On Homelessness in America

Olasky Books July 2022 Subscribe to Olasky Books

Stephen Eide’s Homelessness in America: The History and Tragedy of an Intractable Social Problem (Rowman & Littlefield, 2022) is an excellent overview. I’ll write more about it next month in my weekly column at the Fix Homelessness website, but I’ll just note here what Eide writes about “Housing First” tendencies to emphasize roofs rather than root causes: If we define a homeless, mentally ill person as a “person experiencing homelessness” rather than as a one who is seriously mentally ill, we end up with “a different standard of policy success.” (If we merely put out of sight a person who is out of his mind, that’s not success at all.)

Quick Reviews

Paul D. Miller’s The Religion of American Greatness: What’s Wrong With Christian Nationalism (IVP, 2022) criticizes the progressive left but emphasizes the threat from the nationalist right. Both extremes are ready to increase Washington’s power to accomplish their goals, so Christian republicans (small r, but it also applies to big) should oppose the extremes and work to maintain the rule of law, the separation of powers, limited government, and free enterprise. Together, those attributes give us “a framework of ordered liberty,” which is much better than “nostalgic calls to renew Western civilization or Christendom.”

Scott Burson’s All About the Bass: Searching for Treble in the Midst of a Pounding Culture War (Cascade, 2021) explains that social change often comes not through lectures and legal analysis but through story-telling. He tells how 60 Minutes founder Don Hewitt trained producers: If they started yakking about an issue or changing a law, he would say, “Tell me a story.”

Some journalists are hyping stories about computers developing “consciousness,” but Robert Marks in Non-Computable You gives specific detail to back up his subtitle, What You Do That Artificial Intelligence Never Will (Discovery, 2022). Great computers are fine machines but they don’t have creativity. They can imitate and impersonate but they don’t have and won’t have souls. Marks offers a dozen things to watch for in media A.I. hype, including “scrutiny avoidance” (saying great things are a few years away makes claims hard to test) and “seductive semantics” (saying a computer has consciousness without defining what that is).

Ilana Horwitz’s God, Grades and Graduation (Oxford, 2022) contains good news for church members and home schoolers: The subtitle trumpets Religion’s Surprising Impact on Academic Success. Horwitz emphasizes sociology rather than theology: Religious homes usually “are marked by a sense of order. Family time is prioritized: family members eat meals together as much as possible.”

If you’re looking to buy a Labor Day present for someone who’s not working hard, the 225 tightly-written pages of Daniel Doriani’s Work: Its Purpose, Dignity, and Transformation (P&R, 2019) explain well why that’s a mistake: “It is a blessing to relish one’s labor, to tire oneself in a beloved task.” Doriani gives us the right questions to ask when conflict arises: “Do I stand on principle or do what it takes to keep my job? What motivates me? The opinions of others? Wealth? Love for God and neighbor?” He says we should not take for granted good work, and in a fallen world we don’t have to seek trouble in order to find it: Trouble will come looking for us.

Scholars often make each book longer than one before, but Doriani’s second book on work is only half as long (112 pages) and perfect for short Sunday School series. Work That Makes a Difference (P&R, 2021) shows work as created, fallen, and redeemed, and gives clues about recognizing our callings. The sweet spot is the intersection of what we love, what we are good at, what the world needs—and what will pay.

My thanks to all who have subscribed thus far. I should note that I’m reviewing in these brief monthly reports only books I recommend. At #olaskybooks I also tweet about some worth noting but not as fondly, and others that are downright disappointing. And here’s a personal note: If I wake up in the middle of the night, my half-hour of Kindle reading (no need to turn on the light and wake up a wife) continues to be old spy novels. Agents of Influence by David Ignatius (Norton, 1997), set in Lebanon, has tragic characters. He quotes an Arab saying: “Fear your enemy once, fear your friend a thousand times.” Ignatius describes bonds of friendship that “never lasted. Confidences were always betrayed, pledges of trust and fidelity always broken.”

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Marvin Olasky

Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Marvin Olasky is a Senior Fellow with Discovery Institute and its Center for Science and Culture. He taught at The University of Texas at Austin from 1983 to 2008 and edited WORLD magazine from 1992 through 2021. He is the author of 28 books including Fighting for Liberty and Virtue and The Tragedy of American Compassion.