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Scott P. Richert

Are Macs Catholic?

By January 24, 2014

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January 24, 2014, marks the 30th anniversary of the introduction of the first Macintosh computer. Five years ago, on the 25th anniversary, I wrote the following short post; with the rise of the iPad and hints of future Apple products (iWatch, anyone?) that are likely to continue to change the way we interact with the world, not to mention the election of the first Jesuit Pope, it seems worth revisiting today.

January 24, 2009, is the 25th anniversary of the introduction of the first Macintosh computer. The famous "1984" Superbowl ad had aired two days earlier, on January 22, 1984; but the first time the Macintosh was seen in public was on January 24, when Steve Jobs gave a demonstration of the new machine to a crowd of 3,000 people. For anyone who has ever used a Mac, an iPod, an iPhone, or even a Windows PC, that day changed history.

For many years, when Apple's marketshare was relatively small, people used to speak of the "cult of the Mac"--and as a longtime Mac user, I'll admit that there can be an element of almost religious devotion to the machine that makes my life easier every day. But I've also noticed a rather interesting correlation between prominent Catholics on the web and Mac users.

Those who want to understand why should read a 15-year-old essay by novelist Umberto Eco, "The Holy War: Mac vs. DOS." Published in the Italian newsweekly Espresso on September 30, 1994, the essay is firmly tongue-in-cheek, but like the best humor, it works because it's based in truth.

Eco writes, "I am firmly of the opinion that the Macintosh is Catholic and that DOS is Protestant." Explaining this distinction, he continues:

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.

What a difference from the world of MS-DOS:

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.

But DOS, of course, is a distant memory in 2009, and even in 1994, when Eco wrote his essay, it was on its way out:

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.

One wonders what Eco would say of the disaster known as Windows Vista.

Eco's essay was all in good fun, of course, but what do you think? Is there a grain of truth in it? Why are so many prominent Catholics on the web Mac users? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

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Comments
January 24, 2009 at 7:39 pm
(1) Jeff Miller says:

Well not sure if prominent Catholics on the web do in fact use Macs. Don’t think that Mark Shea, Amy Welborn, Jimmy Akin, or Father Z use Macs.

Kathy Shaidle the first Catholic blogger does in fact use a Mac along with Carl Olson of Ignatius Insight, Julie of Happy Catholic, Lisa Hendley of Catholicmoms.com.

And of course the Vatican uses Linux and has the servers named after archangels.

I switched to Mac in Oct 2007 and haven’t looked back. There is a Catholicity to the Mac. You have both beauty and simplicity. The Mac interface is quite dogmatic with programs adhering to a similar interface. While on Windows finding preferences they could be on any menu. But there is also power in OSX that is like the sacraments in giving direct access via the terminal.

January 25, 2009 at 10:21 am
(2) Iosephus says:

Much of the Cornell Society for a Good Time uses Macs. But though we’re definitely Catholic, we’re definitely not prominent. :)

January 25, 2009 at 4:28 pm
(3) Stephen Heiner says:

I enjoyed the article, and I do think there is a certain propensity of Catholics of the Traditionalist stripe to buy Macs.

That being said, I have two objections – two ways in which Macs are not Catholic:

1. Software Updates. In the aggiornamento-like spirit of making my computer safer for computing, I am constantly beseiged with update requests for iTunes, Quicktime, or Safari. Did the faithful request such changes, for their spiritual good? No. It was given to us, from above, with very little explanation as to why we needed it, and often we were told we had to reboot afterwards, even though Macs are famous for not having to reboot to run reliably. There is a forgetfulness of the past here that just upgrades software without a genuine need for the upgrade. My iTunes works fine, dude! Keep your upgrades!

2. Monoculture. Catholicism, and the Permanent Things, for that matter, have never been about a “genius bar” concept. Yes, we had a Holy Office, but remember that before the Immaculate Conception was definitively (and gloriously, Deo Gratias) declared, there was a spirited and legitimate debate between Scotists and Thomists. If “open source with a hierarchy” could be attained, that’s where Catholics would go.

Of the ten computers I have owned, 2 have been Macs, and they have been my absolute favorites. They are also the only computers I use at home. Alas, I am typing this on my work computer – a Dell. It might be noted that the price decision is yet another one that favors the Catholic propensity to Mac – no one ever said seeking and following the Faith was easy :-)

January 27, 2009 at 5:12 pm
(4) Michael says:

Dear Scott,

For those of us who do not understand the differences between MACs and PCs, kindly refer us to a site which will employ “user-friendly” language to enlighten us.
Then I might be able to discern whether I am a good Catholic. (Don’t know how to make a yellow smiley face. Barely know how to turn on my computer.)

January 28, 2009 at 4:45 pm
(5) Carl E. Olson says:

This is, of course, a matter of great importance—so much so that I wonder if the CDF or the Holy Father might have to address this in the near future? (LOL) As Jeff rightly notes, I use a Mac. In fact, I’ve used nothing but Apples/Macs since 1985, when I first began working on computers as a sophomore in high school. There are currently five Macs in our household: three of which are used on a daily basis and two older, retiring types that only come out for family reunions and such. I have no idea what role Macs played in my decision to become Catholic in 1997. Nor do I know if my journey would have been any different had I not worked on a Mac. These are indeed deep mysteries, answers to which likely cannot be found this side of heaven. ;-)

July 27, 2011 at 9:24 am
(6) Doug S says:

Great article; flippin’ hilarious actually! I work in the computer field and look for ways as a Catholic to witness to Jesus Christ through my normal conversations w/customers. This article at the very least stirs my imagination if not provides multiple launching points itself.
Thanks!

January 24, 2014 at 10:23 am
(7) Bigfoot says:

I hope this is satire, because the whole idea of computers having religious affiliations is absurd on its face.

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