An interesting article appeared the in the Wall Street Journal on the Saturday after the passing of Steve Jobs. Written by Andy Crouch, it does a good job (pardon the pun) of distilling the philosophy of technology that is common today. Steve Jobs, a master at technology and business, articulated and exemplified many of its tenants. We do well to examine this philosophy for it is a strong rival to the Christian outlook and has growing numbers of loyalists who see technology as a kind of saving god which has over thrown the older paradigm of the Judeo Christian heritage. It is a kind of substitutional philosophy that deserves so analysis.

I want to present excerpts from the article which is excellent. The full article can be read here: Steve Jobs: Secular Prophet. The text of Mr. Crouch is in bold, black italics, my comments are in red plain text.

Disclaimer: I am a fan of Apple products. I use them and will probably use more in the near future. I respect what Steve Jobs has accomplished and that what he has done has provided benefits for many to include good products, employment and the promotion of excellence. In responding to the philosophical claims of Mr Jobs and others, I am using a form of response that is akin to “rant.” I mean no personal disrespect to Mr Jobs (de mortuis nil nisi bonum).  I disagree with his outlook and philosophy but personally respect what he has accomplished. I regret he did not have faith, yet still I hope to see I hope to see him in the great parousia.

Further, If I seem to be disagreeing with Mr Crouch, I am not, for he is but reporting the philosophy of technology and in the ends raises many of the same questions I do. Remember, to some degree I am using “rant” here in order to pull memorably in the other direction. It is a form of speech that requires context and some degree of appreciation for hyperbole (exaggeration).

Steve Jobs was extraordinary in countless ways—as a designer, an innovator, a (demanding and occasionally ruthless) leader. But his most singular quality was 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 turned it into a sign of promise and progress. That bitten apple was just one of Steve Jobs’s many touches of genius, capturing the promise of technology in a single glance.

To be honest, I never really connected the Apple logo with a shot across the bow of the Judeo-Christian vision of our fallenness. I recently bought an iMac, which I like very much. But frankly the world of Apple and Mac have not been on my radar that much until recently.

But to be clear, I want to personally testify, that neither Macs nor PCs have made even a dent in the problem of sin. Any look at the typical combox of a blog will show that. If anything we’ve become more coarse and divided in our dialogue, as we tend to retreat from real interactions to virtual ones.

Granted, many new connections can be made, and some of them very beneficial,  but not all of them are good. Internet porn sites are by far the most visited sites on the Internet, most them completely blowing away the nearest competitors.

Viruses also shout sin. Imagine some one sitting at home writing code to infect my computer and crash the hard disk. Talk about evil.

If there is a rainbow over the bitten apple, it’s a hologram, not real at all. The promise of technology to save or redeem us seems hollow, indeed, empty.

The philosopher Albert Borgmann has observed that technology promises to relieve us of the burden of being merely human, of being finite creatures in a harsh and unyielding world. The biblical story of the Fall pronounced a curse upon human work—”cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life.” All technology implicitly promises to reverse the curse, easing the burden of creaturely existence. And technology is most celebrated when it is most invisible—when the machinery is completely hidden, combining godlike effortlessness with blissful ignorance about the mechanisms that deliver our disburdened lives.

To say that our lives are “disburdened” is a stretch. It is true that there are many creature comforts today and many once tedious tasks have been eliminated.

But honestly, the more we have, the less satisfied we seem to be. Stress and living at 90 mph with endless interruptions, e-mails, text messages, voice mails, tweets, and Facebook pokes, ain’t no paradise. Psychotropic drugs are sold at record levels to help manage the stress and depression that often results.

The wealthier and more well apportioned we have become, the more anxious we become. Frankly, we have too much to loose and so we are fearful.  And, all our many possessions breed a kind of addiction to them.

Steve Jobs was great at showing us how that phone he just sold a year ago us is no longer enough. In fact, since his new phone came out, the one he sold us last year is now a piece of junk. You ain’t nothing until you get the latest iPhone 5! And there is something sad and pathetic, seeing people lined up for three days in front of a store to buy a stupid phone (oops, I mean “smart phone”), especially when the one they just bought a year ago, is working fine.

Further, the promises of advertisers et al. to make life peachy, also breeds unrealistic expectations, which in turn breeds resentments and disappointments.

Don’t get me wrong, I like technology and use it, but I am not sure it has “relieved me of the burden of being merely human.”  The basic contours of life remain essentially unchanged, and that is, that life has its pleasures and pains, it’s joys and disappointments. Technology hasn’t changed that.

In the end, nothing in this world can fill the God-sized hole in our hearts. This world is not home and we’re always going to feel that we’re living out of a suitcase, because we are.

