The way to Peace and Paradise

Hosted at Fourth Presbyterian Church and on the campus of McCormick Theological Seminary, McCormick Days 2009: Religion and Violence brought together two riveting speakers, Dr. Rita Nakashima Brock, a leading expert on religion and women’s studies, and Dr. Thomas Mockaitis, a professor of history at DePaul University and prolific author and television commentator on military conflict around the globe.

Prefacing his presentation at Fourth Presbyterian Church on “New Threats and the Moral Danger of Perpetual War” with the observation that most attendees had no memory of a world without bombs, Mockaitis proceeded to lay out a sobering overview of contemporary American life gripped by fear. In “Security and Integrity,” given following day at McCormick, he spoke of a shift from the notion of “defense” to that of “security” to describe wellbeing. Because of its vast capabilities, the military is often looked upon as a resource, but the net effect is often a militarization of a problem or situation needing a more holistic, diversified response. “Security” suggests a wider spectrum of resources and stresses the primacy of good relations with other nations.

"'Today, you will be with me in paradise,' Jesus said. But Western Christianity removed paradise from today,"

Drawing from her most recent book, Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire, Brock surveyed early Christian art and observed the curious absence of images of the crucified Christ, arguing that early Christians were more concerned with Jesus as a model of earthly justice and love. A theology of crucifixion emerges, she claims, as the Church begins to evolve into an empire.

“‘Today, you will be with me in paradise,’ Jesus said. “But Western Christianity removed paradise from ‘today,’” Brock said, “placing salvation beyond, behind or ahead of us, not here and now … exiling the faithful to a dangerous razor’s edge between nostalgia for paradise lost and hope for paradise to come …

“Let us leave behind forever,” she concludes, “this violent, murderous image and this forever unrequited, unfulfilled longing and turn to our true love, the one who taught us how to live, to resist injustice, how to love our neighbor, how to feed the hungry, how to heal the sick, how to teach the ignorant, how to care for each other, and how to love God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength.”