TIME's 'Is God Dead?' Cover Turns 50Breaking News
Don Hamilton remembers the day well. This was back in 1966. He was 12 when a classmate asked him the question: “Does your father think that God is dead?” Hamilton had to admit that the answer was yes.
Before long, another friend’s grandmother had started lobbying to have his father, William Hamilton, who was then a professor at Colgate Rochester Divinity School in Rochester, N.Y, fired. Rather than going to church, the family started doing Bible reading at home, on their own. Eventually, they left Rochester. There was no way to hide Hamilton’s radical view after the April 8, 1966, cover of TIME Magazine asked the same question as young Don’s friend.
The story by TIME religion editor John Elson—and the gut-punch question on the cover, the magazine’s first to include only text—inspired countless angry sermons and 3,421 letters from readers. (For example: “Your ugly cover is a blasphemous outrage.”) TheNational Review responded by asking whether TIME were, in fact, the dead one. Bob Dylan even criticized it in a 1978 interview with Playboy: “If you were God, how would you like to see that written about yourself?” Fifty years later, it remains one of the most iconic TIME covers ever produced.
Those three words that had stirred debate among a few radical theologians had suddenly captured the imaginations—and fears—of the nation. They also captured a moment in time. Thomas Altizer, another death-of-God theologian featured in the story, believes the same story today would have a far more muted reaction. “At least I can’t imagine it,” he tells TIME. “We are in a very different world.”