Nearly 40 years after Time magazine posed the question “Is God Dead?” signs of His resurrection are everywhere: Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” is on its way to becoming the highest-grossing independent film of all time, while the apocalyptic “Left Behind” novels, based on the Book of Revelations, have sold 58 million copies, a publishing jackpot.
Dan Brown’s “The DaVinci Code,” a theological whodunit with a new spin on Jesus and Mary Magdalene, leads the fiction best-seller list, and Rick Warren’s “The Purpose Driven Life,” a 40-day spiritual workout, is outselling “The South Beach Diet.”
“God talk is ubiquitous today. You might even say we’re drowning in it,” said Phyllis Tickle, author of more than a dozen books about religion in America.
Even prime-time television, which once steered clear of overtly religious themes, suddenly has characters who converse directly with a higher power, from Joan of Arcadia to Jaye on the recently canceled “Wonderfalls.” And network news divisions are churning out religious-themed specials like so many chocolate Easter eggs–from Dateline NBC’s “The Last Days of Jesus” to ABC News’ ambitious three- hour special on Jesus and Paul.
Is America experiencing a religious revival? Is all this ferment a result of post-Sept. 11 anxiety? Or has spirituality become just another commodity in a world where consumerism has become the ultimate value?
Tom Beaudoin, a Gen X theologian and author of “Consuming Faith,” contends that many people now go to movies, pick up books and participate in thousands of religious chat rooms to work on their spiritual lives. In fact, a survey last week by the Pew Research Center found that 64 percent of the nation’s 128 million Internet users say they’ve used it for religious or spiritual purposes.
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“I think we are well past the day when the majority of American Christians have their religious identity formed in church,” Beaudoin said.