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

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.