Our memory is never as good as we think it is, but as we considered cover images for this issue of U.S. 1 — celebrating the building boom being undertaken by Princeton-area religious groups — we were certain of an image from nearly a half century ago. The image was a cover of Time magazine, with the familiar red border surrounding a black square and three words proclaiming a most controversial thesis: “God Is Dead.”
That’s what we remembered, and we quickly envisioned taking that Time magazine cover, reproducing it on our front page, and then drawing a slash though the word “is” and replacing it with “is not” — a bold way to introduce all the faith building that is alive and well in our community these days.
But, once again, the memory wasn’t quite spot on. The wording on the Time cover, dated April 8, 1966, was a question, not a declaration, “Is God Dead?” And the story turned out to be even more nuanced than the cover headline suggested. The Time story did not simply talk about people giving up on religion. It instead focused on an inquiry, based on the work of serious theologians, about God taking a less central role in some religious experiences, and people instead forging their own personalized religions.
The cover, said to be the first in the magazine’s history to consist only of type, with no other graphic image, made an impression. That issue generated 3,500 letters to the editor, the largest number of responses to any story in the magazine’s history. (A sizable percentage of the letter writers — we can guess — must have judged the story by the cover and decried Time for its supposedly heathen ways.)
The April 8, 1966, cover even appeared in a scene in the 1968 movie “Rosemary’s Baby.” And the cover was named one of the “10 magazine covers that shook the world” in a 2008 survey by the Los Angeles Times.
The “Is God Dead?” cover even attracted a flattering imitator. In April, 2009, Newsweek published a report on the decline of religion in the U.S. The cover consisted of red letters on a black background: “The Decline and Fall of Christian America.”
We confess (in a secular sort of way) that we did not read the Newsweek story, but we do wonder if the Newsweek reporters considered either the faithful of central New Jersey or the religious right of the Republican Party when they formulated that story.
As far as this issue of U.S. 1 is concerned, we know already that we are guilty of some sins of omission. Since we do not track churches and faith groups as carefully as we do the for-profit and corporate world, we are certain that our list of religious groups that are expanding their base is incomplete. We would appreciate hearing about those we have missed.
And now it’s your turn to decide whether or not our editor’s cover design does justice to the reporter’s story, which begins on page 31. Please E-mail our editor: firstname.lastname@example.org.