In April 1966, Time Magazine published the most controversial magazine cover of all time. This was back when magazines really mattered, they were our national interpreters of news and culture. As the most popular news weekly in America, Time mattered most of all. The cover story asked, “Is God Dead?”
The question had already been asked and answered for thousands of years. But Time’s report came in the middle of America’s cultural revolution, when many social norms were being revisited and overthrown. The new theologians claimed, “ours is the first attempt in recorded history to build a culture upon the premise that God is dead.”
Four months later, the controversy rose to another level on John Lennon’s remark that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus.” Lennon later explained that he meant that the Beatles had more influence on young people than religion. He was certainly right in the one measure that matters most to media observers: the Beatles sold more music than anybody.
Is privacy like God? Not in the sense of blasphemous comparison, but in the similarly unending debate, which seems to be reaching a crescendo during today’s Internet revolution. It has become fashionable to proclaim that “privacy is dead.” Apparently, Facebook’s CEO doesn’t believe in privacy. Maybe Facebook is actually quite similar to the Beatles, in terms of holding a pivotal place in a cultural revolution to new social norms.
But before we go too far with this comparison, let’s look at what the answer Time’s question turned out to be. Decades after the countercultural peak, God is as alive as he ever was – which is only to say that there are believers and nonbelievers, and declarations by either side don’t end the argument. Even death doesn’t end the argument, as Nietzsche, Lennon, or the guy who wrote the Time story would agree, if they were alive to do so.
Facebook’s 400 million users is pretty impressive, but the Bible has that beat by a few billion. Lennon’s statement may have heralded the cultural primacy of popular music, but it didn’t come close to marking the death of God. All the “smart money” in Hollywood can think that God is dead, but it didn’t stop Mel Gibson from making $300 million on his belief otherwise. Similarly, I think the phrase “privacy is dead” simply declares the ascendancy of a certain kind of media, and it doesn’t mean that the old desires and expectations will ever die.