Politically, militarily, economically, the decade was defined by disappointment after disappointment—but technologically, it was defined by a series of elegantly produced events in which Steve Jobs, commanding more attention and publicity each time, strode on stage with a miracle in his pocket.

But wait a minute, I thought technology was supposed to relieve us of the burden of being merely human! What this I hear about military political and economic disappointment? Isn’t there an app for that?  Looks like we need more than a miracle in a pocket.

He believed so sincerely in the “magical, revolutionary” promise of Apple precisely because he believed in no higher power.

Well, this “magical promise” that replaces the “higher power”  has a lot of work to do.  We still ain’t back in paradise, no matter what the holographic rainbow over the bitten apple says.

In his celebrated Stanford commencement address (which is itself an elegant, excellent model of the genre), he spoke frankly….”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.”

Sad really. The human person’s dignity reduced to “doing something,” and then, when your usefulness is over and you get in the way of “change,” you need to be cleared away. Sounds like the voice of pure utilitarianism, wherein we are reduced to human doings, rather than human beings. It is clear that, by this philosophy, you do not exist for your own sake. Rather you exist for the purpose of being a “change agent.” And when you start getting in the way of blessed “progress,” holy “change” and other utopian notions, you need to be cut down and cleared away.

[Mr Jobs went on to say] “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.”

Of course dogma is a “no-no” in techno-religion, since it tends to block blessed and holy “progress” and “change.” For, “dogma” is actually more than “other people’s thinking,”  it is the wisdom of past ages, and we can’t have any of that around here. That would get in the way of holy and blessed progress and change. And remember, as soon as you get in the way, you too must be cut down and carried away. Imagine! Learning from the past. No indeed, we certainly can’t be “trapped” by dogma for the reasons stated. Change is all, progress is the pearl of great price. Away with any wisdom from the past (a.k.a “dogma”)!

This is the gospel of a secular age….but the gospel of self-fulfillment does require an extra helping of stability and privilege to be plausible……

Exactly, a philosophy like this can only emerge among the comfortable and well healed, those who are most insulated from life’s often shocking turns. The “do your own thing” dictum is simply not possible for most of the less privileged who are not as free and privileged as Mr Jobs. I wonder if Mr Job’s own employees felt free not to let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice, heart and intuition. It would seem he did give a lot a freedom to some on his staff, but I doubt the guy in shipping,  packing boxes,  felt free to ignore Mr Job’s opinion and follow his own inner voice, heart and ambition. I suspect he felt very obliged obey Mr Job’s thinking (i.e. “dogma”).

Is it possible to live a good, full, human life without that kind of hope? Steve Jobs would have said yes in a heartbeat. A convert to Zen Buddhism, he was convinced as anyone could be that this life is all there is. But the rest of us, as grateful as we are for his legacy, still have to decide whether technology’s promise is enough to take us to the promised land. Is technology enough? Has the curse truly been repealed? [Technology] works wonders within its own walled garden, but it falters when confronted with the worst of the world and the worst in ourselves. Exactly

OK, so there’s my rant. How say you?

Portrait above, by Tim O’Brien

I don’t know that I agree with the final line of this video, but it does bring home the point that there are a few thorns and thistles in techno-paradise.

48 Responses

  1. Taylor says:

    I respect Mr. Jobs as I do the builder who built my house; he had a vocation and he did it. But I give God credit for the genius behind the Apple technology, not Mr. Jobs or any of his people. Genius is from God alone; using the gift is our responsibility. I give Mr. Jobs credit for using a gift given to him – which included the grace to achieve big things. Human greatness comes from obedience and good stewardship of God’s goods.

    Peace,
    t

  2. bt says:

    “Steve Jobs was great at showing us how that phone he just sold a year ago us is no longer enough. In fact, since his new phone came out, the one he sold us last year is now a piece of junk.”

    Very funny! There is a real risk, I think, of buying so much technology and buying monthly communication plans that are so expensive, that you are really buying yourself into debt/slavery. I’ve owned two computers in my life, and that is probably one too many considering that is only use them for email and looking at a few websites.

    • Wait a minute that means you qualify for a free upgrade! (With a two year extension on your contract, that is)!

      • bt says:

        You must think I just fell off the turnip truck. I think instead I’ll upgrade to the three year or ninety day service plan (whichever comes first) with annual 10 point inspection and limited lifetime warranty (which does not cover the monitor or hard drive, or any components connected to a cable).

