Steve Jobs on Christianity

On December 25, 2011, in Biography, Culture, Via Negativa, by marc
Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs | 1955-2011

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.

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