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The Tragedy of American Compassion [Paperback]

By Marvin Olasky (Author)
Our Price $ 21.25  
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Item Number 128087  
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Item Specifications...

Pages   302
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.88" Width: 6.32" Height: 0.79"
Weight:   1.05 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Feb 28, 1995
Publisher   Crossway Books/Good News
ISBN  0891078630  
EAN  9780891078630  

Availability  0 units.

Item Description...

Can a man be content with a piece of bread and some change tossed his way from a passerby?

Today's modern welfare state expects he can. Those who control the money in our society think that giving a dollar at the train station and then appropriating a billion dollars for federal housing can cure the ails of the homeless and the poor.

But the crisis of the modern welfare state is more than a crisis of government. Private charities that dispense aid indiscriminately while ignoring the moral and spiritual needs of the poor are also to blame. Like animals in the zoo at feeding time, the needy are given a plate of food but rarely receive the love and time that only a person can give.

Poverty fighters 100 years ago were more compassionate--in the literal meaning of "suffering with"--than many of us are now. They opened their own homes to deserted women and children. They offered employment to nomadic men who had abandoned hope and human contact. Most significantly, they made moral demands on recipients of aid. They saw family, work, freedom, and faith as central to our being, not as life-style options. No one was allowed to eat and run.

Some kind of honest labor was required of those who needed food or a place to sleep in return. Woodyards next to homeless shelters were as common in the 1890s as liquor stores are in the 1990s. When an able bodied woman sought relief, she was given a seat in the "sewing room" and asked to work on garments given to the helpless poor.

To begin where poverty fighters a century ago began, Marvin Olasky emphasizes seven ideas that recent welfare practice has put aside: affiliation, bonding, categorization, discernment, employment, freedom, and most importantly, belief in God. In the end, not much will be accomplished without a spiritual revival that transforms the everyday advice we give and receive, and the way we lead our lives.

It's time we realized that there is only so much that public policy can do. That only a richness of spirit can battle a poverty of soul. The century-old question--does any given scheme of help... make great demands on men to give themselves to their brethren?--is still the right one to ask. Most of our 20th-century schemes have failed. It's time to learn from the warm hearts and hard heads of the 19th-century.

"We are indebted to Olasky for bringing past lessons of history to bear on a present cultural crisis. Another great work by one of today's foremost thinkers." --Charles W. Colson, Chairman, Prison Fellowship

"A comprehensive, well documented, and much needed study of the decline of true compassion that provides fresh analysis and provocative insight into the causes and cures of this American tragedy. Must reading for people who want to understand and help correct the plight of hurting people." --Dr. Anthony T. Evans, President, The Urban Alternative

"Those who read and understand Olasky's work will be better prepared to move creatively in affirming the dignity of the poor, and in affirming work as a virtue." --John Perkins, Publisher, Urban Family magazine

"Marvin Olasky's perceptive book shows how we, as individuals and in community with one another, can best demonstrate the genuine compassion that the poor need most of all." --Doug Bandow, Senior Fellow, Cato Institute

"Finally someone has put the horse and the cart in the right order. Marvin Olasky neither shuns compassion nor assistance for the poor, but rather gives the historical definition of each and assigns them their proper priority. Not only can this book benefit the truly needy, it can benefit the country. Not a bad accomplishment for one book." --Cal Thomas, Los Angeles Times Syndicate

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More About Marvin Olasky

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Marvin Olasky (PhD, American Culture, University of Michigan) is the editor-in-chief of World Magazine. He has been interviewed numerous times by the national media as the developer of the concepts of compassionate conservatism and biblically objective journalism and is the author of twenty books.

Marvin Olasky currently resides in Austin, in the state of Texas.

Marvin Olasky has published or released items in the following series...

  1. Turning Point Christian Worldview Series

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Product Categories
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Reviews - What do our customers think?
Does the way that America does charity actually makes things worse?  Jun 8, 2008
Does the way that America does charity actually makes things worse? Now in a special fifteenth anniversary edition, "The Tragedy of American Compassion" is a scholarly and meticulous examination of the American welfare system and how it may be making America's poor poorer and giving them even less chance of recovery. With fifteen years since the previous edition, author Marvin Olasky re-examines it all - and sees if in that time and some welfare reform has made the system work any better- his evaluations are intriguing indeed. "The Tragedy of America Compassion" is a must for social issues shelves and for anyone who wants an honest look at the American welfare system.
Revisiting the Biblical Basis for Helping the Poor  Oct 3, 2007
Long before Bush borrowed the term `compassionate conservatism" from Marvin Olasky, his book, The Tragedy of American Compassion, had an influence on Congress's reshaping of welfare in the 1990's. The very policies that Olasky praises in 19th century Christian relief efforts -- cutting cash relief, requiring work in exchange for aid and privatizing service provision - are exactly what we did in remaking welfare.

The book has been challenged by secularists, who object to Olasky's tack of replacing sound public policy evidence and analysis with sentimental evangelical pieties. But the book's premises have not been challenged from within a biblically-centered world view, and that's what I want to do here.

One of the biblical verses that Olasky quotes, following the example of Jesus, who also alludes to it in the story of his anointing with costly unguents, is Deuteronomy 15: 11: "For there will never cease to be needy ones in your land." Already at the time of Jesus, this verse was interpreted to spur the Jewish community to eliminate poverty. "As long as you do the will of God, poor people may live among others (i.e. other nations who have not been commanded to do God's will), but they will not be among you." In other words, poverty can be eliminated if everyone in a Bible-revering culture works at it. This is in line with the start of the Deuteronomy passage, which reads, "There shall be no needy among you" (v. 4).

