Reality Distortion Fields and God
Steve Jobs, the technology visionary and acclaimed genius, is famous for changing the way people live. Jobs was part of a team that created Apple Computers, which in many ways, birthed advent of the personal computer. I can remember using an Apple II in middle school—putting the 5 ¼ floppy disk (for you youngsters out there, think of a floppy disk like a really big flash drive), turning on the computer and listening to it whirl to life—I can still hear the distinct noise of the boot-up in my mind. The list of things that Jobs has been credited with is amazing: the implementation of GUI (graphical user interfaces)—or the use of a mouse. I think few people these days know what a C: prompt is. He was CEO of Pixar, which revolutionized the animation industry and brought us the wildly popular and successful Toy Story movies. He was behind the Apple store. He led the development of the iPod, which literally changed the music industry and the way people listen to music. He led Apple to invent the iPhone and the iPad. To say the least, Jobs was definitely aggressive and innovative. How was he able to accomplish so much?
While there are many different reasons, one of them lies behind what Jobs’ co-workers called the “reality distortion field” (a term borrowed from Star Trek). Jobs was famous for pushing his employees far beyond the limits of what they thought they could do. Software engineers told Jobs that it would take 18 months to develop a piece of software—Jobs rejected their claim and told them they had until the end of the week. Surprisingly, the engineers got the task done. It is said of Jobs that he simply bent and conformed reality to his will. Jobs’ biographer recounts: “As Nietzsche wrote in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, ‘The spirit now wills his own will, and he who had been lost to the world now conquers the world.’ If reality did not comport with his [Jobs’] will, he would ignore it, as he had done with the birth of his daughter and would do years later, when first diagnosed with cancer” (119). Other evidence of Jobs playing by his own rules surfaced throughout his life—he refused to use license plates on his cars and parked in handicapped spaces—rules simply did not apply to him. It seems that Jobs’ approach to business was the way he went about life, even his interaction with religion.
When Jobs was a child he saw the cover of Life magazine, which featured the picture of a pair of starving children in Biafra, Africa. Jobs went to his pastor to confront him about this: “If I raise my finger, will God know which one I’m going to raise even before I do it?” Jobs’ pastor answered affirmatively. So Jobs showed his pastor the cover of the magazine and asked, “Well, does God know about this and what’s going to happen to those children?” The pastor responded: “Steve, I know you don’t understand, but yes, God knows about that.” Jobs then proclaimed that he did not want to have anything to do with worshipping a God that allowed such things and never darkened the doors of the church again. When Jobs’ biographer later inquired about his practice of Zen Buddhism, Jobs explained his antipathy with Christianity: “The juice goes out of Christianity when it becomes too based on faith rather than on living like Jesus or seeing the world as Jesus saw it . . . I think different religions are different doors to the same house. Sometimes I think the house exists, and sometimes I don’t. It’s the great mystery” (15).
As brilliant as Jobs was, his objections to Christianity are not unique or incredibly insightful. One of the repeated mantras of liberalism is more deeds and less creeds. But here is where one’s reality distortion field runs into trouble. Jobs was insistent that one of Apple’s early computers, the Macintosh, not have a internal fan. Jobs hated fans—he believed they robbed the computer of its aesthetics—it is an annoyance to hear a fan whirring in the background. So he refused to let his engineers place fans in the computer. The absence of the fan allowed the computer to overheat and it quickly picked up the name of the “beige toaster.” As one of Jobs’ employees noted, “The reality distortion field can serve as a spur, but then reality itself hits” (186).
One cannot simply ignore the objective claims that Christ makes concerning his identity. As much as some people want to bend reality and “live like Jesus” or “look at the world like Jesus,” we cannot ignore his claims. Jesus claims, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Jesus did not appear and do a bunch of deeds; he also made claims, and those claims form the basis of our creed. Jesus makes an absolute claim that leaves us three choices—he claims to be the only way to God. Hence, as C. S. Lewis once wrote, Jesus is either a liar, because he lied about being the only way to God, or Jesus is a lunatic, on the level of someone who thought himself to be a poached egg, or he is Lord, and we have to fall on our faces and worship him as such. Jesus is either Lord or someone we would hardly want to emulate.
Another element of humanity’s efforts to ignore God surfaces in the rejection of Christianity and embracing another form of religion. Jobs embraced Zen Buddhism, for example. Yet, if people choose to worship another so-called deity, is not this other deity still responsible for all of the ills in the world? Either the deity is incapable of stopping all of the evil in the world or s/he refuses to intervene in the world. Either way, why should people worship a god who is powerless to intervene or indifferent to humanity’s suffering? I suspect that the lion’s share of people who reject Christianity on supposed moral grounds and then turn to other religions want to conform God to their own image—they want a defanged and neutered deity that fits their own desires and ideas. They do not want a god they cannot control, one who is sovereign over them. And in case some might think that the same criticism of false religions applies to Christianity, i.e., that God either is powerless or indifferent, one only need to look to the cross and behold the crucified God-man.
Try as we might to bend reality around us to conform to our will, the objective reality of God’s existence and self-disclosure in Christ confronts us. The reality of the triune God is inescapable.