Exposing PseudoAstronomy

October 6, 2011

The Cult of Apple, and Steve Jobs

Filed under: cults,doomsday,ufo — Stuart Robbins @ 3:42 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , ,


Everyone seems to be talking about Steve Jobs’ death yesterday (Wednesday, October 5, 2011). Even President Obama. I figured that there was absolutely nothing I could add to the discussion that was in any way related to Apple or Steve Jobs, but then I thought about the whole cult angle.

We rarely see cults in regards to astronomy, geology, or physics, but they do occasionally crop up. The Heaven’s Gate cult – the group that committed suicide because they believed a space ship was behind Comet Hale-Bopp – is the one most often cited for astronomy “what’s the harm?” questions.

I thought I’d give my readers my opinion about cults, what qualifies as a cult, and whether anything going on now-a-days in astronomy would qualify in my opinion.

First, on Apple and Me

I’m a Mac guy. A friend in college called me the “Mac Daddy” and I was effectively her tech support. I was the Mac club’s secretary for a year and VP another year. I have owned three Apple laptops and two Apple desktops in this millennium, and I have owned two iPod classics, two nanos, and one Touch. I will very likely be getting an iPad version 3 when it comes out next year. I have a few t-shirts (all given to me for free) and one jacket (again, free). I use two Microsoft programs only (Word and Excel) except I had to load up Windows via Parallels for the work I do since GIS products on the Mac are absolutely horrible.

That said, I do not consider myself “in the cult of Apple / Steve Jobs.” Why? I’ll get into the exact reasons a bit more specifically below, but for now, there are several reasons. Mainly, I am not blinded by devotion to the brand/products.

I find many faults with the software: I hate how 10.7 is merging with the iOS as I’m a power user and need actual access to things other than “apps;” I don’t like the whole “apps” shortening; iAm sick of iPrefixes; Apple’s version of a lot of software (Aperture, Pages, Numbers) I think is a poor substitute for the other brands.

I find faults with the hardware, mainly the price and subsequent huge profit margin for Apple (their RAM is well over 2x as expensive as any competition). And their veil of secrecy and tactics to maintain it are obnoxious and may be illegal (that whole thing where Apple employees convinced the SF PD to get them to someone’s house where they searched for a missing prototype thing? I hope the guy wins a massive settlement).

I put all that there because I wanted to lay my cards on the table. I’m a fan of Apple products, but I find them far from perfect and I do not consider Steve Jobs – alive or dead – my Dear Leader.

What’s a Cult?

Many people smarter than I and actually having degrees rather than a four-fifths-finished minor in psychology have studied and written about cults. I’ll direct you RationalWiki for a more thorough discussion if you’re interested.

In the end, though, it’s a spectrum. And different people have different definitions and different qualifiers for when they consider something to be a cult. For example, at what point is a system of beliefs a “religion” versus a “cult?” In the play and movie “Angels in America,” the line goes something like, “Any religion younger than a few thousand years is just a cult” (that was paraphrased, I don’t remember the exact line). Many Christians still consider Mormons to be a cult*, and I know at least one Jew who considers Christians to be a cult.

*Edited to Add: A day after I wrote this blog post, this article was in the New York Times: Perry Ally Calls Mormonism ‘a Cult’.

In my book, though, I look for a few specific things:

  • Is there a charismatic leader who people believe without thought?
  • Do they try to isolate you from anyone outside of it?
  • Do they have different beliefs at different levels, especially those inside versus outside?

That’s really it — I look for three things. I try to keep it simple. I know on some lists there are over 60. Maybe a fourth on my list would be “are former members talked incredibly negatively about, to the point of encouraging harmful acts against them?”

Now, granted, MANY of other peoples’ items fit into my first, such as “the leader is always right,” “the leader is beyond reproach,” “the leader has a direct line of communication with the divine,” “the leader’s dictates are absolute” … that sort of thing.

When you put these together, no, I was/am not in a cult. And I think very few people would ever consider Apple to be a legitimate cult under most psychological/social definitions of a cult.

Are There Astronomy-Related Cults Today?

I’m sure there are a few VERY small ones out there. They will usually crop up around a predicted astronomical event that is observed, such as what happened with Hale-Bopp. People who follow the idea of the “Hopi Blue Star Prophecy” may possibly qualify, in time, if a leader emerges to capitalize on it. However, I think that this type of cult could be lumped into the category of general “doomsday cults,” it just so happens that there’s something in the sky that is part of their belief system.

UFO cults actually occasionally crop up, though even those would rarely fit more than one of the criteria I look for. These usually center around a single individual or pair who claim to have had an extraterrestrial encounter. Their story touches people and the people giving the story are usually highly charismatic and seem sincere.

Betty and Barney Hill are a good example, where for many years, despite their story changing, people believed everything they said. Even today, they have a “sort of” cult following where people think that they represent the most convincing evidence for alien abductions. This is despite that later in life they were highly marginalized by the UFO community, to the point where Betty Hill was nearly jeered off the stage at a convention several years ago.

Final Thoughts

If you’ve made it this far, pat yourself on the back. This post was more a stream-of-consciousness and thanks for coming along for the ride.

