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‘Death of God’ author, 87, dies in Portland

William Hamilton is pictured in 2007 in McMinnville, Ore. (Associated Press)
William Hamilton is pictured in 2007 in McMinnville, Ore. (Associated Press)

Theologian William Hamilton, a member of the Death of God movement of the 1960s, has died in Portland. He was 87.

Hamilton died Tuesday from complications from congestive heart failure at the downtown apartment he shared with his wife, his family said.

Hamilton told the Oregonian newspaper in 2007 that he had questioned the existence of God since he was a teenager, when two friends – an Episcopalian and a Catholic – died from the explosion of a pipe bomb they were building, while a third – an atheist – escaped without a scratch.

It caused him to question why the innocent suffer, and whether God intervened in people’s lives, he said.

“The death of God is a metaphor,” Hamilton said. “We needed to redefine Christianity as a possibility without the presence of God.”

The idea was not a new one, said fellow radical theologian Thomas J.J. Altizer. Poet William Blake and German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel had long ago raised the question.

“We didn’t just come out of nowhere,” said Altizer, who was co-author with Hamilton of the 1966 book, “Radical Theology and the Death of God.”

The book and the ensuing 1966 Time magazine article “Is God Dead?” became part of a national questioning of establishment values that included the Civil Rights Movement and protest against the Vietnam War.

In 1974 Hamilton became dean of arts and letters at Portland State University, teaching a wide range of subjects until he retired in 1986.

Born March 9, 1924, in Evanston, Ill., Hamilton was raised a Baptist and went to Oberlin College before joining the Navy during World War II.

Besides his wife, Hamilton is survived by five children, eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. No services were planned.