take on one part of Jobs’ public persona, his awareness of death and how it may have influenced his life and work is here: “Steve Jobs and Life in the Shadow of Death”

  • Drew

    well…what is he

  • sari

    J.W. Cox–His statements need to form the basis by which second party material is judged relevant to the topic.

  • Stringman

    Jobs’ philanthropy or lack thereof is a fair topic to raise. Whatever one thinks of Jobs’ fellow geek plutocrat Bill Gates or his company or his motivations, Gates has in recent years set an staggeringly high standard for giving by aggressively disbursing big chunks of his incomprehensible wealth to support creative philanthropies and, with his buddy Warren, has held the feet of other uber-rich to the fire to do likewise. Frankly, I can’t honestly consider job creation/standards of living/efficiency in the first world in the same category as disease eradication, nutrition, sustainability, in the third world. Now, with no info on what outreaches Jobs was plugged into, I won’t judge, but given that the media has been giving recent attention to the philanthropy of high-profile wealthy persons, I think it is certainly legitimate question to ask the same questions about Steve Jobs.

  • Michael

    Jobs seems clearly to have identified as a Buddhist. It may also be worth mentioning that he dated Joan Baez, also a Buddhist, and reportedly considered marrying her but allegedly was dissuaded because at the time she was 41 and he wanted to have children.

    The gay press is lauding Jobs as a pioneer in establishing non-discrimination policies and providing benefits to domestic partners at Apple. Apple also donated $100,000 in the fight against Proposition 8 in California. When he announced the gift, Jobs said the decision to oppose Proposition 8 was not political issue, but moral.

  • Ira Rifkin
  • Shobha

    Steve Jobs practiced Hare Krishna faith (a version of Hindu religion) in the 1970s. He went to India to take a dip in the holy river Ganges when he worked at Atari. Later he formally adopted Buddhism.

  • Steve walsh

    Has a policy of deleting truthful comments that upset the feel-good factor.

  • Michael

    Ira, thank you for the correction regarding Joan Baez’s religion. I read something that emphasized Jobs’ and her shared interest in Eastern religion and extrapolated from that that she must also be a Buddhist. I know that her marriage to David Harris was a Quaker and Episcopalian affair.

  • Drew

    ahh…ok so he is buddist.Thank you for answerin one of the questions i thought i would never now in my life.

  • Drew

    i meant answering

  • Ira Rifkin
  • E Anban

    Learning Buddhism is to learn mainly about yourself; So you must search for ,and inquire Into the original mind;Learning Ch’an is to apply your own mind ;So we must investigate and study the real self.
    Steve Job’s made him Noble

  • Ira Rifkin

    More on Jobs the man rather than the myth and seductiveness of his products:

  • Dale

    So, Jobs was really not a Buddhist – not in practice, and we presume not in belief or community. But like, Buddhism was totally the inspiration for his greatness. You know, key Buddhist ideas: focus, simplicity. Clearly the province of Buddhism, those.

    Oops… catchy but inaccurate title. Not a mantra. I’m guessing the reporter doesn’t know what a literal mantra is…

    A doofy, wandering piece, based on alleged vague “embedded influences”. Yawn.

    “Jobs and his college friend Daniel Kottke, who later worked for him at Apple, visited Neem Karoli Baba at his Kainchi Ashram. He returned home to California a Buddhist, complete with a shaved head and traditional Indian clothing and a philosophy that may have shaped much of his corporate values. ”

    So, he visits a Hindu guru, and natch, comes home a Buddhist. And wikipedia says that the guru actually died before Jobs could meet with him.

    Well, at least his wedding ceremony was done by a Zen priest.

    “Though Jobs may not have been a devout practitioner of Buddhism, his personal and corporate vision certainly struck the same tone — “wisdom and compassion,” he said.”

    Uh, yeah, compassion: