Our Lady of Cupertino

I have long maintained that the religious impulse is a core part of our evolutionary biology, because every human being I have ever known is religious about something.

Even—and especially—the unreligious, who will not realize they are in the throes of it because they may define religion as “believing in something for no reason at all”, rather than a rational faith that asks questions, observes data, records answers, and believes on the strength of the evidence that it has thus far.

Given that every known human civilization has objects of affection, inspiration and veneration, it is not surprising to see that religiosity extends into the secular realm and may even be actively cultivated by savvy marketing.

Just as the Genius Bar has proved to be genius, the now-classic Apple slogan “Think Different” also turns out to be more than just words: The brains of Apple fans really are different. When Martin Lindstrom, a brand consultant and author of Buyology: The Truth and Lies About Why We Buy, examined those brains under a functional magnetic-resonance-imaging scanner, he discovered that Apple devotees are indistinguishable from those committed to Jesus. “Apple’s brand is so powerful that for some people it’s just like a true religion,” Lindstrom says.

Apple cultivates religious fervor among its adherents in a number of subtle ways, including its mysteriousness and its suggestion that customers are among the chosen ones. Perhaps most important, though, is Apple’s devotion to symbology. Its most effective marketing efforts, Lindstrom says, are built into the products themselves. Think of the iPod’s white earbuds, the Mac’s startup sound, or the unmistakable shape of the MacBook’s back panel. None of these choices were accidental. Apple understands the lasting power of sensory cues, and it goes out of its way to infuse everything it makes with memorable ideas that scream its brand.

— Manjoo, Farhad. “Invincible Apple: 10 Lessons From the Coolest Company Anywhere.” Fast Company, 1 July 2010.

It would be easy to go for the cheap laugh and say “See? It is a cult!” But I think the story reinforces a broader truth about human nature.

My sense is that asking humans to not indulge their religious nature is akin to asking sharks not to swim or eat seals. When people draw pleasure and inspiration from something—be it a relationship with the Creator of the universe or merely Apple Inc. of Cupertino—they will continue to seek out that experience and strengthen that bond.

One hopes that those who experience their religion as a purely secular phenomena can have some understanding of what draws believers back to churches and hymns week after week.

RELATED: The Atlantic Monthly‘s interesting piece on Apple as religion, detailing the company’s creation, hero, devil and resurrection narratives.

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