Getting back to the beginning and the news du jour, I think that Steve Jobs co-founded a great company, brought it back from the brink of failure in the mid-1990s, and oversaw some amazing product developments. I hope that Apple will be able to continue to innovate as before even without his leadership.



  1. Steve Jobs was assassinated by Apple because he was about to join Microsoft. Bill Gates was going to personally double his net value.

    Comment by He Who Walks Behind the Rows — October 6, 2011 @ 3:50 pm | Reply

  2. I am also surprised by the avalange of r.i.p. statements on facebook and elsewhere. Anyway, has anyone connected Jobs with Comet Elenin or 2012 yet? I am sure someone will.

    Comment by Johan Normark — October 6, 2011 @ 8:53 pm | Reply

    • Yeah, it’s like Gandhi died or something. And no, I haven’t seen that happen yet, but I’m sure at the very least someone will lump him in with two other “celebrity” deaths so the “deaths always come in threes” will hold. Interesting that I haven’t seen any “psychics” yet claim they predicted this (and provide evidence that they actually, unambiguously, did).

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — October 6, 2011 @ 8:56 pm | Reply

  3. What is a cult …

    The term cult traces back to the Latin word ‘cultus’, which must be roughly translated as ‘education’ or ‘care’. However, in the course of time the meaning ‘reverence’ came into being, particularly concerning a divinity as well as saints and angels etc., but also in regard to the exaggerated reverence of a person, an object or some thing, like, for example, sport, music, singing, paintings or animals and so on. Cult also involves adoration, which means ‘worship’ or ‘reverence’ in Latin, but also proskynesis (going down on one’s knees and kissing the ground), which also means ‘reverence’ according to the old Greek language. The term cult is usual in the field of religious science and theology in which it stands for the attempt of the believer to acquire his supposed salvation and sacredness by means of existing traditions or customs, or by joint, ritually regulated behaviour. Particularly, the cult’s ritual acts shall be performed on ‘sacred sites’ or at ‘scared times’, in order to make sure of the religious experience. Connected with this are the warding off and taboo rites or penitential rituals, which are supposed to provide superhuman power or protection from the punishment of an angry god. In the early forms of religion, however still common in the present day religions as well, the cult – which requires all things sacred to be dealt with in a reverential manner – and the magic, through which all sacred things are supposed to be manipulated, could not and cannot be clearly separated from each other. Religions and religious sects establish cult communities – cult religions and cult-sects -, and they invent and develop rituals and are also responsible for their implementation and compliance. The social development plays an important role in the implementation of the religious or sectarian cult, consequently, a special individuality according to the heads of the families, priesthood, religions’ bigwigs, patriarchs of the clans, shamans, medicine men, sects’ gurus, kings and emperors, village elders, tribal chieftains, groups of people or other authorities is given. The order for the practice of a cult can be given by any responsible authority which is, in this respect, powerful enough so as to invent the rituals and have them practiced in a cult-like way. A cult can also result from an official regulation, an ordination, i.e. an official order, which especially refers to an official religious form, but can also be of an official public or military form, among other things.

    A cult consists always and without exception of ritual behaviour which is accompanied by pertinent words and makes reference to interpreted mythological words, tales, handed down traditions, legends, dogmas, religious beliefs and strict ideological guidelines as well as instructions which are to be followed in a ritual cult-like way. It is not uncommon for a cult -especially when a strict belief including a form of fanaticism are involved – to gain the character of a ritual-cultic theatre, also referred to as ‘sacred drama’.

    It must be clear that rituals and the cult-behaviour that stems from them, are not only related to religion but are also sectarian, because rituals, and the resulting cult-behaviour, exist wherever sectarianism exists. This is the case with every terror organisation, so also with AI Qaida, the Nazi regime and with other organised groups and organisations of all kinds that have their own rituals and, as a result, their own cult-behaviour. This also applies equally to the military, because the ritual of the dedication of the flag (colours) alone is just as much of a ritual cult-behaviour as the required forms of greeting, the consecration of weapons and the cheering through songs of the fatherland or of groupings etc., as well as other rite-like forms. The mafia as a sect – along with other similar and differing sects – also cultivates ritual cult-behaviour which all members are required to comply with. In such sects – as well as in other groups and organisations, especially with Satan cults and fanatical sects – a violation of the rituals can result in punishment and can possibly have fatal consequences. The cult in form of practicing rituals and belief concerning religions and sects means a worship of a god – in the Christian belief also the alleged son of god, Jesus Christ -, in which help and mercy are beseechingly begged for through an abject submissive posture, such as prostrating oneself, bowing and making the sign of the cross, kneeling, kissing the ground or touching it with the forehead. This falls in the realm of proskynesis, i.e. ‘reverence’, which trace back to a Persian court etiquette that was adopted by the roman emperor cult. In the orthodox churches and partly in the middle eastern churches it was and is an act of penance expressed through the bowing of the body and the touching of the ground with the right hand, and is performed above all during the 40 day period of fasting. The prostration or prayer gesture is customary in the catholic church and is expressed through the bending of the knees and the deep-bowing or laying, fully-stretched out on the ground – like for example at the ordination to the priesthood. Overall, a cult can be understood as a wrong reverential, submissive reaction, attitude, experience and devotion to something sacred.

    Comment by Bruce — October 7, 2011 @ 3:45 am | Reply

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