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

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

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.

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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.

Blogger Was First to Use 'Jesus Phone'

In 2007, right after Jobs took the stage in his customary vestments (a black turtleneck and jeans) to announce the launch of the iPhone, tech bloggers started spinning stories about the coming of the "Jesus Phone" or "God Phone."

Apple Magic
Apple Magic

Campbell said the report looks at how those terms became common parlance for the fan community, technology bloggers and even mainstream media.

The phrase first surfaced in 2006, she said, when Gizmodo blogger Brian Lam wrote a post responding to the Pope Benedict XVI's Christmas warning to worship God and not technology.

"Hopefully, our shepherd, Steve Jobs, will unveil Apple-Cellphone-Thingy, the true Jesus Phone -- or jPhone -- in two weeks, at the Macworld Keynote. It shall lift the hunger and disease you speak of from the land, as it will cure the rabid state of mind infecting Mac fanboys like yours truly," Lam quipped.

It wasn't long before cartoons and stories perpetuating the divine metaphor flooded the Web.

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Technology Can Exhibit Certain Aspects of Religion, Scholars Say

But Campbell said the "Jesus Phone" phrase had sticking power because it resonated with an American audience steeped in Christian mythology.

"It's an easy, decodable icon," she said. "You might not like what Jesus stands for but you understand someone as a savior, a revolutionary."

Campbell acknowledged that she and her co-author are hardly the first to make the technology as a religion parallel. Scholars long have equated technology with religion.

"Technology can be seen as exhibiting certain aspects of religion. Not religion in the sense of traditional religion or official religion. But what's called implicit religion," she said. "That's where secular artifacts get imbued with religious-like or sacred significance."

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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.

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