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Do you agree with Umberto Eco, that Apple is Catholic and PC Protestant? It looks as though Pope Benedict might…

It all makes sense to me: but I’m a simple soul

By on Friday, 26 August 2011

Benedict XVI launches the Vatican news portal on an iPad in June (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

Benedict XVI launches the Vatican news portal on an iPad in June (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

Rocco Palmo, in his blog Whispers in the Loggia, poses an intriguing question: is there some natural affinity between Apple (as in endless models of computer, iPod, iPhone, iPad and so on) and the Catholic Church, even the Catholic religion itself? These ruminations were inspired by the (for any Mac devotee – this emphatically includes me, though I can’t afford the full battery of devices) sad news of the resignation through illness of Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple. It’s rare, says Mr Palmo,

…to find a figure of modern global commerce who’s had an impact on the life of mankind’s most enduring corporate structure… with tonight’s news of Steve Jobs’ resignation as CEO of Apple, though, it’s worth re-running the pinnacle-proof of Cupertino’s mark on Catholic life: Pope Benedict XVI – long an owner of two early-model iPods (both white, of course) – launching the Vatican’s rebooted news-portal in late June with a tap on an iPad…

For an institution whose upper reaches were long uninterested in (or taken aback by) the leaps and bounds of the technological revolution of recent decades – a reality that, candidly, long stalled the recognition and growth of modern communications platforms into the ecclesial mainstream – the watershed ad intra shift of the last three or so years can be credited in large part to the “Cult of Mac”, thanks to the ease and captivation Apple devices have garnered.

He points out (surely the clincher) that the Holy See’s internet office is controlled from a Mac computer: well, of course.

Before I explore this apparent affinity further (for there is more to be said) a digression about that reference to Cupertino: this has nothing to do with St Joseph of Cupertino who was, apparently, not very bright, but did miraculously levitate and have intense ecstatic visions. He is the patron saint of air travellers, aviators, astronauts, people with a mental handicap, test-takers, and weak students.

But Apple has nothing to do with any of that, it seems – though my first instinct was to wonder what the connection was and I still think one might be found with a little ingenuity, to do with the ease of operation of the Mac computer, perhaps (for those weak students); also, I am tapping this out on a MacBook Air (get it?): but quite simply, Cupertino, California, is where the Apple company is based. Wikipedia has an entry on something called “the Cupertino effect”, which it defines as “the tendency of a spellchecker to suggest inappropriate words to replace misspelled words and words not in its dictionary” and then explains that “This term refers to the fact that the unhyphenated English word ‘cooperation’ was often changed to ‘Cupertino’ by older spellcheckers with dictionaries containing only the hyphenated variant, ‘co-operation’. Cupertino, California is the home of Apple Inc., and thus would be in most computer spelling dictionaries.”

This caused my mind to wander even further from my subject (it’s been a tiring week in the blogosphere). I have just put the first paragraph above through my (Word) spellchecker – the first time I have ever used it, and never again: these things are mindless. It suggests that “Steve” might be changed to “stove” or “stave”, that “Jobs” might be a misspelling for “Joss’s” and that “blog” should be changed to “bog”. Really, you are better off with the Oxford dictionary supplied with my Apple OSX system, whose icon sits reassuringly at the side of my screen in something called the “dock”, which also includes icons for other delights to click on to, including iTunes, iPhoto, stickies, iMovie and a rubbish bin.

However, as the French are supposed to say – though I’ve never heard a French person say it – when they mean “let us return to the subject” (Rabelais said it constantly, it seems), revenons à nos moutons. The affinity between Catholicism and the Apple computer was explicitly assserted by no less a literary luminary than Umberto Eco (The Name of the Rose, etc) in an article written in 1994 entitled “The Holy War: Mac vs DOS” (Today, he would undoubtedly have amended this to Mac vs. PC) in which he argues that:

The fact is that the world is divided between users of the Macintosh computer and users of MS-DOS compatible computers. I am firmly of the opinion that the Macintosh is Catholic and that DOS is Protestant. Indeed, the Macintosh is counter-reformist and has been influenced by the ratio studiorum of the Jesuits. It is cheerful, friendly, conciliatory; it tells the faithful how they must proceed step by step to reach – if not the kingdom of Heaven – the moment in which their document is printed. It is catechistic: The essence of revelation is dealt with via simple formulae and sumptuous icons. Everyone has a right to salvation.

