God Dead?" was an April 8, 1966, cover story for the news magazine
Time. A previous article, from October 1965, had investigated a
trend among 1960s theologians to write
God out of the field of
theology. The 1966 article looked in greater depth at the problems
facing modern theologians, in making
God relevant to an increasingly
secular society. Modern science had eliminated the need for religion
to explain the natural world, and
God took up less and less space in
people's daily lives. The ideas of various scholars were brought in,
including the application of contemporary philosophy to the field of
theology, and a more personal, individual approach to religion.
The issue drew heavy criticism, both from the broader public and from
clergymen. Much of the criticism was directed at the provocative
magazine cover, rather than the content of the article. The
cover – all black with the words "Is
God Dead?" in large red
text – marked the first time in the magazine's history that
text with no accompanying image was used. In 2008, the Los Angeles
Times named the "Is
God Dead?" issue among "10 magazine covers that
shook the world".
2 Themes presented by the article
2.1 The problems
2.2 Possible solutions
5 External links
Otto Fuerbringer had been editor of the news magazine Time
for six years. He helped to increase the circulation of the
magazine, partly by changing its rather austere image. Though a
conservative himself, he made the magazine focus extensively on the
counter-culture and the political and intellectual radicalism of the
1960s. A best-selling 1964 issue, for instance, had dealt with the
sexual revolution. Already in October 1965 the magazine had
published an article on the new radical theological movement.
The April 8, 1966, cover of Time magazine was the first cover in the
magazine's history to feature only type, and no photo. The
cover – with the traditional, red border – was all
black, with the words "Is
God Dead?" in large, red text. The question
was a reference to Friedrich Nietzsche's much-quoted postulate "
dead" (German: Gott ist tot), which he first proposed in his 1882
book The Gay Science.
Themes presented by the article
The article accompanying the magazine cover, titled "Toward a Hidden
God" and written by religion editor John T. Elson, mentioned the
God Is Dead" movement only briefly in its introduction. In
a footnote it identified the leaders of the movement as "Thomas J. J.
Altizer of Emory University, William Hamilton of Colgate Rochester
Divinity School, and
Paul van Buren of Temple University", and
explained how these theologians had been trying to construct a
theology without God. This theme had already been dealt with in
greater detail in the shorter and less prominent article "The "
Dead" Movement", on October 22, 1965.
Nietzsche's thesis was that striving, self-centered man had killed
God, and that settled that. The current death-of-
God group believes
God is indeed absolutely dead, but proposes to carry on and write
a theology without theos, without God.
— Toward a Hidden God
The article pointed out that while this movement had roots in the
philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, it also drew on a broader range of
thinkers. For example, philosophers and theologians like Søren
Dietrich Bonhoeffer expressed concerns about the role
God in an increasingly secularised world. The immediate reality did
not indicate a death of
God or religion; Pope John XXIII's Second
Vatican Council had done much to revitalize the Roman Catholic Church,
while in the United States, as many as 97% declared a belief in God.
Evangelical ministers such as
Billy Graham and Christian artists like
William Alfred could be brought as witness to the
continued vitality of the Christian church. Nevertheless, this
religiosity was mostly skin-deep; only 27% of Americans called
themselves deeply religious.
The article then went on to explain the history of monotheism,
culminating in the omnipresent Catholic church of the European Middle
Ages. This zenith, however, was, according to the article, the
beginning of the demise of Christianity: as society became
increasingly secularised, the religious sphere of society became
marginalised. Scientific discovery, from the
Copernican Revolution to
Darwin's theory of evolution, eliminated much of the need for
religious explanations to life. Newton and Descartes were perhaps
personally devout men, but their discoveries "explained much of nature
that previously seemed godly mysteries."
Having laid out the philosophical and historical background, the
article then asserted that there was still much curiosity among the
general population about
God and His relation to the world, and that
for the modern theologian who wished to address this curiosity, there
seemed to be four options:
stop talking about
God for awhile, stick to what the
formulate a new image and concept of
God using contemporary thought
categories, or simply point the way to areas of human experience that
indicate the presence of something beyond man in life.
According to the article, some contemporary ministers and theologians
chose to focus on the life and teachings of Jesus, rather than on God,
since Christ was a figure with great appeal among the broader
population, but this solution ran dangerously close to ethical
humanism. Biblical literalism, on the other hand, might have had an
appeal to the fervent believer, but did not speak to most people in a
world where the language of the
Bible was increasingly unfamiliar.
