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-by Roger Lundin

Toasting the Eve of Destruction (Part 2)

(Second of three parts; click here to read Part 1)

You tell me, over and over and over again, my friend, you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction," growled Barry McGuire in a hit single that topped the Billboard charts for several weeks in 1965. Though I was not at that time a professing Christian, I remember friends from area youth groups latching on to McGuire's ballad of doom as a bracing sign of the times. While the gurus of the culture were busy savoring their victories in the first skirmishes of the sexual revolution or salivating over the prospect of the Great Society, these kids were dreaming their dreams of destruction. "Apocalypse now, glory tomorrow" seemed to be the motto of the few who clung to the radical or fundamentalist fringe in those halcyon days.

But even though in hindsight I have come to appreciate the foresight of those prophets of doom, I continue to wonder about the way they relished the prospect of ruin. It is one thing to proclaim judgment in a spirit of mourning and lamentation; it is another thing entirely to greet destruction with a joyful heart. What is it about the North American evangelical tradition that makes it seemingly easy for thoughtful Christians to be so blithe about the prospect of cultural demise?

The Irish poet William Butler Yeats knew all about such cultural ruin. "Now days are dragon-ridden," he wrote in the wake of World War I and the failed Irish rebellion of 1916. "He who can read the signs," according to Yeats, "knows no work can stand, / Whether health, wealth or peace of mind were spent / On master-work of intellect or hand." How, Yeats wondered, could he justify toiling at the work of culture while knowing at the same time of its inevitable ruin?

Yeats resolved this dilemma by articulating his own distinct view of tragedy in poems he wrote in the tumultuous 1930's. For instance, "Lapis Lazuli," a poem written just two years before his death, begins with images of destruction and ends with an expression of tragic ...

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