DOS is Protestant, or even Calvinistic. It allows free interpretation of scripture, demands difficult personal decisions, imposes a subtle hermeneutics upon the user, and takes for granted the idea that not all can achieve salvation. To make the system work you need to interpret the program yourself: Far away from the baroque community of revelers, the user is closed within the loneliness of his own inner torment.

You may object that, with the passage to Windows, the DOS universe has come to resemble more closely the counter-reformist tolerance of the Macintosh. It’s true: Windows represents an Anglican-style schism, big ceremonies in the cathedral, but there is always the possibility of a return to DOS to change things in accordance with bizarre decisions: When it comes down to it, you can decide to ordain women and gays if you want to.

It all makes sense to me. But what do I know? How many Catholics out there have gravitated naturally to Mac rather than some kind of PC? How many Catholic PC users are in favour of ordaining women? We need to know more: these are deep waters.

  • Pastor in Valle

    Definitely everything Mac for this Catholic!

  • Anonymous

    so what is linux then?? :)

  • anon


  • Ben Trovato

    I’m a dedicated Mac man as well.  As Dr Oddie digresses in this piece, I will permit myself this detour:

    Q: How many Microsoft engineers does it take to change a lightbulb?
    A: None, they just declare ‘dark’ the industry standard.

  • W Oddie

    I once tried to use Linux: but I found it confusing and uncertain (I was between Macs at the time). I was greatly relieved to return to the reassuring Apple Magisterium when my MacBook Air finally arrived. Never again; better a quill pen and my memories.

  • female guest

    from my MacBook,via the internet,with gratitude:

    Letter to Romans(Rom 16:1)
    I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church…she has looked after a great many people…

    LUMEN, The Catholic Gift to Civilisation (CTS) offers a brief,effective chapter on women’s contribution to the faith; which impresses one with the sensible notion of having a female diaconate.

  • Anonymous

    I have used both. Linux has great future potential. Right now it is a bit of minefield for new users. It is definitely the fastest operating system, but needs more commercial support to be successful.

    Its highly likely that both the Vatican Website, and the Catholic Herald are hosted on it however – most of the web is. Most smartphones run it in some form too.

  • SOSJ

    I agree! I use Linux Mint on my netbook and it is excellent in every way – and all the software is free and at least the equal of expensive Microsoft options, which is  a clincher for a retired fellow like me.Linux is a derivative of Unix as is the Apple operating system, so maybe my catholicity is intact.

  • SOSJ

    I agree! I use Linux Mint on my netbook and it is excellent in every way – and all the software is free and at least the equal of expensive Microsoft options, which is  a clincher for a retired fellow like me.Linux is a derivative of Unix as is the Apple operating system, so maybe my catholicity is intact.

  • SOSJ

    I agree! I use Linux Mint on my netbook and it is excellent in every way – and all the software is free and at least the equal of expensive Microsoft options, which is  a clincher for a retired fellow like me.Linux is a derivative of Unix as is the Apple operating system, so maybe my catholicity is intact.

  • Anonymous

    I should love to be able to afford a Mac.

    The poor – ergo the pc – will always will be with us.

  • Anonymous

    I should love to be able to afford a Mac.

    The poor – ergo the pc – will always will be with us.

  • Anonymous

    Windows 7 was bullying my poor netbook into submission, it only took a few weeks of frustration to remove it entirely. Have been going strong on Linux for the last 11 months.

    Have gone through about 6/7 distro installs in that time, either to try another, or because of breaking something.
    Currently enjoying Gnome 3 on Fedora 15, I think this is really ground-breaking stuff, I see most OS’s going this way soon.

    Even found an open-source Bible study tool to use, what’s not to love? 