The article described other attempts that had been made to solve to
the problems of religion, including the adaptation of contemporary
philosophical terminology to explain God, and cited efforts made to
adapt the writings of
Martin Heidegger and
Alfred North Whitehead
Alfred North Whitehead to
modern theology. At the same time it noted that
Ian Ramsey of Oxford
had spoken of so-called "discernment situations"; situations in life
that led man to question his own existence and purpose, and turn
towards a greater power. The article concluded that the current crisis
of faith could be healthy for the church, and that it might force
clergymen and theologians to abandon previously held certainties: "The
church might well need to take a position of reverent agnosticism
regarding some doctrines that it had previously proclaimed with
April 13, 2009, cover of
The publication of the article immediately led to a public backlash.
Editorial pages of newspapers received numerous letters from angry
readers, and clergymen vehemently protested the content of the
article. Even though the article itself explored the theological
and philosophical issues in depth, "[m]any people...were too quick to
judge the magazine by its cover and denounced Time as a haven of
godlessness". For Time the issue caused around 3,500 letters to the
editor—the largest number of responses to any one story in the
history of the magazine. Reader criticism was targeted at Thomas J.
J. Altizer in particular. Altizer left Emory in 1968, and by the
end of the decade the "death of God" movement had lost much of its
momentum. In its issue of December 26, 1969, Time ran a follow-up
cover story asking, "Is
God Coming Back to Life"?
The magazine cover also entered the realm of popular culture: in a
scene from the 1968 horror movie Rosemary's Baby, the protagonist
Rosemary Woodhouse picks up the issue in a doctor's waiting room.
God Dead?" issue was to have an enduring place in American
journalism. In 2008, the
Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times listed the issue in a
featured titled "10 magazine covers that shook the world". In April
Newsweek magazine ran a special report on the decline of
religion in the United States under the title "The End of Christian
America". This article also referenced the radical "death of God"
theological movement of the mid-1960s. The front cover carried the
title "The Decline and Fall of Christian America" in red letters on a
black background, reminiscent of the 1966 Time cover. The April 3,
2017 cover of Time featured a cover that asked "Is Truth Dead?" in a
similar style to the iconic "Is
God Dead?" cover, in a cover story
about the alleged falsehoods perpetuated by President Donald
^ "TIME Magazine Cover: Is
God Dead?". Time. 1966-04-08.
^ Schudel, Matt (2008-08-01). "Otto Fuerbringer; Time Editor in 1960s
Helped Start Money, People Magazines". The Washington Post. Retrieved
^ a b Hevesi, Dennis (2008-07-30). "Otto Fuerbringer, Former Time
Editor, Dies at 97". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-05-12.
^ a b c d Gray, Patrick (2003-04-01). ""
God Is Dead" Controversy".
Georgia Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2009-05-12.
^ a b "10 magazine covers that shook the world". Los Angeles Times.
July 2008. Retrieved 2009-05-12.
^ a b "Toward a Hidden God". Time. 1966-04-08. Retrieved
^ This article also mentioned
Gabriel Vahanian of Syracuse University,
in addition to the three men named above; "The "
God Is Dead"
Movement". Time. 1965-10-22. Retrieved 2009-05-13.
^ Schudel, Matt (2008-07-31). "Is
God Dead? (UPDATED)". The Washington
Post. Retrieved 2009-05-12.
^ Prendergast, Curtis; Robert T Elson; Geoffrey Colvin; Robert Lubar
(1986). Time Inc.: The Intimate History of a Publishing Enterprise
(illustrated ed.). Atheneum. p. 112.
^ "TIME Magazine Cover: Is
God Coming Back to Life?". Time.
^ Rothman, William; Stanley Cavell; Marian Keane (2000). Reading
Cavell's The World Viewed. Wayne State University Press. Wayne State
University Press. p. 157. ISBN 978-0-8143-2896-5. Retrieved
^ Meacham, Jon (2009-04-04). "The End of Christian America". Newsweek.
^ Prothero, Stephen (2009-04-27). "Post-Christian? Not even close".
USA Today. Archived from the original on April 30, 2009. Retrieved
^ Scherer, Michael. "April 3rd, 2017 - Vol. 189, No. 12 - U.S."
Retrieved 22 June 2017.
Toward a Hidden God— the original article
A selection of let