My Life in Words

Is your Mac Catholic?

April 21, 2005

Sometimes you just have to wonder where some people find the free time to over-think some things. Stephan Evans' article for the BBC on Apple culture is the most recent of many articles I have read to reference Umberto Eco's comparison of the Mac OS to Catholicism. I find this interpretation to be over-simplistic (surprising, given that Umberto Eco is a renowned philosopher), inaccurate, and, as both a practicing Protestant and Mac user, mildly offensive. So, in the old American tradition of giving unneccessary attention to something that I disagree with rather than letting it go, I will answer his over-thinking with some of my own.

Eco's assertion that the Mac OS will "tell 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," is not untrue. It is the other quote Evans uses, the one that claims Windows will "allow free interpretation of scripture, demand difficult personal decisions... And take for granted that not all can reach salvation. To make the system work you need to interpret the program yourself," that I take issue with. While certainly true of the Windows world, it makes the implications that there is no room for interpretation in using an Apple, not to mention that there are somehow no "difficult personal decisions" to be made in Catholicism, both of which are patently untrue.

My own interpretation is, obviously, somewhat different. I want to say up front that I do not mean to offend anyone by my comments. Religion does, after all, evoke the strongest emotions in people. Just keep in mind as you read that these are just personal observations and in no way an endorsement or rebuke of any particular religious view (except in one or two spots). Microsoft users, on the other hand, can feel free to take as much offense as you like.

First, it is the position of the Catholic church that Catholicism is the only true Christianity. Decisions affecting all followers come down from one central figure and his (never her) word is considered law for the Church. While I see this to a degree in Apple (the cult of Jobs, as it were), it seems to me that the analogy better fits Microsoft; i.e. Windows is the only real-world computing solution and unless you use our operating system and embrace all of our updates and policies you will be forever on the fringes of the computing world.

Second, I would venture to say that Mac OS users have even more room to "interpret the program for yourself" than Windows, making it more applicable to Eco's definition of "Protestant." How many realistic alternatives exist to MS Office for Windows? Granted, Office is still the mainstream solution for the Mac as well, but my point is that the options for alternatives are just as effective, if not more so (Appleworks comes first to mind).

Not only that, but the Mac OS provides a more stable base for that ability to "interpret for yourself." While not always the case, recent turmoil within the Catholic church has made it less stable than many (but definitely not all) Protestant churches. Again, the comparison clearly favors Microsoft. What was once reasonably stable if you weren't careless, has become riddled with insecurity and widely seen, even among many faithful users, as in need of some fixing. The Mac OS, while not invincible, has thus far avoided the scandal and insecurity of Windows. So while Windows has plenty of room for interpretation, the Mac OS remains the stronger base platform from which to explore your options in utilizing the system to your fullest potential.

At the same time though, the Mac OS also remains the best at guiding its users to the successful completion of whatever task it is they are attempting to accomplish. As Eco says, the Mac OS will clearly and understandably, "tell 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." What I take issue with is the insinuation that this is a "Catholic" quality. In my 24 years as a Protestant I have never lacked guidance when I needed it. Just like when using the Mac, all I have to do is ask.

It is human nature to categorize, to try and label large groups of things, people, or ideas so that it is easier for the mind to process. While helpful in many cases, this way of thinking generates stereotypes, bigotry, and hatred as well. In instances somewhere in between though, as in this one, it can result in an idea that is just plain silly. The inconsistencies are simply too many to make a coherent argument that one OS is "Protestant" and the other is "Catholic." To try and compare computer operating systems to major Christian religious interpretations is like trying to compare apples (no pun intended) to strawberries. Sure, they both have seeds, but not only is the flesh of the fruit totally different, but one keeps its seeds on the inside and the other wears them superficially. Now how's that for a metaphor?



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