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Is God dead?

The question that scandalised America

On 8 April 1966, the cover of Time magazine posed that one question: "Is God dead?" It was to be the bestselling issue for 20 years and provoked thousands of letters in response. The man who wrote the cover story, John T Elson, has just died -- news in America, where many major papers ran obituaries, but not in the UK, it seems.

I mention this because, for one thing, the opening sentence of Elson's report could just as well have been written yesterday, not 43 years ago:

"Is God dead? It is a question that tantalises both believers, who perhaps secretly fear that he is, and atheists, who possibly suspect that the answer is no."

Second, because journalists today can only marvel at the time and resources that went into this one piece. Elson spent a year on it and 30 reporters contributed to it, conducting 300 interviews in the process.

And third, to draw your attention to the original piece itself, which you can read here. It is a fascinating portrait of religion in America at the time, and a reminder that struggles over the anthropomorphisation of God are nothing new -- though it's hard to see what progress has been made on this question in the intervening decades.