October 30, 2008
The Cult of Mac
Neuroscience shows Apple's impact on the brain is the same as religion.
by Skye Jethani
Many people feel that the greatest threat to Christianity today is postmodernity. Others zero in on relativism. Some believe the enemy is secular humanism. And others believe Islamic fascism is the boogey man. I disagree. In my view the greatest challenge facing the contemporary church is consumerism. By that I do not mean consumption. It's not wrong to consume things. In fact, as contingent beings we've been designed to consume for survival. The only human that doesn't consume is one that has reached room temperature, in which case they are now being consumed. (Do I hear "The Circle of Life" in the background?)
The consumerism I'm concerned with is the one that functions as a worldview. It forms the uncontested assumptions of our lives, and when it intersects our faith our perception of worship, mission, church, community, belief, and even God is fundamentally altered. These are all subject I tackle in my forthcoming book, The Divine Commodity (Zondervan, 2009).
One aspect of consumerism that is particularly powerful is branding. (Add to it commodification and alienation and you've got the unholy trinity of consumerism.) Douglas Atkins, author of The Culting of Brands: Turn Your Customers Into True Believers, says, "Brands are the new religion...They supply our modern metaphysics, imbuing the world with significance.... Brands function as complete meaning systems."
Without question one of the most potent brands in America today is Apple, and new research has shown that Apple has achieved the same impact on the human brain as religion.
Martin Lindstrom is the author of Buyology. He says:
"Apple is (as we've proven using neuroscience)...a religion. Not only that--it is a religion based on its communities. Without its core communities, Apple would die--it is already facing strong pressure as the brand simply is becoming too broad (losing) its magic. What's holding it all together is the hundreds if not thousands of communities across the world spreading the passion and creating the myths."
Check out this video based on Lindstrom's book:
Adding to the evidence that Apple is actually a religion, psychologist David Levine, a self-identified Mac nut, says:
For many Mac people, I think (the Mac community) has a religious feeling to it. For a lot of people who are not comfortable with religion, it provides a community and a common heritage. I think Mac users have a certain common way of thinking, a way of doing things, a certain mindset. People say they are a Buddhist or a Catholic. We say we're Mac users, and that means we have similar values.
For more about the religions (even cultic) power of Apple, I suggest reading this article by Wired which includes the messianic characteristics of Steve Jobs. There is also a documentary on the subject called Macheads. In the trailer the film declares, "It's more than a computer, it's a way of life."
One question I pose in The Divine Commodity is this: If brands have become religions, is the opposite also true? Have religions been reduced to brands? I believe the evidence suggests they have. Researchers like Barna, Gallop, and others are finding it increasingly difficult to differentiate the behaviors and values of self-identified Christians from non-Christians with one exception-what they buy. Total sales of religious goods in America is nearly $7 billion annually. That is a whole lot of Tommy Hellfighter t-shirts, Jesus is my Homeboy underwear, and Fruit of the Spirit energy drinks. Is Mark Riddle right:
"Conversion in the U.S. seems to mean we've exchanged some of our shopping at Wal-Mart, Blockbuster, and Borders for the Christian Bookstore down the street. We've taken our lack of purchasing control to God's store, where we buy our office supplies in Jesus' name."
What does this mean for the future of the church in America? I hear a lot on Christian radio and see a lot of Christian books fighting against postmodernism, relativism, and secularism. But if people are constructing their identities and lives around consumer brands like Apple, is the church fighting the wrong battle? And perhaps more disturbing, are we unknowingly contributing to the problem by encouraging Christians to construct and express their identities via Christ-branded merchandise rather than through characters transformed to reflect the values of Christ himself?