  3. Ivo Cerckel says:

    QUOTE
    Sad really. The human person’s dignity reduced to “doing something” and then when your usefulness is over and you get in the way of “change” you need to be cleared away. Sounds like the voice of pure utilitarianism wherein we are reduced to human doings, rather than human beings. It is clear that, by this philosophy you do not EXIST FOR YOUR OWN SAKE. Rather you exist for the purpose of being a “change agent” and when you start getting in the way of blessed “progress,” holy “change” and other utopian notions, you need to be cut down and cleared away.
    UNQUOTE

    Is altruism no longer part of the Doctrine of the Church?

    As Ayn Rand says;
    What is the moral code of altruism? The basic principle of altruism is that man has no right to exist for his own sake,that service to others is the only justification of his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue and value.
    http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/altruism.html

    I do apologize for quoting Ayn Rand, but in my Catholic upbringing, I was taught – also at the boy scouts when I was 11 or so – that a good act (“une bonne action”) is an act which benefits others – not one self.

    Yes, since then, I’ve been intoxicated by Ayn Rand
    Altruism declares that any action taken for the benefit of others is good, and any action taken for one’s own benefit is evil. Thus the beneficiary of an action is the only criterion of moral value—and so long as that beneficiary is anybody other than oneself, anything goes.
    (same link)

    By the way,
    Has the New Evangelization something to do with the New English Translation of the Roman Missal?
    The latter concerns a revision of the Holy Roman Missal which will enter into effect next Advent.
    If this a revision of the original, I suppose the new translation exists in all languages?

    • Ivo Cerckel says:

      But even the law department at the KATHOLIEKE Universiteit Leuven, once a bastion of Thomism in Belgium, advocates Kantism and social justice, a concept which cannot possibly be defined.

      Social Justice as viewed by Leuven – first exploration
      Posted by Ivo Cerckel on May 25th, 2009
      http://bphouse.com/honest_money/2009/05/25/social-justice-as-viewed-by-leuven-%E2%80%93-first-exploration/
      SNIP
      The law department at Leuven University deprives man of his right to exist for his own sake.
      +
      Does this mean that social justice is just a cover for altruism?
      UNSNIP

      Wait a moment … Didn’t I hear something about social justice in Church the other day?
      But Monsignore Pope says above that man has a right to exist for his own sake?

      • Brandy says:

        Because man’s worth and value are based upon their nature as a creation of God, they need do nothing in order to have the right to exist. This is why the Catholic Church values the lives of all – even those who are unable to work or provide for themselves in any way.

        Social justice is the notion that all men are entitled to live with dignity, and that as a society we have the duty to ensure that certain things are provided to our brothers and sisters: adequate health care, adequate food, adequate clothing, and adequate opportunities for work at a wage sufficient to provide for the needs of the individual and his or her family.

      • IVO – I am not sure of the point you’re making here.

  4. Charles says:

    What say I? I say that Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were Faustians who deliberately created an iconography that expressed their faith in science (knowledge, gnosis). Wozniak is an open Free Mason (a neo-gnostic). Their choice of a bitten apple as their trademark (after using an image of the apple falling on Newton’s head, which is also a mythic reference to Eden, itself) and their further choice to price their first machine at $666.66 are too obvious. I’ve seen Wozniak deny he knew that any of that had meaning, that he was not religious and choosing the number 666 was just mathematically elegant. I think he is lying, like Masons tend do when it comes to what they are all about.

    That said, I run a Mac. It’s elegant, and it works, unlike Windows. The opening splash screen in OS X Leopard (that splash of indistinct light that seems to be almost taking on a shape against a field of stars) creeps me out, though.. I have a gut feeling that like the bitten apple it’s got some extrinsic, occult (hidden) meaning..

    But then, maybe it’s just happenstance and accidental. Just like everything else, I’m sure Wozniak would say..

    • Fascinating, I didn’t know much of this.

      • Charles says:

        Yeah. You can learn all sorts of interesting things on the internet.

        Here’s an interesting link:

        http://www.theapplemuseum.com/index.php?id=44

        Quote from that site by Apple exec Jean Louis Gassée on the Apple logo: “One of the deep mysteries to me is our logo, the symbol of lust and knowledge, bitten into, all crossed with the colors of the rainbow in the wrong order. You couldn’t dream of a more appropriate logo: lust, knowledge, hope, and anarchy.”

        Apple, pioneers of the personal computer, the font of porn and information.

        I’ll also note, as an aside, that the word for apple in Latin “malum” is a homonym, also denoting evil: http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/malum

        Not that all that means anything. Simply a random coincidence, I am sure.

