50 years after Time asked, 'Is God Dead?' the answer is still, 'Nope'
Posted April 11, 2016
It's been 50 years since Time magazine published the controversial cover asking the question, "Is God Dead?" The piece penned in 1966 by Time's then religion editor John T. Elson served as a milestone in the projected rise of American atheism.
And for most Americans, the answer to Time's query is the same as it was then: Nope.
As of May 2014, nearly 90 percent of Americans said they believed in God, according to a Gallup poll (granted, that response has slipped slightly since Gallup first started asking that question in 1944, when 96 percent of Americans responded that they believed in God). A 2014 study from Pew Research Center returned similar results.
But that doesn't mean the Time article was wrong in predicting changes in America's religious landscape. As Pew wrote in a report to coincide with the Time cover anniversary, it's not a belief in God that has wavered so much as the way people choose to express their beliefs — namely, without an official church affiliation.
"Between 2007 and 2014, for example, the share of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated jumped from about 16 percent to almost 23 percent of the adult population," the Pew report states. "However, it’s also important to point out that a majority of these 'nones' (61 percent) still say they believe in God or a universal spirit."
And while the cover garnered its share of attention in its day, some religion writers suspect shock over the cover overwhelmed Elson's actual article, which pondered not a Godless society, but a renewed search for spiritual meaning.
"Elson’s article actually dwelled more on the possible reawakening of the divine than it did on the shock value of the new atheism," religion and politics reporter Leigh Eric Schmidt wrote. "Was all this religious doubt and alienation, Elson wondered, but an indication of 'a new quest for God' — one that was moving beyond ordinary church boundaries into new patterns of insight and discernment?"
The answer may lie with millennials — the generation who, as part of Pew's religious "nones" stand to either redefine belief in the U.S. or find their place among religious traditions.