Friday, April 8, 1966: 'Is God Dead?'

Time magazine publishes a provocative article (with a controversial cover) by religion editor John T. Elson. It begins:

     Is God dead? It is a question that tantalizes both believers, who perhaps secretly fear that he is, and atheists, who possibly suspect that the answer is no. 
     Is God dead? The three words represent a summons to reflect on the meaning of existence. No longer is the question the taunting jest of skeptics for whom unbelief is the test of wisdom and for whom Nietzsche is the prophet who gave the right answer a century ago. Even within Christianity, now confidently renewing itself in spirit as well as form, a small band of radical theologians has seriously argued that the churches must accept the fact of God's death, and get along without him. How does the issue differ from the age-old assertion that God does not and never did exist? Nietzsche's thesis was that striving, self-centered man had killed God, and that settled that. The current death-of-God group believes that God is indeed absolutely dead, but proposes to carry on and write an theology without theos, without God. Less radical Christian thinkers hold that at the very least God in the image of man, God sitting in heaven, is dead, and -- in the central task of religion today -- they seek to imagine and define a God who can touch men's emotions and engage men's minds. 
     If nothing else, the Christian atheists are waking the churches to the brutal reality that the basic premise of faith -- the existence of a personal God, who created the world and sustains it with his love -- is now subject to profound attack.

* Complete text: @
* "Is God Dead?" (the Rev. G.H. Ashworth, for The Bryan, Ohio, Democrat, May 25, 1905): @
* "The God Is Dead Movement" (Time, October 22, 1965; subscription only): @
* John T. Elson obituary (New York Times, 2009): @
* "Is God Just a Human Invention? And Seventeen Other Questions Raised by the New Atheists" (Sean McDowell and Jonathan Morrow, editors, 2010): @
* "Methodist Heretic: Thomas Altizer and the Death of God at Emory University" (Christopher Demuth Rodkey, 2010): @
* "American Nietzsche: A History of an Icon and His Ideas" (Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen, 2012): @
* " 'God Is Dead' Controversy" (New Georgia Encyclopedia, 2013): @
* "Thomas J.J. Alitzer: On the Death of God Theology" (Jose L. Gutierrez, 2014): @

Time, December 26, 1969
The magazine publishes a three-year-later look at the subject with "The New Ministry: Bringing God Back to Life."
* Text (subscription only): @

motive magazine, February 1966
The official magazine of the Methodist Student Movement publishes a satirical obituary, written in the style of The New York Times, titled "God is Dead in Georgia."
* Complete text: @
* Note: Anthony Towne, who wrote the obituary, followed it up in 1968 with the book "Excerpts from the Diaries of the Late God." Short summary (from "Religion in America Since 1945: A History," Patrick Allitt, 2003): @
* motive magazine archives (Boston University School of Theology): @ and @

Sojourner Truth, 1852
During an anti-slavery meeting in Salem, Ohio, the abolitionist and social reformer replies to Frederick Douglass' speech on how to rid the country of slavery with the plaintive question (by some accounts), "Is God gone?" The phrase is more remembered as "Is God dead?", which is also inscribed -- without the question mark -- on her tombstone in Battle Creek, Michigan.
* Excerpt from "Sojourner Truth: Slave, Prophet, Legend" (Carleton Mabee and Susan Mabee Newhouse, 1995): @
* Exceprt from "Sojourner Truth as Orator: Wit, Story and Song" (Suzanne Pullon Fitch and Roseann M. Mandzuik, 1997): @
* Excerpt from "Sojourner Truth's America" (Margaret Washington, 2009): @ 

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