  5. thomas l. ratisbon says:

    Thank You, Msgr., for your inspiring words.
    I truely do share scepticism about ‘technological salvation’, but in deed ‘Eve’ Job’s apple as any man made tool can b be used for good and bad.
    There is a second thought on Mr. Jobs that discomforts me:
    Considered his ‘secular religion of technology’ and self claimend nearness to buddhism – can he enter heaven or is he lost for not accepting Jesus our saviour? What is the teaching of the church on salvation for non christian believers?

  6. Sabu Augustine says:

    Thank you Monsignor for such a beautiful article

    Here would like to add that I am too well disturbed when Catholic Media equates Catholicism with Consumerism as if there are no poor people among Catholics. And sadly this myth is asserted and reasserted again and again by Catholic commentators and in blogosphere too. The myth that Apple is Catholic and Microsoft is protestant stands exposed when you come to know that Steve Jobs was a Budhist.

  7. John says:

    Great stuff Msgr.!

    Mr. Jobs’ philosophy, the one he addressed the Stanford grads, is pure Nietzsche Übermensch, “superman”. We are the masters of our destiny! Christianity is a crutch for the weak, who want to place faith in the “other worldly” heaven. Nietzsche rejected that “limiting” notion, in lieu of “aggressive acceptance” of this world- acceptance of yourself, and your own personal philosophy. There is no truth, only truths. Post-modernism in a nutshell.

    John

    More on Nietzsche’s philosophy here:
    http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x8ggjo_nietzsche-nihilism-death-of-god-pt_creation#rel-page-2

  8. Linus says:

    I didn’t realize there was a ” philosophy ” of technological progress. Its all too complicated for me. I have a P.C. and it provides much of interest, inspiration, and company. But as for all the rest, I don’t even have an answering machine. The P.C. is as far as I ever intend to go.

  9. Fr Michael says:

    Father, please check out on Zenit the article “Anti-Christian Censorship and the New Media”. wherein Apple’s anti-Christian policies are outlined.
    Shouldn’t faithful Christians seek to avoid using Apple’s products and services?

  10. Mark says:

    Msgr,
    Another thoughtful, insightful piece, Monsignor, especially when taken with your previous piece on the “Inadequacy of the World as Advertised”. Mobile devices and Social Networks are the new golden calves of our secular-humanist society. I find it amazing that secularists that won’t be “manipulated by dogma” have no problem being manipulated by the largest single marketing machine in the history of the world – Facebook. As long as it doesn’t make man humble himself, I guess it’s OK.
    Prayers,
    Mark

  11. Dan Brennan says:

    Msgr,

    Technology increases comfort at the price of severe dependency. Imagine what would happen if it vanished overnight. We would be unable to feed ourselves. Even farmers would not “remember” how farming worked without circuit-driven machinery.

    It is a sobering thought but a legitimate one that our microchip driven technology is actually very vulnerable to a phenomenon called an electromagnetic pulse. The phenomenon occurs with very strong solar activity, and can be artificially induced with a single, airborne nuclear detonation. A single such detonation, set about 300 miles above say, Kansas City, would create overload currents in about 95% of the microchips that drive the electric grid, operate vehicles and farm machinery, and sustain communication and supply chain. Overnight, this phenomenon, well documented in a Congressional report at http://www.empcommission.org/docs/empc_exec_rpt.pdf, would put North America to the level of the first pilgrims…but worse, since the pilgrims were equipped with basic skills like farming that even our mechanized farmers would have to re-learn. Without technology to feed, supply, hat and inform us, not many would survive.

    Such an outcome must be tempting for a nuclear-equiipped enemy, but even absent their action, a natural event will eventually beat them to it.

    So, no, faith in technology is not well placed. It’s just another illusion that temporarily fills the “God-shaped hole” you recall.

    Thank you for a fascinating glimpse into another corner of secular “thinking”. God Bless.

  12. Brad says:

    First, let me preface this comment by saying that I use Apple heavily … for now anyhow. A recent article on Zenit was ignored by just about all new sources, but it was pretty telling about Apple, Google, Facebook, and other new media companies. Here’s the link: http://www.zenit.org/article-33578?l=english . This article pretty clearly lays out some of the corporate fruits (forgive the pun) of Jobs philosophy. I think this Zenit article goes hand in hand with the article above.

    I think it’s actually inevitable that these new media companies end up at odds with our Judeo-Christian belief system. These companies want to become “gods” to their consumers, of course they want that loyalty, and this flies directly in the face of our beliefs. Of course they want to suppress religious speech because it gets in the way of their progressive ideologies.

    I personally own a MacBook, iPad, iPhone, and iPod, but I feel as though it may be time to move to an alternative (Linux) and perhaps even help other fellow Catholics do the same. Is it going to be easy? Not remotely, but Jesus didn’t say following him would be.

