New byte of Apple faith

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 05: A display of Apple iPhone products on display in the new Apple Store In Covent Garden on August 5, 2010 in London, England. The New flagship Apple Store is scheduled to open on Saturday August 7th 2010 (Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images)

I enjoy reading the Bible on my iPhone. The ancient words seem to jump to life in a hip new technology. Moreover, the online Scriptures are easily accessible in a multitude of translations, from the King James Version to the Message.

On the same iPhone, I scan the latest headlines, follow sports scores, check my work and personal e-mail accounts, keep up with GetReligion comments, listen to Texas Rangers' baseball games, create my own music channels, make sure my bank account balance has not dropped below zero and text my teenagers to tell them to load the dishwasher. On a rare occasion, I even talk on my iPhone.

I am not, however, a disciple of Steve Jobs. At least I don't think I am. (Come to think of it, I am typing this post on my Mac laptop.)

It turns out, according to Texas A&M University researchers, that tech giant Apple can offer a religious-like experience. I chuckled when I first saw the story from ABC News:

Looking for a New Religion? Apple Gives Dose of the Divine

But then I started reading the story and realized: They may be serious.

Here's the top of the story:

Next time you're in need of a spiritual pick-me-up, maybe you should forego the traditional houses of worship and seek out the technophile's temple instead: the Apple Store.

According to two academics at Texas A & M University, Apple products aren't just consumer-friendly, sexy gadgets, but instruments of the divine.

"[Apple] could offer a religious-like experience. It could basically perform the same role in people's lives that being part of a religious community could, at one time," said Heidi Campbell, a communications professor who co-wrote an academic paper exploring the religious myths and metaphors surrounding the tech giant and its larger-than-life founder and CEO, Steve Jobs.

In "How the iPhone Became Divine," which was published in a new media journal earlier this summer, Campbell and her colleague Antonio La Pastina look at Apple customers as religious devotees.

"It's basically a study of religion and technology and how religious language and images got associated with the iPhone," said Campbell.

The story goes out of its way to draw religious parallels: Steve Jobs' black turtleneck and jeans as vestments. Apple as an icon. Microsoft as Satan.

To its credit, ABC makes a semi-serious attempt to "get religion" -- the religion of Apple, that is.

A bit more of the story:

Religions are distinguished by a faith in a transcendent force or divinity, a core set of beliefs, a community of those believers and a set of ritual practices. And all kinds of fan communities, such as those inspired by "Star Trek" or sports teams, can provide a religious-like experience, she said.

But Apple's story is particularly prone to religious imagery and language.

For example, the researchers point out that Apple's humble beginnings in Steve Jobs' garage parallel the lowly manger of Jesus' birth. Jobs' return to Apple in 1997, after leaving in 1985, mirror elements of Jesus' resurrection. "You have the hero myth of Jobs, who kind of ran the company into a negative place, and then he came back and saved it," she said. "It's been written about that he supposedly came to one of the early Christmas parties dressed as Jesus. ... It's kind of urban legend."

It was at this point of the story that I groaned. Please forgive my personal bias.

If indeed there are devotees to the Church of Apple -- real-live humans who look up to Steve Jobs as a godly figure -- then I think ABC erred by not interviewing some of the faithful.

The story notes:

Even the infamous pre-launch store lines support the Apple-as-a-kind-of-religion theory, she added. For some extremely zealous Apple fans, spending a night outside an Apple store waiting for the newest iPhone is as much a ritual as a pilgrimage might be for religious devotees.

To a certain extent, the researchers suggest, Apple customers buying into the divine story might be reaching for some kind of transcendence.

I'd love to know what theologians think of the researchers' claims. Is Apple indeed a unique religious experience in American culture? Or could the same kind of research be done -- and news stories written -- about any number of non-church worship centers with passionate flocks, from Starbucks to the Green Bay Packers?

And, by the way, if I wanted to identify more such examples, is there an app for that?

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