The Tragedy of American Compassion
Marvin Olasky stands as one of the first major intellectual successes in the American conservative movement, a man whose views on welfare were codified into law in the late 20th century. Born into a Jewish family in Boston, Marvin Olasky became an avowed Atheist and Marxist in high school and a member of the Communist party in 1972. While attending the University of Michigan, Olasky’s beliefs made a complete reversal after a spiritual awakening: either due to a decision to read the New Testament in Russian or a sudden existential crisis while reading Lenin, Olasky found himself a fervent supporter of the Christian conservative movement. He was baptized into the Presbyterian church in 1976; in 1992 he helped found the Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Austin, TX.
Olasky has taught in the journalism department at the University of Texas at Austin since 1983, becoming a full professor in 1993. Midway through his term as associate professor, he came to the attention of Reconstructionist philanthropist Howard Ahmanson, Jr., who gave him the editorship of the Turning Point series of books via his charitable arm, the Fieldstead Institute. Olasky wrote its first installment, A Christian Worldview Declaration (1987), as well as the Capital Research Center series Patterns of Corporate Philanthropy.
This initial work brought him to the attention of the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, which funded him as a two-year Bradley scholar at the The Heritage Foundation. His two 1988 books on the mass media, Prodigal Press: The Anti-Christian Bias of American News Media and The Press and Abortion, 1838-1988 outlined philosophies that harmonized with the Christian agenda of World magazine, of which he became editor in 1992. He was instrumental in that periodical’s 1998 spawning of the World Journalism Institute, which seeks to recruit and train Christian journalists and inject them into the mainstream media.
He has since written over 16 books, most notably The Tragedy of American Compassion (1992), which blamed the countercultural revolution of the 1960s for society’s ills thirty years later and claimed that welfare needed a basis in Christianity if it was to have any lasting effect. The book gained the endorsement of William Bennett, who passed it on to Newt Gingrich, who in turn shilled it to every Republican in the House of Representatives. In January 2001, he saw the policies outlined in this book put into law with the creation of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. George W. Bush has called him “compassoniate conservatism’s leading thinker”; in 1999, he chaired an advisory subcommittee on religion and public policy for the then-governor.