I came very close to buying Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs the instant it was released; I’ve long found Jobs to be a fascinating character, and anyone interested in the intersection of technology and everyday life (which in the modern age is pretty much everyone) would want to be a fly on the wall for this man’s journey through life. Who was he? What shaped him? Can we make more of him?
Me being me, I’ve also wondered what sort of religious or spiritual philosophy guided the man in his life. It was pretty clear that he wasn’t a Christian; I suppose if there was ever a life that stood as a shining example of what Abraham Kuyper called common grace, it was Steve Jobs’.
Regardless, it doesn’t take long for Isaacson to delve into the religious history of Steve Jobs. Only 14 pages into the book, we find Jobs simply dismissing Christianity altogether:
Even though they were not fervent about their faith, Jobs’s parents wanted him to have a religious upbringing, so they took him to the Lutheran church most Sundays. That came to an end when he was thirteen. In July 1968 Life magazine published a shocking cover showing a pair of starving children in Biafra. Jobs took it to Sunday school and confronted the church’s pastor. “If I raise my finger, will God know which one I’m going to raise even before I do it?”
The pastor answered, “Yes, God knows everything.”
Jobs then pulled out the Life cover and asked, “Well, does God know about this and what’s going to happen to those children?”
“Steve, I know you don’t understand, but yes, God knows about that.”
Jobs announced that he didn’t want to have anything to do with worshipping such a God, and he never went back to church. He did, however, spend years studying and trying to practice the tenets of Zen Buddhism. Reflecting years later on his spiritual feelings, he said that religion was at its best when it emphasized spiritual experiences rather than received dogma. “The juice goes out of Christianity when it becomes too based on faith rather than on living like Jesus or seeing the world as Jesus saw it,” he told me. “I think different religions are different doors to the same house. Sometimes I think the house exists, and sometimes I don’t. It’s the great mystery.”
For a guy as smart as Jobs obviously was, it’s disappointing to me to see him dismiss Christianity so flippantly, to simply wave it off as if no one had ever heard of the problem of evil before he discovered it in Life magazine when he was thirteen. And it’s a good cautionary tale to me as a parent as well. I don’t want my kids to have a “religious upbringing.” Taking them to church is not going to be enough. I want them to know God, to really know Jesus, to understand that this relationship is fundamental, and that what they believe isn’t something that happens on Sunday and then goes away for the rest of the week.
As for Jobs: fifteen pages into his biography, and I just feel an achy sadness for a man who missed out on so much because of what appears to be a snap decision at age thirteen.
So, uh, is this thing on?
I was updating my resume tonight, and there was a space for my website on the template I was using, and all of the sudden I realized that I haven’t really posted on this blog in forever.
So I suppose it’s time to rectify that with a post like this where I acknowledge my laxity in posting but say virtually nothing of any substance. Which is what this is. Hopefully in the coming days I’ll manage to post an update on what I’ve been reading of late, which includes a new translation of a portion of Abraham Kuyper’s Common Grace in Science and Art, occasionally a couple of older volumes on topics relating to the reformed faith, W’s Decision Points, and a bunch of other stuff. Let’s just not mention my failure to finish Bavinck.
That’s all. I’m hardly paying attention to what I’m writing anymore anyway.