    Very encouraging to see an older Linux user, I can’t even persuade my student mates to give it a try! (yet)

  • Christine

    I’m Catholic and have three Macs.  Maybe the magesterium feel the Church’s business is too important to be trusted to Windows!

  • Anonymous

    While Apple forces you to buy an entirely new kind of lightbulb at a different voltage, causing you to have to re-wire your entire house!

  • Ben Trovato

    Wasn’t there something around the time of Vatican 2 about throwing out the Windows of the Church…  And we know that Adam and Eve were tempted by an Apple way back.

  • Ben Trovato

    I just had a quick look at the stats for different OSs visiting my Catholic Blog:

    Windows 69%
    Macintosh 21%
    iPhone 3%
    iPad 3%
    Linux 1%
    Android <1%Draw what conclusions you will from that…

  • Christine

    You’re right!  You obviously know the Bible and Church history very well.  :)

  • Anonymous

    solution: make a hackintosh.

    PCs and Macs all run on Intel processors now, just buy a OS X license for Snow Leopard and the right hardware, and then follow a guide to get it installed.

  • Anonymous

    Paul, no offence; but life’s too short to even begin to understand what you mean; let alone contemplate actuating it.

  • Vic

    I don’t own any Apple products, but I wish I did.  I’m blind, and I use a screen reading program to access my PC, and screen reading programs are very expensive!  However, Steve Jobs had enough vision (no Pun intended) to make Apple products accessible to blind users by including something called VoiceOver.  Does that mean that Apple is more in line with the Catholic Church’s teachings on social justice than Microsoft and the PC makers?

  • Attende

    The Cupertino connection is that the town, like most pre-US towns in California was named after a saint in this case the very St Joseph of Cupertino to whom you refer and that is probably still (at least historically) in some way the full name of the place.

  • SOSJ

    Conclusions – most people follow fashion or are taken in by advertising. They do not like to take a chance and will pay a lot of money to be nursed along by the big corporations. Besides as Paulsays points out the hidden infrastructure of most electronic equipment these days is based on Unix//Linux though most folk are blissfully unaware of this. I think it used to be called “invincible ignorance” when I was at school – a lack of knowledge through no fault of their own, which excused culpability.

  • Bselfjmj

    Simply stated, one’s religious beliefs have nothing to do with one’s computer usage! I think everyone does realize this … though I must add, using a Mac, iPod, iPhone, and so forth elevates EVERYTHING! Hee hee

  • SOSJ

    Thanks! I can recommend Linux Mint (think its v12 now) – easy FREE download and everything you need comes with it, Firefox bowser, Thunderbird email client, MS compatible  FULL office suite, media players, photo software – you name it. Updates and installs painlessly so ex-windows users will not be put off. Once downloaded every update installs itself and there is no need to restart the computer – and it is very quick unlike the painfully slow Windows Vista (never got round to Windows 7). I recommend people people to give it a try – even the esteemed William Oddie who gave Linux a try before.

  • SOSJ

    See my comments (under Paulsays post above) on Linux Mint – totally free including every application you will ever need. Also in effect almost free from viruses so very much more secure than slow and vulnerable Windows.

  • James H

    Umberto Eco seldom fails to make a telling point. Yes, I agree, Apple products are streets ahead of Windows, but suffer from the Betamax effect – the opposition, though inferior, has better marketing. For that reason, I think Apple is like Catholicism, though I really don’t like their production methods – which are exploitative in the extreme (how many Chinese workers have killed themselves so far?)

  • JAC

    Considering how quick Apple was to bow to GLSBT groups over the Manhattan Declaration and how nonchalant Apple has seemed when it comes to fixing problems with their security as of late (see, I, as a Catholic who is happy to default to Rome and the Catechism, would not want to be associated with Apple.  Just saying.

  • Lisa Nicholas

    Nyet. This is just one more desperate (and rather transparent) ploy by Mac-users to try to claim some kind of chic for themselves. In fact, most of the Mac users I know are tree-hugging liberals who think that PCs (and religion) are for knuckle-dragging Neanderthals. Would Saint Catherine of Siena use a Mac? No way! The Holy Father uses Mac products because he is given them, and he is given them for the same reason the Mercedes-Benzcompany (or whoever — I couldn’t care less) makes his Popemobile: free publicity.

