News

50 years after Time asked, 'Is God Dead?' the answer is still, 'Nope'

Posted April 11

It's the 50-year anniversary of Time magazine's provocative 'Is God Dead?' cover, but for most Americans, the answer is still no. (Deseret Photo)

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.

Email: chjohnson@deseretnews.com

Twitter: ChandraMJohnson

6 Comments

Please with your WRAL.com account to comment on this story. You also will need a Facebook account to comment.

Oldest First
View all
  • Jacob Smirnov Apr 11, 9:07 p.m.
    user avatar

    One last question for all you militant atheists (at least for now).

    If religion is just myth and fairly tales, what are you afraid of? Perhaps you're afraid of the fact that their are consequences (call it Karma) of things that you do when you know you can't get caught. Even John Lennon wrote about Instant Karma.

  • Jacob Smirnov Apr 11, 8:59 p.m.
    user avatar

    "As of May 2014, nearly 90 percent of Americans said they believed in God, "

    Bad news for all you atheists. Better get to work belittling people of faith, calling them ignorant and backwards.

  • Jacob Smirnov Apr 11, 8:58 p.m.
    user avatar

    View quoted thread


    Define 'Death'. You had grand parents and great grandparents. Chances are they passed away. Do you deny they never existed? If you do, then how did you get here.

  • Jacob Smirnov Apr 11, 8:55 p.m.
    user avatar

    View quoted thread


    Oh my, an article affirming faith. You may not want to read it, John. You just may be converted.

  • Ken Butler Apr 11, 8:08 p.m.
    user avatar

    For something to be dead, this would presume that it actually existed in the first place.

  • John Snow Apr 11, 7:54 p.m.
    user avatar

    Why is this here? This isn't news. This looks like some Christian middle schoolers term paper.