    Thanks for the great article!
    Brad

  13. Ann says:

    Thank you. Best analysis of Jobs’ philosophy I have read yet, especially the Stanford address. I know a few moms (not religious) who were very troubled after the constant replaying of that speech, that they hadn’t made anything of their lives, etc. Life doesn’t make sense without God. Thank you again.

  14. Ismael says:

    If the ‘gospel of the secular age’ is like technology (including Steve Jobs’ products) then it often fails. and needs to be thrown away after few years to be replaced… it does not sound to ‘hopeful’.

    Working myself in a science lab, I know technology is wonderful, but it is also highly frustrating (yes, Murphy’s Law seems sometimes as real as gravitation).

    Another problem is that, unlike popular belief, we are not becoming ‘more free’ , but rather becoming slaves of technology. We a paralyzing ourselves to sit into metaphorical wheelchairs, becoming utterly dependent on technology.
    Some people literally ‘fliip-out’ if their phone gets lost or broken, if internet does not work (or is too slow), etc…

    If technology is a crutch we are not using it correctly. We are not using the crutches to aid our handicap, we are making ourselves handicapped to use the crutches…

  15. David Charles Ripple says:

    Well, as far as I know, Steve Jobs did not avail himself to the study of the gospels, there are no reports that he spent a lot of time pondering the writings of great philosophers, or historians. I am not trying to be calculatingly charitable here, although it might appear that way. What is notable is that Christians did not find a creative way to reach out to him, or if they did they were not successful. I think it is fine for a Christian to analyze his comments in the cool, and comfort of an office (and I admit you have done an excellent job), but perhaps it is time that we Christians engaged real people in there every day lives, and demonstrated the unique expression that Jesus brings to our lives, and can bring to any life.

  16. Patricia Cornell says:

    Thanks to Steve Jobs’s birth mother and his adopted mom and dad who raised him. Abortion was not legal at that time. His mom chose to birth him……does that not show that she may have thought about his life as coming from the one and true God.

    Did any religious leader ever talk to Steve Jobs? Even ask him to speak about his religious beliefs? Maybe this data will appear in another blog.

    Patricia in St. Louis

  17. Bill Walker says:

    Having retired from IT, and always having and interest in the latest and greatest new electronic device, I think you have nailed it. It is all interesting and fun, but a very small part of the whole picture of life. “what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his immortal soul”? – Jesus. Of course if you believe death is death, then “click on”, but for me I will follow the words of our Lord, even if they are on an electronic device :)
    Blessings.

  18. Nolan says:

    Matthew 16: 24-25 -“Then Jesus said to his disciples. ‘Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
    What profit would there be for one to ——-gain the whole world and forfeit his life?”—

    Thank you for being a Priest, Monsignor.

  19. John of Roncesvalles says:

    Jobs couldn’t have been a very knowledgable Zen Buddhist.

    Zhuangzi’s philosophy was very influential in the development of Chinese Buddhism, and especially Zen.

    To quote Zhuangzi:
    “Whoever uses machines does all his work like a machine, and he who carries the heart of a machine in his breast loses his simplicity. He who has lost his simplicity becomes unsure of the strivings of his soul. Uncertainty in the strivings of the soul is something which does not agree with honest sense. It is not that I do not know such things: I am ashamed to use them.”

  20. Ed says:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2011/apr/30/apple-chinese-workers-treated-inhumanely” “Sad really. The human person’s dignity reduced to “doing something,” and then, when your usefulness is over and you get in the way of “change,” you need to be cleared away. Sounds like the voice of pure utilitarianism, wherein we are reduced to human doings, rather than human beings. It is clear that, by this philosophy, you do not exist for your own sake. Rather you exist for the purpose of being a “change agent.” And when you start getting in the way of blessed “progress,” holy “change” and other utopian notions, you need to be cut down and cleared away.” Steve Jobs’ “utilitarianism” is reflected in Apple’s atrocious labor practices in China. See Guardian article.

  21. Nate says:

    The Church has shared in this philosophy. The overarching emphasis on change and progress has produced new liturgies and new practices. Apple, however, manages to make their products better, not worse.

    • So do you like the change and progress model for the Church? That said, though we’ve been through a phase of sorts, it would not be right to say we abandoned dogma, which we did not. Liturgical disciplines have surely changed though, that is true.

  22. Piotr says:

    I have heard that Jobs initially refused standard medical treatment for his condition and opted for ” alternative” cure. Months later when his disease progressed, he changed his mind but it was too late; he bought himself few extra years. It is too bad that he rejected the dogma of modern medicine.

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