Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Deal W. Hudson

2/26/2014 (8 months ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Dr. Hudson, we're not laughing at you. We think all this talk about virtue and goodness is just a sham

During my first year of teaching, I would spend two nights a week at the federal penitentiary in Atlanta and two nights at the Phillips Correctional Facility in Buford, GA. I had to pass through considerably more steel gates at the penitentiary than in Buford, where the only obstruction was a high wall topped with barbed wire.  It wasn\'t too long before I found out those walls were not high enough to stop bags of drugs being thrown over every evening. 

Highlights

By Deal W. Hudson

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

2/26/2014 (8 months ago)

Published in U.S.

Keywords: instruction, education, teaching, prison, beauty, classics, urgy, love, relationships, priesthood, culture, enthsuiasm, renewal, reform, Catholic Culture, prison, Phillips Correctional Facility, classrooms, Deal W. Hudson


WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - During my first year of teaching, I would spend two nights a week at the federal penitentiary in Atlanta and two nights at the Phillips Correctional Facility in Buford, GA. I had to pass through considerably more steel gates at the penitentiary than in Buford, where the only obstruction was a high wall topped with barbed wire. 

It wasn't too long before I found out those walls were not high enough to stop bags of drugs being thrown over every evening. 

My class of ten state inmates met in the weight room. I sat on the bench press, my students on folding chairs in front of the iron bars.  It was a cozy setting if a bit on the minimalist side.  Nine of my students were African-American; one was a young, white man named Llewellyen with floppy blond hair, an angular nose, and a smirk that made him look like a refuge from a Flannery O'Connor short story.

The course was Ethics, the assigned texts were Aristotle's Ethics and the Treatise on Happiness by St. Thomas Aquinas.  These two books, plus the Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius would become important in my eventual entry into the Catholic Church four years later.  But perhaps just as important, was the day I realized all my students were laughing at me behind my back.

The first class meeting was rather perfunctory, mostly a time devoted to sizing me up with me trying to act like it was perfectly natural to be teaching ethics in a state prison weight room.  When I handed the students their texts, they glanced at each other with sly grins and flipped through the pages as if they were cards about to be dealt.  I didn't think much of it; we all felt awkward, and both the topic and the setting did nothing but underscore how out of place we all felt.

I began the next class with the concept of virtue, discussing the basic notion of good and bad moral habits and classifying those habits according to the actions they governed such as justice, temperance, and courage.  As the two-hour class came to a close the snickers, which had at first been muted, became more and more audible even to me with a hearing loss. So, I just blurted out with a smile, "Ok, what are you guys laughing about?" No one wanted to tell me. I then proceeded to ask each inmate one by one if he would tell me the reason for the laughter, until I came to Llewellyn who sat at my far left. 

I knew that he liked to be called "Lew," so I pleaded with him, "Come on, Lew, let me in on the joke - it's going to be a long semester if somebody doesn't tell me what's going on!" Lew decided to show me mercy. "Dr. Hudson, we're not laughing at you. We think all this talk about virtue and goodness is just a sham."  He went on to tell me, as the rest of the students nodded, that the only reason people talk about morality is that they want to appear to others as a "good" or "virtuous" person. People, he explained, need to look that way in order to be successful in life, earn money, and gain respect. 

"Are you telling me that there is absolutely no reason to study ethics other than preparing yourself to deceive other people into believing you are a good man?" I asked. "Exactly," Lew said, and then some of the other students chimed in.  I was stunned.  As I look back now, perhaps it was my naiveté, my youth, or my inexperience that made this message such a surprise.  I realized then that there were such people as Lew described, but to say the only reason to learn ethics was to fool other people surprised me.

I listened to the inmates until our class time was over and left telling them I was going to think it over and come back with a response the next class. In a daze I left the prison, collected my car from the gravel parking lot, and drove the forty minutes home.

Two days later I walked into the weight room, dropped my briefcase on the floor, and said, "I want to tell you a story, then ask you a question, OK?" They nodded and seemed amused that I had remembered my promise to respond to their complaint. The story I told was about a solitary man living on an island in the middle of a large ocean.  The island contained everything he needed to live comfortably - food, water, shade from the sun, moderate weather year round, and an environment so pure he never became ill.  But there were no other people, no animals, and no God. (Needless to say, that last one raised a few eyebrows!)

I asked the inmates if they understood that here was a man living a life where there were absolutely no other "eyes" on him - he did not "appear" to anyone. Therefore, whatever he did or did not do, other people's opinions of him did not matter.  Neither did God's.  Then I asked the question: "One day this man had a sudden urge to take a large rock in one hand and smash it down on his other hand until all the bones were broken. Is that the morally right, the virtuous thing to do? In other words, did the man have any moral relationship to himself, regardless of whether anyone was watching"

I asked for a show of hands. Several hands stayed down, while most of the class thought the man could do anything he wanted to himself, "After all," one said, "he's not hurting anybody else." "But does he have the kind of moral obligation to himself that he has to others, not to hurt himself?" I asked.  Then I saw a light come on in Lew's face, and his hand went up. "I see what you mean, Doc," and he restated my argument with even more clarity than I had presented it. By the time Lew was finished all but a few had changed their minds. Lew had convinced them by using the illustration of drug addiction, namely, that everyone knew it was "bad" to overuse drugs. "Man, you can get really screwed up, you can die, or you can end up in here," and everyone laughed. 

