“Tragedy of American Compassion, The” by Marvin Olasky

The Tragedy of American Compassion
by Marvin Olasky

This favorite of Newt Gingrich begins as a historical account of early American charity and progresses through the forces that led us to the institutions of today. The book is a blend of philosophy, facts, characterizations, and reason. Chapter Six may be the hallmark of the book. In it, Olasky defines his seven marks of compassion: Affiliation, Bonding, Categorization, Discernment, Employment, Freedom, and God. (I wrote a one-act play based on this chapter.) By chapter Ten, the difference between 19th century and modern charity is clear. Reflect on Olasky’s quotation of journalist Arthur Bonner as he describes the former McAuley Mission of New York:

“The attrition rate is high. The mission could easily keep a man longer by putting less of an emphasis on religion or by relaxing some of its other rules. It could also serve a far larger number of men by limiting itself to transients and serving free food to all comers several times a day. This could be justified as elemental Christian charity. It would result in impressive statistics regarding the number of men served and perhaps make it easier to raise funds. But few, if any, men would be rehabilitated either socially or spiritually.”

© Copyright 1995, 2008, Clancy Cross. All rights reserved.

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