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Published: Saturday, 1/21/2012

Visionary shaped own spirituality

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR
Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Inc., rejected both materialism and religious dogma. Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Inc., rejected both materialism and religious dogma.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge

Steve Jobs was a man on a mission. But only a mystic would know what forces drove him, and why.

Mr. Jobs, who died Oct. 5 at age 56, will go down in history as a visionary entrepreneur who led the digital revolution of the late 20th and early 21st century. He was largely responsible for changing the way people use computers (by introducing the Mac-intosh), listen to music (iPods and iTunes), communicate (iPhones), and navigate the digital universe (iPads).

I never gave much thought, however, to the spirituality of Apple's legendary co-founder and chief executive officer until the Rev. Jeremy DeWeerdt, senior pastor of an Illinois megachurch, told me that Steve Jobs, the best-selling biography by Walter Isaacson, was required reading for his staff.

For the Rev. DeWeerdt, the lessons are not to be found in the so-called religious details of Mr. Jobs' life but in the way Mr. Jobs put his vision, innovation, and drive to use. For example, Mr. Jobs often said that people didn't know what they needed until he showed them. He didn't hold focus groups or test-market the iPod; he just created an excellent and easy-to-use music player that could hold 1,000 songs, and the world flocked to it.

Said the Rev. DeWeerdt, "That's really what I do in some ways as a pastor. I have something that people want, even if they don't know they want it." He said too many pastors think people who are not on fire for God are walking around with their heads down contemplating suicide. In reality, many are happy, well-adjusted members of society, he said.

A preacher's job is to present the Gospel to them in a way that makes it irresistible -- an iPod for the soul if you will -- the Rev. DeWeerdt said.

Mr. Isaacson's biography shows that Mr. Jobs' spiritual journey defied easy labels or simple categorization. Growing up in Mountain View, Calif., he was raised Lutheran, at least tacitly, until age 13. That's when he asked his pastor why, if God knows everything, so many children were starving to death in Africa.

"Jobs announced that he didn't want to have anything to do with worshipping such a God, and he never went back to church," Mr. Isaacson wrote.

In his college years, Jobs was entranced with Hindu guru Mahararj-ji and spent seven months trekking through India in a search for enlightenment. (Showing that his entrepreneurial spirit was already well developed, he persuaded his boss at Atari to pay for part of the trip by arranging to stop at a factory in Munich to solve a technical problem).

As a starving college student, Mr. Jobs visited a Hare Krishna temple in Oregon -- but only because it offered free Sunday dinners.

His primary religious influence, starting when he was a teenager and lasting throughout his life, was Zen Buddhism.

A turning point came when he returned to America after seven months in India.

"I saw the craziness of the Western world as well as its capacity for rational thought," Mr. Jobs said.

When he used Zen practices to calm his restless mind, Mr. Jobs said, "that's when your intuition starts to blossom and you start to see things more clearly and be in the present more. Your mind just slows down, and you see a tremendous expanse in the moment. … Zen has been a deep influence in my life ever since."

The Rev. DeWeerdt said pulling away and slowing down is another lesson to be learned from Mr. Jobs. "It's like the word 'selah' in the Bible. It means pause. We don't do that real well as Christians."

As with many children of the '60s, Mr. Jobs' spiritual views were woven into the era's cultural tapestry.

When he was young, he was inspired by Bob Dylan's protest songs. The Beatles stirred up psychedelic visions in harmony with their musical masterpieces. The Whole Earth Catalog raised awareness of the environment. Timothy Leary urged America's youth to take LSD and "tune in, turn on, and drop out."

Mr. Jobs absorbed all these factors into a personalized patchwork of spiritual and cultural values.

"I came of age at a magical time," he said. "Our consciousness was raised by Zen, and also by LSD."

Mr. Jobs said that LSD "reinforced my sense of what was important -- creating great things instead of making money, putting things back into the stream of history and of human consciousness as much as I could."

Eastern religions, psychedelic drugs, folk and rock music, and a quest for perfection all shaped Mr. Jobs' spiritual life. He was obsessed with beauty, simplicity, and functionality.

His love for artfully made, high-quality products -- from Porsches and Mercedeses to Ansel Adams photographs and Henckel knives -- was reflected in Apple's beautiful, simple, ingenious products.

When he was 25 and the sale of company stock made him worth $256 million overnight, Mr. Jobs was troubled by the way some coworkers indulged their newfound wealth on luxury cars, mansions, servants, and plastic surgery. "This was not how I wanted to live. It's crazy," he told Mr. Isaacson. "I made a promise to myself that I'm not going to let this money ruin my life."

Mr. Isaacson described Mr. Jobs as "an anti-materialistic hippie." The Apple CEO slept on a mattress on the floor, partly because he was drawn to asceticism but also because he was so fussy he had trouble finding furniture to meet his standards.

Just as he rejected materialism, Mr. Jobs rejected religious dogma. He blazed his own trail toward eternity just as he forged his own way in the corporate world.

Jobs' unique skills and relentless drive enabled him to build Apple into the world's richest corporation, leaving a legacy of revolutionary products that met consumers' needs before they even knew to ask.

One can only imagine how successful he was in his spiritual quest. Apparently his transition to the next world was an interesting one.

Mr. Jobs' sister, writer Mona Simpson, said in a eulogy that "before embarking, he'd looked at his sister Patty, then for a long time at his children, then at his life's partner, Laur- ene, and then over their shoulders past them. Steve's final words were: 'OH WOW. OH WOW. OH WOW.' "



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