It is painful to read and see how history repeats itself. Except in this particular circumstance, I’m not sure if history is repeating itself or if we’re simply further down the road that governments at all levels across the United States embarked upon many decades ago. The following excerpt is from the first-edition copy of William F. Buckley’s The Unmaking of a Mayor that I am currently reading - another treasure found in the Opitz Library at the Acton Institute. This is a portion of the remarks Buckley delivered at the press conference at which he announced his candidacy for Mayor of New York City in 1966. Prepare for facepalm:
I shall accept the designation if it is offered to me because I continue to respect the principles of the Republican Party as they are generally understood out over the country. But also because it has struck me as painfully clear, to judge from their public statements, that the major candidates, while agreeing that New York City is in crisis, are resolutely opposed to discussing the reasons why it is in crisis. Their failure to do so – I speak of Mr. Lindsay, and of Mr. Wagner, and of those who compete to succeed Mr. Wagner as the Democratic candidate – is symptomatic of a political disease that rages in New York, and threatens to contaminate democratic government everywhere in the United States. It consists in its most aggravated form, in an almost otherworldly detachment from the real situation in running for political office by concealing any significant mention of the significant public issues of the day. To run for office under such circumstances is merely a form of personal vanity. Yet the major candidates are correct in saying that New York is in crisis. New York cries for the kind of attention that is not being given to it by those who coolly contrive their campaigns so as to avoid offending major voting blocs. But to satisfy major voting blocs in their collective capacities is not necessarily to satisfy the individual members of those voting blocs in their separate capacities. [William F. Buckley, Jr., The Unmaking of a Mayor (New York: Viking Press, 1966), 105-106.]
Note again: this book was published in 1966. And yet, much of Buckley’s complaint and critique of politics is just as applicable today as it was when it was first proclaimed. It must be noted that, largely as a result of Buckley’s efforts prior and subsequent to his Quixotic 1966 campaign, there are currently some politicians who are willing to speak frankly about the dreadful fiscal and social problems that confront our society; unfortunately, finding politicians who are willing to not only speak the truth about our problems, but also willing to act in such a way as to actually address the problems is a difficult task indeed. Or at least it has been a problem; Obama and his willing accomplices in the Congress have pushed hard enough against common sense that the public has been roused and is demanding real action to address our debt crisis – witness the Tea Party and the upcoming mid-term elections that have all indications of being a massive wave for the Republicans. The true test of the Tea Party, however, will come in January of 2011 and beyond. Will the passion remain, or will the public end up being placated by half-measures from Washington that play at solving our debt crisis, but in reality do nothing substantial? We should all sincerely hope and pray for the former; I shudder to think about the consequences of the latter.
I’ve decided to make a concerted effort to read during lunch at work, and I’ve chosen R.C. Sproul’s new commentary on the Gospel of John (part of his St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary series published by Crossway) as the book I’ll be reading. Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 1, which deals with the prologue of the book (verses 1-18), and specifically addresses Jesus’ claim of divinity:
Sometimes Jesus stated his origins very explicitly. For instance, He said on one occasion, “I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 6:38). Likewise, in a discussion about the Jewish patriarch Abraham, Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” (John 8:58). The Jews immediately picked up stones to put him to death because they understood His message–Jesus was equating Himself with God, who had revealed Himself to Moses as “I AM WHO I AM” (Ex. 3:14). Again, when He told a paralyzed man that his sins were forgiven, He then healed the man so that, in His words, those who were there would “know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins” (Matt. 9:6). These were not statements of humility. They were statements by which Jesus openly declared that He had come from heaven. John’s prologue was intended to accomplish much the same goal–before John gave us his record of the earthly visitation of Jesus, he told us where Jesus was from.
Just a reminder that there is no way to claim that Jesus never saw himself as God. The reality is that Jesus was either who he said he was, or he was a madman. I believe the former with all my heart.
A few weeks ago, I was able to sit in at work on an interview with Edward Ericson, a Calvin College professor of English (emeritus), and a longtime friend and collaborator with Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (and editor of the abridged version of The Gulag Archipelago). In anticipation of the event, I purchased a copy of Ericson’s The Solzhenitsyn Reader (which is well worth the price and contains samples of a wide range of Solzhenitsyn’s work), and also a copy of the book that occasioned the interview, the first uncensored edition of Solzhenitzyn’s In The First Circle. The novel was first released in the West in the late 1960′s in truncated form; Ericson explains in his foreword to the new edition:
The drama of [Solzhenitsyn's] life story took a quantum leap forward when in 1962, as a total unknown, he made his sensational entry onto the world’s stage with the publication of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, a story about life in the Soviet prison camps…
…Hoping to parlay one success into another, Solzhenitsyn decided to try to squeeze In the First Circle through the censor’s sieve. Yet, anticipating that its themes transgressed strict Soviet limits, he tempered his hopes with realism and in 1964 put the manuscript through a process of “lightening.” The pruned and politically toned-down result of this act of self-censorship was what he later called an “ersatz, truncated” version; the number of chapters dropped from ninety-six to eighty-seven. In an augury that Solzhenitsyn’s sacrificial pragmatism was doomed to fail, the KGB in 1965 broke into the apartment of a friend of his and made off with a copy of the novel, which then circulated among selected officials. Although Novy Mir had agreed to publish the novel in its eighty-seven-chapter form, higher authorities kept withholding their approval…
…In 1968, with official harassment relentlessly constriction his options, he took the desperate step of authorizing the publication in the West of the “lightened version” of In the First Circle, a copy of which he had been able to send out. The secretiveness required for this transmission from east to west meant that he lost control over the book and could not see it through press.