This comment from Sifre, the most ancient rabbinic commentary on the Torah, reminds us that at the root of recommended biblical practice toward the poor is the concept of justice, one which is entirely overlooked by Olasky in his searching for a biblical basis for public policy. For example, Jewish farmers were commanded to leave the corners of their fields untilled for the poor to harvest and to let poor people come and glean from their olive groves and vineyards. Why? Because it is right and just to share God's bounty, because the land (and our resources that derive from it) belongs to God. They were commanded by God to do so and Jews continue to have this view of giving and advocacy rooted in justice, whether or not they are temperamentally suited to go into shelters to preach religion to the poor, as Olasky would have us do.

While an individual can act compassionately, only a whole people, acting in concert through their legislature and courts, can bring justice. Conservatives like Olasky are fond of one-on-one causation ("I reach out to this poor person, and he picks himself up by his boot straps.") This allows them to avoid looking at the economic system in which such individuals have fallen through the cracks in the first place - a system unfortunately characterized by extremes of wealth and poverty and by the lack of living wage jobs and decent affordable housing. Such real-world concerns are outside of Olasky's ken. While the Hebrew Bible isindeed interested in individual acts of compassion, such as Abraham's ministering to three wayfarers who turn out to be angels, it is far more interested in collective acts of justice, which can raise all of us toward the angelic level.

I've been volunteering with homeless families for the last sixteen years in a faith-based setting. While we've helped many families move on to solid lives, there continue to be more needy every year. This has brought me to my current work in Mercer County, NJ, the Mercer Alliance To End Homelessness. We must, we can, we will eliminate homelessness, but Olasky's roadmap won't get us there.
A History of Compassion   May 28, 2007
Marvin Olasky's book, The Tragedy of American Compassion, is a compelling history of the social welfare state we have created in today's America. Olasky sets the tone for the book in chapter one when he says that in colonial times generosity was not a word associated with money, rather with nobility of character, gentleness and humility. Our earliest models for helping the poor had more to do with the giving of time, not treasure. This was in Olasky's words, true American Compassion.
Olasky deals historically with the ways Americans have through the years dealt with the poorest of society. He seems to like the concept of "getting personal with the poor." He reminds us that they are in need of more than money. Money often only makes the problem more visible.
In Chapter 13 Olasky speaks of applying history to today's problems. He says that in the 18th century American were claiming the wilderness. In the 19th century they were waging war on the wilderness. The 20th century was expected to be a time of Christianizing the wilderness, and perhaps it started out that way. However, many of our best efforts have only served to build cities that are a different kind of wilderness.
While Olasky does not really say where he thinks we are going in the 21st century, we see that the work will be done in a different kind of wilderness fraught with it's own types of dangers. Perhaps his real warning to us is found in his closing words, "Most of the twentieth-century schemes, based on having someone else take action, are proven failures. It's time to learn warm hearts and hard hearts of earlier times, and to bring that understanding into our own lives." Even a casual reading of this book will allow one to see it has influenced our current President as he speaks of being a "Compassionate Conservativce" and his push to promote Fatih-based programs.
Whatever your position or profession, or vocation in life this is an important book. As some one else has said, "You are either part of the problem, or part of the solution". Olasky has presented a strong argument to encourage us all to seek ways to be "part of the solution." Read this book, and let your own emotions and humanity encourage you to seek o make your own community better, more compassionate, and in the end more helpful.
Two Uncomfortable Truths  May 1, 2007
In his book The Tragedy of American Compassion, Marvin Olasky confronts us with two uncomfortable truths. The first truth is one that many sense intuitively, but are afraid to speak. That truth is that for all of our good intentions government entitlements have created much of the generational poverty and welfare dependence. Beginning by making a distinction between poverty (a situation where one is without resources) and pauperism (a situation where one is without resources and unwilling help ones self) he illuminates how the shift from private to public welfare created entitlements. Entitlements, by definition, cannot demand the recipient assume any personal responsibility for their condition or its relief. Consequently, what is intended as compassion becomes slavery.

The second uncomfortable truth is that the shift from private to public funding of benevolent work has allowed the individual members of the church to avoid contact with the poor, depriving the poor role models and the church of the blessing of serving the poor as demanded by Christ.

Olasky's solution is for the government to support private charities and let them serve the poor. Private charities can discriminate between the poor and the paupers where the government cannot. Written in 1992 this book became the blueprint for compassionate conservatism and the Faith Based Initiatives of the Bush administration.

While those on the left may take issue with some of Olasky's views, they can be instructed by the history and improve their effectiveness by listening. I recommend the book to anyone who is interested in genuinely helping the poor.
People Help People  Apr 16, 2007
In The Tradition of American Compassion, Marvin Olasky takes the reader through a history of the United States, showing the changes in ways that compassion has been show to the underclass. Through this historical study of American compassion, Olasky provides two significant insights. First, the problem of poverty in the United States is being escalated by systems of dependency and apathy. Easy handouts do nothing to break cycles of poverty.

The second insight is that the solution to these problems is to return to the understandings of compassion of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This includes providing assistance to those in need only when their family systems could not provide assistance, avoiding dependency by only giving in small quantities to meet immediate needs, requiring that all who are able work to meet their own needs, and understanding that compassion sometimes requires withholding assistance.

Olasky shows how the needs of people are best met by other people and not by government bureaucracies. A helpful read for anyone concerned about the tremendous needs of the poor in the United States.

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