Steve Jobs the spiritual man

I’m somewhat surprised by the overwhelming reaction to the death of Steve Jobs. I knew he was a technological giant. But I guess I didn’t grasp the extent to which he is considered a visionary and something of a national hero.

Among the many reactions I’ve seen today are some interesting ones from religious perspectives.

The first thing I saw was a statement from Steve McConkey, president of an outfit called ChristianInvestigator.com. He wanted to make clear that Jobs was not a Christian, but a Buddhist.

He says: “Steve Jobs was the Einstein of our time with advances in technology that shape everything we do. Because of his Buddhist beliefs, our concern is about this worldview.”

The statement explains the differences between Buddhism and Christianity, but doesn’t really say what it means for Jobs’ legacy.

Then came a statement from Dr. Michael A. Milton, chancellor-elect of Reformed Theological Seminary. He also makes the point that “it is doubtful that we will learn that (Jobs) was a devout Christian.”

But Milton goes on to praise Jobs because his creations have brought “the Word of God to the ends of the earth.”

He writes: “And so the gospel is getting through to the most hostile places on earth as well as to the most hostile ideological places in the secularized Western world. So I thank God for the life of Steve Jobs.” Milton writes that he’ll remember Jobs as “the founder of an empire that linked the world in order to bring Christ to those who have never heard.”

Milton also writes this:

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His commencement speech at Stanford University will likely go down as one of the greatest. It is a testimony to a very spiritual man, not (at least at that time) a Christian man, who saw failures as the turning points in his life, which led to creativity. Our country needs to hear that great American story these days more than ever. Yet behind this brilliant and quite resilient man who changed so much of modern life, and whose destiny is now with His Creator, is really the figure of One who rose again from the dead. Through the creativity of Steve Jobs is a God using all means to reach His own.

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At ReligionDispatches.org, Elizabeth Drescher briefly explores “the religious or spiritual dimensions of our technological affections” and notes a cottage industry of scholarship that tracks the religiosity of Apple users.

She writes: “Jobs made technological devices the extensions of human experience that Marshall McLuhan showed them to be, just as the digital age was dawning. He elevated its status from lowly tool to digital connector, relationship maker, global boundary crosser. Jobs helped to make our world bigger, while drawing us closer.”

She also notes, as many others have today, an essay written back in 1994 by Umberto Eco, an Italian writer, which found that Apple vs. DOS was something of a holy war. Get a load of this:

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The fact is that the world is divided between users of the Macintosh computer and users of MS-DOS compatible computers. I am firmly of the opinion that the Macintosh is Catholic and that DOS is Protestant. Indeed, the Macintosh is counter-reformist and has been influenced by the ratio studiorum of the Jesuits. It is cheerful, friendly, conciliatory; it tells the faithful how they must proceed step by step to reach — if not the kingdom of Heaven — the moment in which their document is printed. It is catechistic: The essence of revelation is dealt with via simple formulae and sumptuous icons. Everyone has a right to salvation.
DOS is Protestant, or even Calvinistic. It allows free interpretation of scripture, demands difficult personal decisions, imposes a subtle hermeneutics upon the user, and takes for granted the idea that not all can achieve salvation. To make the system work you need to interpret the program yourself: Far away from the baroque community of revelers, the user is closed within the loneliness of his own inner torment.

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(AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

Should health care reform include prayer?

Many Christian Scientists think so.

According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, Christian Scientists are lobbying to include a provision in reform legislation that would ban discrimination against religious and spiritual health care.

They would also like private insurers to be encouraged to cover prayer as a treatment option.

The idea has some support in Washington, but many people who are not Christian Scientists will have to be encouraged to see prayer as health care.

I wrote about Christian Science is 2008 after a Christian Science practitioner pointed out to me that prayer was not being considered in the growing national debate over health care.

At the time, I chose to focus on how Christian Science families in the pediatrician-heavy Burbs raise their children without medicine.

The Chronicle article notes:

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(Christian Scientists) recognize they’re facing an uphill battle, with the debate centering on such hot-button issues as restrictions on abortion coverage and whether a final bill should include a public option or a Medicare buy-in. But Christian Scientists say they see the acknowledgment of spiritual healing in a health overhaul bill as important to their religion and to others who may turn to prayer or other nontraditional healing methods as an alternative to medical care. These could include followers of some American Indian religions or those who seek care at holistic healing centers.

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A CS spokesman is quoted as saying: “It’s our intention that the health care bill recognizes the fact that medical care is not the only form of health care. We are advocates, not just for Christian Scientists, but for the public at large.”

UPDATE: The NYTimes also wrote about this issue.

And an interesting Christian Science blog notes how the issue has been covered in the media.

For a better life?

While I was off, I saw a couple of TV commercials for something called Forabetterlife.org.

The ads had a vaguely spiritual tone, so I thought I would check it out.

The homepage includes some general subjects like “Change your life” and “Spiritual meditation,” which then link to the websites of all sorts of private entities, from meditation classes to software companies.

Clicking on “positive affirmations” even took me to the website for…Trident gum, which promises “a little piece of happy.”

The meaning of spirituality continues to get broader and broader…

Michael Jackson as pop theologian (and celebrity god)

Wondering this morning if there was a religious dimension to the life — or death — of Michael Jackson, I came across reports that he had converted to Islam.

Somehow I had missed it.

Reading several reports from last year about his conversion, it’s not clear to me that he really did become a Muslim. The guy was pretty reclusive, after all. And he could have changed his mind by now. But it’s possible.

We know that he spent most of his life as a Jehovah’s Witness. And that he was, well, Michael Jackson, with everything that being Michael Jackson entails.

Anthea Butler, an historian of American religion who is in residence at Harvard Divinity School’s Women’s Studies in Religion Program, writes on ReligionDispatches today that MJ was something of a tabloid god.

If you think about it, it makes some sense.

It’s been over the last 25 years or so — the age of Jackson — that America has become a celebrity-worshiping nation. I know we’ve always loved Marilyn and Bogart and Bing and all those guys, but things have been different since the ’80s.

Celebrities now dominate the news, the royalty of our culture. And Michael Jackson was the king — or a god.

Butler also notes the spiritual, if humanistic, component of MJ’s songs. And I guess you can find it, if you can put aside some of the ugliness and weirdness that surrounded the last third of his life.

She writes:

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Yet, for all of the crass tabloid fodder, Michael was his best when singing these hopeful songs that called listeners to become a better human being. He most certainly reached more people than the average religious figure, and his songs had an affect on an entire generation weaned on MTV. His own religious journey, from his childhood as a Jehovah’s Witness, to a foray in the Nation of Islam, to finally professing Shahada to become a Muslim, shows an interior struggle, despite all of the fame, to find the peace he so often sang about. In all of the accolades and obituaries to come, Jackson will never be called a theologian, though he was one. A Pop theologian, to be sure, but a theologian nonetheless. Struggling with his humanity, half man, half child, he danced as much to entertain I suspect, as to take away his pain. In the dance, he became transcendent, divine. And in the end, it was the very body that he used to beguile millions that failed him.

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(AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

ADD: Deepak Chopra, who was a friend of MJ’s and had contact with him in the last few days, shares his thoughts about the Mysterious One on Beliefnet.