I had intended to set the book aside to be read at some later date after I had finished a number of other works I’m in the middle of at the moment, but it sat there and stared at me as I worked my way through the Reader and I couldn’t help myself. I dove in.
It took some work, but I finally reached the point where In the First Circle hooked me. It happened when I reached chapter 19 – The Birthday Hero – and it gradually dawned on me that the main character introduced in this chapter was none other than Stalin himself. Solzhenitsyn writes as if copying down a ticker-tape readout of Stalin’s mind, and in so doing creates a fascinating – but dreadfully depressing – picture. Here we find the tyrant, awake late at night when most of his work gets done, suffering from an upset stomach:
It was not nausea, but a sort of heavy upward pressure from the stomach. He took a feijoa from a bowl of peeled fruit.
Three days ago salvos had hailed his glorious seventieth birthday.
To the Caucasian way of thinking, a septuagenarian is still in his prime, able to tackle a mountain, a horse, or a woman. And Stalin was still perfectly fit. He simply had to live to ninety. He had set his heart on it. There was so much to be done. True, one doctor had warned him about . . . never mind what, the man had apparently been shot later. No, there was nothing seriously wrong with him. He refused injections and therapy of any sort. He knew enough about medicines to prescribe for himself. ”Eat more fruit!” they told him. As if a Caucasian needed to be told about fruit!
He sucked the pulp of the feijoa, screwing up his eyes. It left a faint taste of iodine on his tongue.
Yes, he was perfectly fit, but he noticed certain changes as the years went by. He had lost his hearty appetite. There was nothing he savored; eating had begun to bore him. He no longer delighted in selecting wine for each dish. Tipsiness simply gave him a headache. If stalin sometimes sat over a meal half the night with his minileaders, it was just to kill the long, empty hours, not because he enjoyed the food. Women, too, were something he needed rarely and never for long, although he had indulged himself freely after Nadya’s death. They did not thrill him but left him feeling . . . dulled. Nor did sleep bring relief as it had when he was younger: He woke up feeling weak and muddleheaded and reluctant to rise.
Though he had decided to live to ninety, Stalin thought miserably, he personally could expect no pleasure from the years ahead: He must simply accept another twenty years of suffering for the sake of mankind at large.
World-weary Stalin, trudging on one-foot-in-front-of-the-other-style in his tyranny for the sake of humanity – the most fascinating character in the book so far.
Ran across this book during my morning reading, and I think it needs to go on the “Books I’d like to read” page. The author, Gabriel Schoenfeld, posted today over at Power Line. An excerpt:
I am a New Yorker who was in Manhattan on the morning of September 11, 2001. Like millions of others here, I saw the destruction wrought by al Qaeda firsthand, saw the dust-covered survivors trudging northward, breathed the smoke from the smoldering rubble and felt it sting my eyes. That afternoon, after the trek home to my family in Brooklyn, seven miles from ground zero, I found a layer of ash on my car. What was in the ash? Along with pulverized concrete, glass, and steel, did it contain the remains of firefighters and office workers turned to dust? That was just one of the many questions coursing through my brain on the evening of the day that war came to my city. I was again in Manhattan on March 11, 2004, the day that Islamic terrorists bombed the Madrid transit system, killing 191 people and maiming more than 1,700. And I was in Manhattan once again on July 7, 2005, when suicide bombers struck the London transit system, killing 52 and wounding hundreds. Like millions of others, I ride the New York City subways daily. So do two of my three daughters.
