The Gospel of Steve Jobs

From Andy Crouch’s insightful piece about Steve Jobs:

As remarkable as Steve Jobs is in countless ways—as a designer, an innovator, a (ruthless and demanding) leader—his most singular quality has been his ability to articulate a perfectly secular form of hope. Nothing exemplifies that ability more than Apple’s early logo, which slapped a rainbow on the very archetype of human fallenness and failure—the bitten fruit—and made it a sign of promise and progress……

Steve Jobs was the evangelist of this particular kind of progress—and he was the perfect evangelist because he had no competing source of hope. In his celebrated Stanford commencement address (which is itself an elegant, excellent model of the genre), he spoke frankly about his initial cancer diagnosis in 2003. It’s worth pondering what Jobs did, and didn’t say:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It’s life’s change agent; it clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now, the new is you. But someday, not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it’s quite true. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice, heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.

This is the gospel of a secular age. It has the great virtue of being based only on what we can all perceive—it requires neither revelation nor dogma. And it promises nothing it cannot deliver—since all that is promised is the opportunity to live your own unique life, a hope that is manifestly realizable since it is offered by one who has so spectacularly succeeded by following his own “inner voice, heart and intuition.”….

But the genius of Steve Jobs has been to persuade us, at least for a little while, that cold comfort is enough. The world—at least the part of the world in our laptop bags and our pockets, the devices that display our unique lives to others and reflect them to ourselves—will get better. This is the sense in which the tired old cliché of “the Apple faithful” and the “cult of the Mac” is true. It is a religion of hope in a hopeless world, hope that your ordinary and mortal life can be elegant and meaningful, even if it will soon be dated, dusty, and discarded like a 2001 iPod.

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  • Thanks Scot,
    I’m convinced that the world is awaiting someone, somewhere somehow who will bring hope. I can only hope that we as Christians can find provocative, meaningful and engaging ways to convey the hope we have as elegantly as Steve Jobs.

  • Jim

    Thanks for sharing that excellent piece. Had never quite thought of it that way: that such ‘theology’ is inherently self-fulfilling. Seems to me though that it is also inherently potentially disappointing, at least in the sense that if life does not work out the way you dream it, that you have no one to blame but yourself. That seems very similar to the idea sometimes extended that if one is not healed or does not realize the desires of the heart that the problem is with the faith of the believer.

    How much better to place our hope in the one who does not abandon us either to our undisciplined “wishes & dreams” nor to the self-hatred brought by disappointment.

    (Had to smile at the irony of the ads touting great prices on MACS in the right column. 🙂 )

  • There is nothing new under the sun for Steve Jobs is merely articulating the latest version of “Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die,” which Isaiah and Paul heard in their own respective generations.

  • Albion

    Interesting take on Jobs’s commencement. I don’t disagree with this part: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice, heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.” A Christian could say that as easily as an atheist. Jesus did not demand submission to dogma. He didn’t say we didn’t have a voice. And perhaps God has put in the heart of every human being a sense of who they were truly meant to be. Steve was probably thinking about something else when he wrote that, but it’s not inherently antithetical to Christianity. It’s almost agnostic.

    Christians live to follow but are called to be thinking followers. And that means heart and intuition are still in play. I don’t read this as a call to hope in something other than God so much as to make your life count and use your heart and mind while you’re doing it.

  • normbv

    Sounds a lot like something Clint Eastwood would say in his movie quotes.

    Dirty Harry … “ A man’s got to know his limitations.”

    Dirty Harry … “I don’t believe in pessimism. If something doesn’t come up the way you want, forge ahead. If you think it’s going to rain, it will.”

    Unforgiven … “It’s a hell of a thing, killin’ a man. Take away all he’s got, and all he’s ever gonna have.”

  • so what conclusions do we take away from the article and from Steve Jobs example? Is this a good thing? I get the impression that Andy Crouch thinks it is not (love the Eastwood quotes by the way!)

    He is not far off in what he says. Death, birth and generational change is the engine of social change. If it were not for this limitation of life expectancy, society would become stagnate or intolerable …

    A great book on “GENERATIONS” was written by Howe and Stauss in the 1980s. More recent works have focused on the “millennial” generation.

  • by-the-way, it is SO much easier to post here than it was at the old beliefnet. thanks for changing

  • Seems to me that Jobs’ is expressing a thoroughly Western ‘i-vision’ – the lone rugged individual making his unique way through the chaos of life, finding authenticity and meaning in being true to him/herself. The self being the measure of all things is a long long way from a Christian framework.

