Around Easter 1966, millions of Americans picked up a magazine with what would become one of the most notable covers in the history of the genre: Time's stark question "Is God Dead?" The main theologian profiled in the piece, William Hamilton, died Feb. 28 at 87. At the time of the article, Hamilton was a professor at Colgate Rochester Divinity School. He was no militant atheist. He was not contemptuous of faith or the faithful. Far from it, as a longtime churchgoer, he was all the more a threat to unreflective Christianity. The issues with which he grappled were eternal and essential. He was questioning whether the Christian tradition of encouraging a temporal moral life required belief in a divine order. Could someone live by the ethical teachings of Jesus while rejecting the existence of a creator and redeemer God?
Hamilton's work was nuanced. Theology is not the kind of scholarship that always translates well to the public sphere. At a time when candidates speak of alleged wars on religion and discuss throwing up over discussions of the proper role of church and state, it is good to be reminded that there are those--like William Hamilton--who have long sought to think on these things. And any God or faith that fears such inquiry--or such magazine covers--is probably not all it claims to be.