Anthropologist: Apple is a religion

Dr. Kirsten Bell of the University of British Columbia suggests that Cupertino is the home of something resembling a faith-based organization.

Chris Matyszczyk
3 min read
Bow down and worship. James Martin/CNET

I am not sure that religions are really religions any more.

Fundraising and struggling for the attentions of the young have tended to force them into indecision between rigidity and compromise. Perhaps this is one reason why the real and the bedraggled have increasingly turned to material things in order to dedicate their beliefs.

There is something painfully unsurprising, therefore, in hearing that Dr. Kirsten Bell of the University of British Columbia believes that Apple is a cult-like religion.

Did it take deep analysis to discover this? Perhaps not. For ZDNet reports that she observed launch videos and actually went to the iPad Mini launch on behalf of TechNews Daily.

Academics adore categorizations and definitions.

Bell said that the lovely cathedral-style theater in San Jose where the iPad Mini was launched was "littered with sacred symbols, especially the iconic Apple sign itself."

Then she mused that the Reverend Cook and his acolytes "[address] the audience to reawaken and renew their faith in the core message and tenets of the brand/religion."

When it comes to religions -- and, these days, what truly divides a religion from a cult? Time, perhaps -- they allegedly have certain characteristics. These include a charismatic leader who becomes worshiped and a process that involves talking you into certain things that you might not have believed before.

ZDNet's resident anthropologist, Charlie Osborne, also tells me that another tenet of a religion or cult is the "economic, sexual, and other exploitation of group members by the leader and the rulers."

She seems to believe that this is "out of the running here." Oh, Charlie. Mere possession of an iPhone makes you feel not only economically more potent than you were before, but infinitely more sexy. You ooze that inner self-regard that only the iPhone can deliver. You know that members of your target sex will look at you with just a little admiration. You are, after all, a person of taste.

Which means you'll probably dress well and smell good.

There are, some say, limits to the comparison between religions and businesses. One is there solely to make money. The other is there is enrich its board of directors. Wait, I may have that a little muddled.

And yet, as Bell declares of Apple: "They are selling something more than a product. When you look at the way they advertise their product, it's really about a more connected life."

Oh, but it isn't merely that.

Apple generates religious fervor because the company bothers, at least on occasion, to think about your needs.

This makes it a more modern religion than, well, all the old ones. For the longest time, those religions seemed to exist purely to get you to follow their ancient rules. When people began to question these old tenets, some religions tried to adjust, others dug in.

Yet people wandered along their merry, selfish ways in order to find spiritual joys elsewhere. They don't line up outside churches much these days. On the other hand, look at those Apple stores.

There will come a time, of course, when -- just like older religions -- Apple will cease to satisfy. A new cult will emerge. A new ethos will wrap its arms around the weak human psyche and lead it to a new, more fragrant promised land.

I can just see a university professor in a couple of years, wearing her kaftan and making this speech: Microsoft is a religion.