Apple as a religion: How the iPhone became divine

'Imbued with sacred significance'


Apple lovers vs. Apple haters is a common theme on the tech forums. Some think that there is a consumer psychology dynamic at play, that turns us into Brand Evangelists or Brand Talibans.

Two American academics, admittedly new media academics, Heidi Campbell and Antonio La Pastina, take a different tack in comparing Apple to religion, in a paper published in May: "How the iPhone became Divine: New Media, Religion and the Intertextual Circulation of Meaning."

Not religion in the sense of believing in the divine, but in implicit religion, Campbell of Texas A&M University says. "That's where secular artifacts get imbued with religious-like or sacred significance," she tells ABC News. Some kind of Techno-Shinto-ism, then?

The notion of implicit religion is well enough known - and its association with Apple has been made before - see this paper from 2001: "May the Force of the Operating System be with You: Mac Devotion as Implicit Religion".

It all seems very post-modern-silly, but are the Texans on to something?

If you say, 'I'm a Mac user,' people expect you to have those Mac user values."

They seize on the phrase "Jesus Phone", coined in 2006 by Gizmodo editor Brian Lam (which has made its appearance in 144 articles on The Register, thanks, Brian), as an ironic take on Apple's iPhone.

The Jesus Phone is something that Apple fans regard as uncomplimentary - and this phrase annoys the hell out of some Christians - we've felt the flames. But it is religious iconography at work, "easy, decodable," say our academics.

Pump up the volume

You want a religious narrative too? How about...The Return of Jobs from the Wilderness, Microsoft as Satan - you get the drift, as do Apple devotees.

Also, Apple has at times juiced up the religious metaphors, as this bombastic quote from 1987 bears witness:

In the Old Testament there was the first apple, the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, which with one taste sent Adam, Eve, and all mankind into the great current of History. The second Apple was Isaac Newton's, the symbol of our entry into the age of modern science. The Apple Computer symbol was not chosen purely at random, it represents the third Apple, the one that widens the paths of knowledge leading toward the future. - Jean-Louis Gassee, then General Manager of Apple France and former President of Apple Products.

Leander Kahneny, editor of Cult of Mac, who should know better, has this to say to ABC news:

"If you're joining a church, you're joining a community. And when you buy an Apple product, you're joining the Apple community. Just as new church members learn the myths, rites and values, new Apple users start to learn the myths and rituals supported by other "believers…It definitely becomes part of someone's identity. It's somewhat akin to saying, 'I'm a Christian, If you say 'I'm a Christian,' people will expect you to have certain values and if you say, 'I'm a Mac user,' people expect you to have those Mac user values."

So readers, do Mac user values exist? If so, what are those values and can they survive the huge influx of Apple product-owning newbies. Or will we leave implicit religion to the Elvis die-hards, and Star Trek nuts?

Do try to avoid name calling.

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