Steve Jobs as religious saint?A while back, there was news that showed that apparently, Apple products and brand motifs trigger religious responses in Apple fans.

How silly, I thought. Of course, it’s not something that I would doubt. I know about the long lines to stores when Apple is set to release a new product. Yet, I’d like to think that these fanboys are just for Apple.

And yet, the research has intrigued me. One thing that really made me reconsider my involvement with the church and with Mormonism was comparing and contrasting it to a corporation. From very young, I recognized how corporately the church was run, and I admired that for a time. I found myself appreciating (and testifying on those fast Sundays) the pragmatic skills I was developing through the Priesthood, because for me, the spiritual was silent and invisible.

Eventually, I came to realize that organizational efficiency and corporate effectiveness mean nothing without a corporate strategy that one believes in, and that’s where I realized the religious values of Mormonism chafed against me. This is not a Prop 8 post, but while I trembled in awe about the campaign and activism the church inspired, I also trembled in terror to the effect it sought.

The idea bore a hole into my mind, however…that of a church as a corporation, and of church membership and involvement as the support of a brand. I didn’t see the point in brand loyalty for the sake of brand loyalty alone — I saw it as always a negotiated process: you support the brand when it means your needs, and when it doesn’t, you leave without looking back. And since I found myself having less use of the Mormon brand, I disassociated from many parts of the institutional church. (Although I still find myself trying to take ownership from some shadow of a non-institutional identity, but maybe there’s more shadow there than identity.)

I think it’s very popular, actually, to dislike the corporatism of the church. Some say it stifles the spirituality, keeps the church in the past, prevents it from addressing modern concerns. Maybe, maybe. Some people say this and leave because of it; but some people say this and stay in spite of it, perhaps hoping to change it.

What determines the difference? What makes some people think that they can stay in hope that things will get better, or even more ambitiously, what makes people think they can change things from inside?

I have never began to appreciate it until I approached it from a different aspect.

Palm PreLess than two years ago (but my Sprint contract is telling me that it’s coming up to two years soon), I bought a Palm Pre. I was really excited by the idea of webOS in an era when I didn’t quite see the big deal with Google and Android, and had a bad taste in my mouth with respect to Apple and iOS.

But you know what? That was all ok, because webOS was going to take everything by storm!

The Palm Pre came out, but it didn’t take everything by storm. In fact, the Pre didn’t exactly have glowing reviews. While people said there were things about it that had promise (its card multitasking system, intuitive gestures system [which Research in Motion seems to have borrowed/stolen with reckless abandon for its Playbook even while HP has begun rolling back gestures in the TouchPad], and synergy features), professional reviewers pointed out very worrying red flags. The Pre’s build quality was extremely questionable, and Palm took so much time between the initial announce of the Pre and its launch that the hardware was aged shortly within launch.

People who bought the Pre as early adopters or as close enough had reason to know about these problems — after all, the reviewers were generally in agreement about these problems. But they insisted that things might not be so bad, or maybe, things would get better.

Over time, things didn’t really get much better. In fact, many people did have to return or exchange their Pres (because of the build quality issues…let’s just say that “oreo” should NEVER describe what happens to the two halves of a phone), and the app situation didn’t get much better, even while iOS and Android reached into the thousands.

As you may have heard, HP bought Palm recently (and by recently, I mean the announcement and completion was a year ago. Oops). And so, early adopters had reason to trust that things would get better.

And HP said it would.

In the coming months.

The words became anathema to many webOS fans. So much waiting, for new phones. For new software. For more apps.

HP TouchPadAs you may or may not have heard, HP released the TouchPad this weekend. The release of the TouchPad brings webOS to a new form factor — the tablet — and is the beginning of HP’s commitment to pull webOS back into competitiveness in a market where iOS and Android are on everyone’s minds, people are starting to forget once sure-and-steady BlackBerry, and Microsoft is quickly coming back up with its Windows Phone 7.

Yet, for webOS fans, the year since HP’s acquisition of Palm hasn’t brought us all we’ve been hoping for. This operating system still stands with fewer than 10,000 apps, while upstart Windows Phone 7 has now surpassed 25,000.

And the TouchPad doesn’t seem like a hit out of the ballpark. Sure, as with other products, people express hope in the potential. People say that the operating system is still intuitive, a joy to use…but that there are flaws in the product as of now that make it not the one. Not the one to defy the iPad 2 for sure, but perhaps also not the one to be a decisive second place, either.

Being a webOS fan at this point is difficult. Many people are moving away. Many people already have — they have migrated either temporarily or permanently to iOS, Android, or Windows Phone 7 because of lack of cutting-edge new webOS phones (even when new phones do come out, they don’t come out for all carriers.) And in light of the reviews, many people have canceled their TouchPad preorders or are otherwise reconsidering purchase.

It seems much like a repeat of the Pre launch. Yet, some people insist that things can get better. That HP will make things right with the community, and will listen to the community’s needs and correct that problem points that reviewers mention. They are sticking in, even now. Others recognize that they were burned once, and don’t want to be again.

Why do people stay in such a condition? Why don’t more people recognize that other products serve their needs better and move on? How does brand loyalty surpass a mere present value cost-benefit analysis?

And I’ve begun to feel foolish. How is it that some people have more loyalty to a company brand or an operating system or a small community than I have to my religious community? How is it that people are willing to sacrifice more (in productivity loss, or in the stress of occasional bugs or software hangs) than many are willing to sacrifice for a faith community?

I know that the answers others have may be different. After all, many people don’t look at religious affiliation in pragmatic terms. It’s about truth, and if someone doesn’t believe it’s true, no utility can make up for that. But for someone who evaluates in terms of utility, I have to wonder why that still isn’t compelling enough. And why, in fact, I am sometimes suspicious of others who would want to make Mormonism a more welcoming place for those who take different approaches toward it.