Introduction: Elizabeth Stoker
If not a talent, everyone at least has a hobby. Mine is drudgery. Busywork. Slogging. Not unlike most former high school debate team dweebs, I’m good at sticking to a topic long after it would become obnoxious to a reasonable person. Now, OT readers, I bring the fruit of my weird habits to you: I’ll be writing here about Christian theology and ethics, the two subjects I pour nearly all of my time into.
Why write? And of Christian theology, specifically political theology and ethics? I recall reading of Christianity in Leo Tolstoy’s The Kingdom of God is Within You that,
“…instead of the punishment which all the old laws of religions and governments alike laid down for non-fulfillment of their rules, instead of promises of rewards for fulfillment of them, this doctrine called men to it only because it was the truth.”
Profound note on Christianity, if not the most insightful with regard to other ancient faiths. But the note of profundity, that Christianity features for its adherents a unique call to the truth, has remained with me for a long time. It’s invigorating in the sense that it encourages curiosity and intellectual honesty, which is not to say that Christian leadership has always featured the finest track record with regard to encouraging those virtues. In fact, Christianity still carries with it the stain of hundreds of years of intellectual repression and backwardness, especially in the United States. Part of my purposes is to work against the vein of virulent anti-intellectualism in the American Christian right, and to participate in the vibrant culture of thought and argument that’s remained alive (if slightly less well known than vocal ignorant counterparts) within Christianity through the ages.
I also like to vindicate the Christian left, since it gets a short shrift in American policy discourse. And most of all, I like to make hard topics that are important to people and within my scope of understanding available and accessible to people of all different abilities, levels of education, linguistic backgrounds, and walks of life. In the United States, Christianity is heavily political and oft-impactful, and I want all of us to be able to participate wisely in discussions within it and about it.
I’ve written on the thrilling topics of Christian ethics and political thought for Salon and the Atlantic; sometimes the Christianity is foregrounded, and sometimes it’s off-stage. But it is my frame, and I’m usually express about it when I’m adopting another for the sake of argument. I collaborate often with Matt Bruenig, who is well worth following if the nuts and bolts of poverty policy interest you. In my more creative moments I’ve written longer form and slightly more poetical essays on Christianity, poverty, and ethics for the LA Review of Books and The Nervous Breakdown. Last of my many venues is my humble blog, where I muse on the news and the things I happen to be reading at the moment.
Most moments, I’m reading Augustine. It’s a hang-up. An obsession. And there’s so much to read, it never gets old! If it did get old, I could always read people who’ve read about Augustine, for the sheer volume of secondary Augustinian literature could paper the earth six times over with enough left to balance the short leg of my coffee table. Augustine’s gravitas is such that I tend to read contemporary philosophers and theologians who claim him as an influence, which includes just about everyone. Favorites are Rawls, Sen, Nagel, Niebuhr, so on, so forth, the usual. So, expect these fellows to show up with some frequency, especially as I like to put together genealogies of Christian ethical premises in their modern incarnations when I have the time.
My own personal politics are decidedly leftist. I’m not associated with any American political party, which is fortunate for them, as I’d be dead weight here in the United Kingdom. After finishing up at Brandeis University, I made my way to the University of Cambridge, where I now study at aptly named Jesus College.
Outside of my work in Christian ethics and political theology, I do manage to hold down a few regular projects. I’ve worked for years in homeless shelters on about every level: administration, client service, and fundraising, program management, you name it, I’ve done it. It makes good sense, I think, to maintain a close and personal relationship with the human experience of poverty if one intends to write about it, and since poverty is high on the list of my political and ethical priorities, I devote a great deal of my time to working with people who struggle to acquire and/or maintain adequate resources. I also do quite a lot of work tutoring and teaching English language learners, no unique ethical reason, just something I enjoy.
Otherwise I’m a pretty run-of-the-mill person. I grew up in Dallas, Texas, moved to Boston for university, and hope to settle down in the Washington D.C. area sometime soon. I coach debate and work at debate camps, love to spend time in the garden, am totally and unabashedly family-oriented, and have awful taste in music. I’m so excited to be writing for you here, and I look forward to getting to know you in the comments.