It was in light of this history and these circumstances, a personal history and personal circumstances in no way unique to me, that I was incensed by the publication in the New York Times of a series of stories in 2005 and 2006 compromising some of the secret counterterrorism programs that the U.S. government had initiated to avert a repetition of such terrible catastrophes. But along with outrage, I was intensely curious about the legal regime that permitted, or appeared to permit, this kind of tell-all-and-damn-the-consequences journalism. This book is an outgrowth of my impassioned curiosity.
I recall those stories, and I remember being outraged by them as well. Necessary Secrets is officially on the “to read” list.
One of the most famous chapters in Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago is titled “The Ascent.” The chapter is included in The Solzhenitsyn Reader, and I excerpt this portion for you:
Looking back, I saw that for my whole conscious life I had not understood either myself or my strivings. What had seemed for so long to be beneficial now turned out in actuality to be fatal, and I had been striving to go in the opposite direction to that which was truly necessary to me. But just as the waves of the sea knock the inexperienced swimmer off his feet and keep tossing him back onto the shore, so also was I painfully tossed back on dry land by the blows of misfortune. And it was only because of this that I was able to travel the path which I had always really wanted to travel.
It was granted to me to carry away from my prison years on my bent back, which nearly broke beneath its load, this essential experience: how a human being becomes evil and how good. In the intoxication of youthful successes I had felt myself to be infallible, and I was therefore cruel. In the surfeit of power I was a murderer, and an oppressor. In my most evil moments I was convinced that I was doing good, and I was well supplied with systematic arguments. And it was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either – but right through every human heart – and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains . . . an uprooted small corner of evil.
Since then I have come to understand the truth of all the religions of the world: They struggle with the evil inside a human being (inside every human being). It is impossible to expel evil from the world it its entirety, but it is possible to constrict it within each person.
And since that time I have come to understand the falsehood of all the revolutions in history: They destroy only those carriers of evil contemporary with them (and also fail, out of haste, to discriminate the carriers of good as well). And they then take to themselves as their heritage the actual evil itself, magnified still more.
The Nuremberg Trials have to be regarded as one of the special achievements of the twentieth century: They killed the very idea of evil, though they killed very few of the people who had been infected with it. (Of course, Stalin deserves no credit here. He would have preferred to explain less and shoot more.) And if by the twenty-first century humanity has not yet blown itself up and has not suffocated itself – perhaps it is this direction that will triumph?
Yes, and if it does not triumph – then all humanity’s history will have turned out to be an empty exercise in marking time, without the tiniest mite of meaning! Whither and to what end will we otherwise be moving? To beat the enemy over the head with a club – even cavemen knew that.
“Know thyself!” There is nothing that so aids and assists the awakening of omniscience within us as insistent thoughts about one’s own transgressions, errors, mistakes. After the difficult cycles of such ponderings over many years, whenever I mentioned the heartlessness of our highest-ranking bureaucrats, the cruelty of our executioners, I remember myself in my captain’s shoulder boards and the forward march of my battery through East Prussia, enshrouded in fire, and I say: “So were we any better?”
When people express vexation, in my presence, over the West’s tendency to crumble, its political shortsightedness, its divisiveness, its confusion – I recall too: “Were we, before passing through the Archipelago, more steadfast? Firmer in our thoughts?”
And that is why I turn back to the years of my imprisonment and say, sometimes to the astonishment of those about me: “Bless you, prison!“
This quote leads off his book Rules for Radicals:
Lest we forget at least an over-the-shoulder acknowledgement of the very first radical: from all our legends, mythology, and history (and who is to know where mythology leaves off and history begins — or which is which), the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom — Lucifer.