Commentary: God Is Alive And Well In America

Source Organization: Pew Research Center

04/04/2006 - Forty years ago this month, Time magazine published one of its most famous and controversial covers. Splashed in bold red print across a black background was a short, simple and yet intensely provocative question: "Is God Dead?"

Without providing a definitive answer, the authors of the piece, dated April 8, 1966, seemed to imply that the idea of an omnipotent creator could be heading for history's dustbin. The spread of communism, they pointed out, meant that nearly half of the world's population lived "in thralldom to a brand of totalitarianism that condemns religion," while "in the traditional citadels of Christendom, grey Gothic cathedrals stand empty, mute witnesses to a rejected faith." Even in the United States - where, the authors acknowledged, "faith in God seems to be as secure as it was in medieval France" - many theologians were openly concerned about "the quality and character of contemporary belief." As the eminent historian Martin Marty observed at the time, "too many pews are filled on Sunday with practical atheists - disguised nonbelievers who behave during the rest of the week as if God did not exist."

But four decades after the Time article was first published - and nearly 125 years after the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche first famously declared that "God is dead" - reports of the Almighty's demise appear to have been greatly exaggerated. For although religious faith and observance certainly have declined sharply in Europe, belief in God as well as attendance at religious services have remained strong in the United States and much of the rest of the world.

In fact, the existence of God is one of the few things almost all Americans consistently agree on. Recent polling by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that 96% of the public says they believe in God or some form of Supreme Being, roughly the same number as in a 1965 survey cited in the Time piece.

Read the full commentary God Is Alive And Well In America on the Pew Research Center Web site. 

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