    I would consider it a sin to shell out twice as much cash for a Mac, which would have only 1/10 the number of software applications available — and *those*
    would cost twice as much as the PC equivalents. Real Catholics don’t coddle
    themselves with over-priced status symbols. We go for the cheaper competitors, use free open-platform software, and are proud of it!

    By the way, Umberto Eco is among the last people I would trust to parse religious distinctions. At any rate, DOS was one thing and Windows is something entirely other; and don’t forget the libertarian Linux users (not that I am one, but I admire their pioneer spirit).

  • Perelandra

    Please, God, help me. This is one of those vapid headlines that makes me recite the US Prexys backwards. What in heaven’s name does this mean???????!!!!  HEY, IDIOTS, GOD DOESN’T USE, WANT, OR NEED A COMPUTER, God LAUGHS at computers. All of you whining, arrogant, superior loons that actually are taking this seriously and arguing about it need to GET A LIFE.

  • W. Covens

    I use both Mac and PC… So what’s my profile ?

  • Quiddity2001

    Well, Apple has been closed minded in its approaches, thus taking on the persona of all-knowing what the user actually needs.  The PC has always been more welcoming to adjust to the needs of the user, so as to not wait for an eternity for a solution to meet the needs of the user.  I’ll leave the theological implications of this explanation to others more qualified.

  • Parasum

    There’s a Vatican II joke in the making there…

  • Parasum

    “GLSBT groups” ? What’s the S for ?

  • Anonymous

    Of course computers running Windows use the very same factories to produce parts. The whole thing is very wrong.

    I think that if a product is to be sold in this country then its workers should have to work in conditions that would be legal in Britain. 

  • Rlt1950

    After years of frustration with windows, I made the switch to Mac 5 years ago.  After 59 years of frustration with protestantism, I made the switch to the Catholic Church 2 years ago.  I’d never seen the connection before, but now it all makes sense.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t like where Ubuntu is going at the moment, and I tried the KDE version of Mint before –  and I liked it. So when (inevitably), I break what I am using I might take a look.

  • Altered Allegiance

    Hate macs, love the Church…

  • jmichaels

    “We need to know more: these are deep waters.”
    As are the waters in my septic tank.
    Kudos on your outstanding sense of humor (sic)(we colonials never did learn to spell properly).
    Warmest regards…

  • Joe

    I get 4 times the power for 1/3 the price with a PC. I’m alright.

  • Mari Nagel

    FYI, Steve Jobs is a devout Lutheran!

  • Jpfhays1953

    You really don’t know Apple, do you?

  • Clint

    This is the reality now:

  • Fark

    There is no current operating system that runs on MS-DOS.  There hasn’t been one since Windows ME 11 years ago.  Nevermind that this article is excluding all manner of other OS.




    Most of the internet runs on either Linux or BSD.  
    Simple fact of the matter is: Mac is for douchebags who have no idea how to blow their money and Windows is for idiots who take whatever is given to them.

  • Anonymous

    ‘Straight’ ?? Its either GLBT or LBGT. I think this is a mistake.

  • Mack

    Oh, it doesn’t make any real difference; all computers are plastic garbage assembled in slave-labour factories in China.  They are all disposable, so go with the cheapest.  Brand loyalty is illogical.

  • Capt. Doug

    I have an Apple and probably wouldn’t own a computer if it had to be a PC.
    But is Apple Catholic?
    When Gates may be an atheist but Jobs is a Buddist

  • martin

    Steve Jobs won’t allow apps on the iPhone or iPad or whatever that were pornographic.  I don’t think any windows device has ever even thought about doing that.

  • martin

    I guess you have a big bank account.

  • martin

    I’m sorry that my PC is too complicated for you simple minded Mac users to figure out.  Fact is that most people’s pocket book isn’t nearly big enough to afford a Mac or many of their products (I mean seriously, their small “nano” is over $150 and you can’t control what you even are listening to, it’s just an mp3 player), or for people who can afford them now, they spent years “poor” and are already loyal windows users.