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Sinners in the hands of an angry goddess

Christians should take note of the increasing clarity of the neopagans

Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks on the Apple campus in Cupertino, Calif., on Sept. 12. Associated Press/Photo by Jeff Chiu

Sinners in the hands of an angry goddess
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It’s mid-September, which means another annual Apple Event has come and gone, complete with the new iPhone 15 and Vision Pro, a new spatial computing device. But what grabbed the attention of many last week was Apple’s five-minute Mother Nature ad.

In the ad, a group of Apple employees nervously await the arrival of a peevish and snappy Mother Nature, who is dropping by for the annual corporate responsibility review. Mother Nature expects the same old empty song and dance, in which corporations make grandiose promises about reducing their environmental impact only to offer superficial efforts while kicking the can down the road.

However, over the course of the ad, sharp-tongued Mother Nature slowly softens as she realizes that Apple is in fact “doing the work” and making real progress to reduce their impact on the planet (even though, as Apple CEO Tim Cook says at the end, “there’s still a lot more work to do”). The ad closes with the sun emerging from behind a cloud and a dead plant coming back to life as Mother Nature approves their progress and the employees sigh in relief.

While some Christians might want to condemn the ad, I, for one, would like to express my (limited) appreciation for it, and invite my fellow Christians to do the same. Why, you ask? Let me count the ways.

First, we can appreciate that the ad provides manifest evidence that Christians do not have a monopoly on cringe-inducing religious propaganda.

Second, we really ought to appreciate how overt the religious themes in the ad are. Humans sacrifice and perform good works in order to placate an angry deity. Modern neo-paganism has rarely been as well-represented in such a short video. I half-expected one of the employees to slaughter a ram on top of an altar of MacBook Pros. (Though I must confess confusion at the ad’s disapproval of leather clothing. Isn’t cow flatulence responsible for a significant portion of greenhouse gas emissions? Wouldn’t slaughtering the offending animals and wearing their skins in ritual triumph be pleasing to Mother Nature?)

But the divinization of nature, the condemnation of religious hypocrisy, the works of supererogation, the appeasement of the goddess—all of these underscore that beneath many of our public policy debates are fundamental religious differences about the nature of God, sin, humanity, and atonement.

Mother Nature is dismissive of everyone at the table, but she reserves a special contempt for her male devotees.

Third, we can appreciate Apple’s choice of Octavia Spencer to play Mother Nature. As Ben Zeisloft pointed out, six years ago, Spencer played “Papa” in the movie adaptation of William P. Young’s novel The Shack. For those who missed the novel and movie, “Papa” is Young’s depiction of God the Father as a black woman, a provocative and edgy portrayal at the time. In the selection of Spencer for this ad, we see God’s sense of humor, as the attempted feminization of the Christian God now degenerates into the cult of the Divine Feminine.

But the juxtaposition of Spencer as Papa and Mother Nature clarifies a further theological shift. Young depicted God the Father as a black woman in order to soften the image of God as an angry and tyrannical father. But now resurgent neopaganism has discovered that the wrath of the gods has its uses in stirring the faithful up to sacrifices and good deeds. Apple’s Ad could have been titled “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Goddess.” All of us are dangling by a spider’s web over the furnace of Mother’s disappointment.

As Erick Erickson noted, perhaps the most surprising thing about the ad is how indifferent and dismissive Mother Nature is compared to how worshipful the employees are. Yes, they tremble at her arrival, but they also relish being in her angry, indifferent, and disappointed presence. (The sighs of relief at the end of the ad are accompanied by exclamations of “that was awesome.”)

So far, so obvious, and many commentators immediately recognized the obvious paganism underlying Apple’s corporate environmental activism. But my final note is about the more understated elements of the video, in particular, the subtle reinforcement of our regnant intersectional hierarchy. Set aside for the moment the, shall we say, substantial gap between the ethnic makeup of the ad’s Apple employees and the makeup of Apple’s top executives. The ad presents the DEI dream, while Apple’s executive leadership decidedly does not. That gap simply underscores the aspirational nature of Apple’s ad, and thus, of the new religious order it represents.

Consider also the subtle differences in how the sexes are treated. Yes, Mother Nature is dismissive of everyone at the table, but she reserves a special contempt for her male devotees. Tim Cook’s welcome and weather joke is met with darkening skies and thunder. The man in the leather jacket is singled out for his violation of Mother Nature’s sacred cows (and later receives a hearty scoff at his offering). And the man who gets overly excited about carbon neutrality is slapped down hard, only to be saved from further embarrassment by his female colleague who changes the subject.

Surprise! At the end it’s a woman who can boldly approach the throne of Mother Nature with confidence, unflinching and composed in the face of the goddess’s withering questions. She is a priestess in the new religion, an intersectional status confirmed by the fact that white male Tim Cook (who is himself gay) immediately follows in her wake with all of his cringey earnestness, and is assisted by her in making the final and peak offering of a carbon neutral Apple Watch and strong assurances of more offerings to come.

Such are the outlines of our new environmental religion, complete with deities, offerings, works of penance, and priestesses, and while we ought to resist its spread with the zeal of the prophet Elijah, we ought to also be grateful when the opposition shows itself clearly. More than that, we ought to be grateful that in contrast to the indifference and disappointment of Mother Nature, Christians offer good news of a loving Father who welcomes sinners who come to him in the name of his Son.

Joe Rigney

Joe Rigney serves as Fellow of Theology at New Saint Andrews College in Moscow, Idaho. He is the author of six books including: Live Like a Narnian: Christian Discipleship in Lewis’s Chronicles (Eyes & Pen, 2013) and Courage: How the Gospel Creates Christian Fortitude (Crossway, 2023).

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