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Steve Jobs's Idolatry Cost Him His Life

Steve Jobs, Apple's late cofounder and CEO, displayed incredible drive and creativity. But like all of us, Jobs struggled with idolatry. Surprisingly his idol wasn't technology; it was food. Steve Jobs was obsessed with food in ways that dominated his life and relationships. As a teenager he experimented with strange diets. At one point he went for two weeks eating only apples. The various diets, often based on raw food, gave Jobs an exhilarating sense of control.

Like all idols, his obsession worked at first. It was part of Jobs's larger project of attaining to superhuman control over his surroundings and other people—intimately linked with his perfectionism. Indeed, Jobs's idolatrous relationship to food may have cost him his life. In October 2003 a scan turned up islet cell cancer, a rare version of pancreatic cancer that is slow-growing and consequently almost always curable with prompt surgery. But Jobs's idol—food as a method of control—failed him. As his biographer Isaacson writes:

Jobs decided not to have surgery to remove the tumor, which was the only accepted medical approach. "I really didn't want them to open up my body, so I tried to see if a few other things would work," he told me years later with a hint of regret. Specifically, he kept to a strict vegan diet, with large quantities of fresh carrot and fruit juices … For nine months, as his friends and family pleaded with him to have the surgery, Jobs refused.

Not until July of the next year did he consent to remove part of his pancreas. During the surgery, doctors found that the cancer had spread. Jobs would never again be free of cancer, and just over eight years later he was dead at age fifty-six. He was in the terminal stage, not of cancer, but of idolatry, when the idol ceases to deliver but exacts its full demands for unwavering worship. When the public became aware that Jobs was increasingly gaunt, commentators suspected that Jobs's disease had come back with a vengeance. What few knew was that his wasted body was not just the result of cancer but also his own dependence on control through food.

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