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.