  • It’s a little rich telling us to not to live by someone else’s dogma and thinking.

    Apple is famous for forcing it’s customers into their strait jacket. Ever tried installing your own software on an iPhone?

  • Steve Jobs LIver Transplant: Did He Game the System?

    Two years ago, Jobs gamed the transplant allocation system to get a liver that could have saved somebody else. At the time, skeptics doubted that he should have received the organ, since he’d been treated for pancreatic cancer — in fact, he may have sought the liver because of the cancer—and the likelihood of the cancer’s recurrence made him a bad bet for putting the liver to best use. If his health is now failing because of the cancer, that suspicion may be vindicated.

  • Paul D

    And of course he sells us iMacs, iPods, and iPhones. i . . . i . . . i (less irritating than I . . . I . . . I, but it’s still all about me . . . me . . . me.)

  • Mijk V

    I was thinking of a way to rephrase this, but I’ll just post it straight up (I pretty sure that I’m well within proper copyright limitations here)

    …much of the thinking about the self of educated Americans, thinking that has become almost hegemonic in our universities and much of the middle class, is based on inadequate social science, impoverished philosophy, and vacuous theology. There are truths we do not see when we adopt the language of radical individualism. We find ourselves not independently of other people and institutions but through them. We never get to the bottom of our selves on our own. We discover who we are face to face and side by side with others in work, love, and learning. All of our activity goes on in relationships, groups, associations, and communities ordered by institutional structures and interpreted by cultural patterns of meaning. Our individualism is itself one such pattern. And the positive side of our individualism, our sense of the dignity, worth, and moral autonomy of the individual, is dependent in a thousand ways on a social, cultural, and institutional context that keeps us afloat even when we cannot very well describe it.

    Bellah et al. – Habits of the Heart

  • James

    ‘Tis a comfort as cold as the aluminum Macbook I just brought in from the car after a day in a NY winter.

  • AHH

    Jim @2, my ad in the right column was for Windows 7.
    Not sure if that’s more or less ironic than yours.

  • Will Porter

    One of the most Godly pastors I ever knew warned us to be careful whose advice we threw away. I believe we need to be careful to not ‘throw out the baby with the bath-water’ here.
    It is easy to fall into the trap of narrow man-made orthoxies. The left-overs of these usually lead to stale ineffectual activities we dignify by labeling them ‘ministry’.
    I understand that Mr. Jobs words here are a bit egocentric but I agree with Albion; it’s a bit frightening when we in the Kingdom are encouraged to lead our evaluations with suspicion.

  • Christine

    Naum, #10, I found this link disturbing, actually, and wonder why you would insert it here. Jobs did nothing wrong by getting a liver from Tennessee. Legally, it was spot-on, and the transplant team found him a worthy candidate. Presumably they knew a lot more about it than the author of the Slate piece or you or me.

    If I were in his situation and had his financial means, i well may have done the same thing. And who are ANY of us to judge another in that manner? Jobs has done a great deal of good during the last two years that he’s had the liver. You’re now suggesting it should have gone to someone else? The docs at the time deemed him a viable candidate for the transplant, and who are any of us to second guess them? Or who are any of us to now ‘demand’ that he tell us what is going on with him medically?

    I didn’t find Crouch’s analysis to be that helpful. I think Steve Jobs has made a remarkable contribution to society, and the likes of his mind, his innovation, his intuitive sense of what ‘fits’ with consumers, is such a rare talent, such a gift. I just read an article yesterday that he really has been self-taught. No MBA program. Attended Reed for a bit, then quit. Just an amazingly gifted person.

    I certainly wish Mr. Jobs and his family the best as he battles his health concerns, and I, for one, am very grateful for every day that the transplanted liver made possible. I wouldn’t begrudge him it for one second, and think that the Slate article is harsh.

  • Ana Mullan

    Thank you Scot for that insight, very interesting and eye opener for me who does not follow much Apple “theology”.
    My question is, if life is all that we have now, why, christians or atheists, we all cry when somebody dies, why do feel a sense of lost, and I think we do, because eternity is in our hearts, we long for what we have lost. If I wouldn’t have experienced love I wouldn’t have known what I am missing. The ache in our hearts is the one that tells us that we were made for something more.