We took a break, and I walked out into the hall to the water cooler. Lew was waiting for me by the door as I walked back to class.  "Hey Doc," he said, "how much money do you make? Can I ask you that?" When I told him I was making $10,000 that year his jaw dropped. "You're kidding, and you're a doctor?" I explained teaching was what I had always wanted to do, and it was a start.  Lew stopped me, "Doc, I can help you make an extra couple of grand every month."  "Really," I said. Lew explained that since I was around college students all I needed to do was pass along some of his "junk" and I could easily make the extra money.  "You mean drugs," I asked?  Lew had to stifle his laughter, "Yeah, yeah, of course."  I paused a moment, "Lew, I can't do that." "Why," he asked, "I'm sure you need the money."  "It's just wrong, Lew, but thanks for caring about me."  And we went back into the classroom. 

During the second hour of class, as I tried to restart a discussion on Aristotle's view of happiness, I noticed several of my students' eyes had changed - they were teary and red, but it wasn't from crying.  "Are you guys, Ok?" I asked, only to see them look at each other and chuckle.  "What did I miss this time?" Lew came to my rescue again, "Doc, junk gets thrown into this place every night, that's how we survive." Then I realized half of my students had gotten high during the break. "Let's go back to Aristotle's explanation of good and bad moral habits," I said, and the class could hardly contain their laughter.

It was those student inmates who taught me, as a teacher, always to listen, to listen for whatever it is the student needs for understanding. In this case, it was a notion more fundamental than Aristotle's Ethics: Is there a reason to be good to yourself?

© Deal W. Hudson, Ph.D

-----
Deal W. Hudson is president of the Morley Institute of Church and Culture, Senior Editor and Movie Critic at Catholic Online, and former publisher and editor of Crisis Magazine.This column and subsequent contributions are an excerpt from a forthcoming book. Dr. Hudson's new radio show, Church and Culture, is heard on the Ave Maria Radio Network.

---


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'


© 2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for October 2014
Peace:
That the Lord may grant peace to those parts of the world most battered by war and violence.
World Mission Day: That World Mission Day may rekindle in every believer zeal for carrying the Gospel into all the world.



Comments


More U.S.

How could he let it happen? 92% of Afghan war Marine KIA under Obama Watch

Image of During the entire, 12 years war in Afghanistan, 92% of U.S. Marine casualties took place under the six years of President Obama's term.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Earlier this week the U.S. Marine Corps withdrew its forces from Camp Leatherneck in Helmand province in Afghanistan, effectively ending their 13 year involvement in the Afghan war. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - "U.S. Marines and service members from the ... continue reading


Why Christians Should Celebrate Halloween - and Transform the Culture Watch

Image of Noah dressed up as the Incredible Hulk

By Deacon Keith A Fournier

The International Association of Exorcists sponsored a gathering in Vatican City on the last weekend of October in 2014. The organization was formally approved by the Holy See in June. The global Press was enamored with the notion that the Church even recognizes ... continue reading


VIDEO: Antares rocket launch fails with fire and smoke Watch

Image of The Antares rocket was set to launch on October 27, but was postponed a day because a ship was in its expected trajectory.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

A private contracted, unmanned NASA rocket exploded just after launch along coastal Virginia early on the evening of October 28 . LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo spacecraft, products of Orbital Sciences Corp., were set to ... continue reading


Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox Christian Leaders Stand in Solidarity to Defend Marriage Watch

Image of Marriage as existing solely between one man and one woman was not an idea manufactured by the Christian Church. It precedes Christianity. Though affirmed, fulfilled, and elevated by Christian teaching, the truth that marriage can exist only between one man and one woman is not based on religion or revelation alone, but on the Natural Moral Law, written on the human heart and discernible through the exercise of reason

By Deacon Keith A Fournier

The Marriage Solidarity Statement was drafted by Deacon Keith Fournier, Founder and Chairman of Common Good Foundation and Alliance, and Mat Staver, Chairman of Liberty Counsel and Liberty Counsel Action. It was vetted among other Christian pastors and leaders ... continue reading


Bill Clinton Panders to Homosexual Activist Human Rights Campaign in Washington, D.C. We Will Resist Them Watch

Image of Pictured: Bill Clinton

This is the same President who, one year after he signed the Defense of Marriage Act, told the Homosexual and lesbian magazine The Advocate - I remain opposed to same-sex marriage. I believe marriage is an institution for the union of a man and a woman. This has been my long-standing position, and it is not being reviewed or considered. So, what has changed? Certainly not the truth about marriage. It cannot and will not change. Rather, this politician has changed. And, his wife wants to be President of the United States.

By Keith A. Fournier

All people of good will who recognize the vital role that marriage and the family play in serving the common good must get ready for what lies ahead. All people of good will who respect free speech, free association and the free exercise of religion must not be ... continue reading


A 'Living legend': Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow, last of the Crow war chiefs, turns 101 Watch

Image of Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow, a living legend at 101, and a renown historian and scholar of the Crow people.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow, the last Crow war chief, turned 101 on October 27, and spent the day at the Bighorn Battlefield, with his son. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - "I was fortunate when I was growing up," he said. "The Crow Indians were still retaining the ... continue reading


Former TV reporter says computer was bugged by Obama administration Watch

Image of

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Former President Richard M. Nixon was notorious for the surveillance he used on who he perceived as being enemies - but it appears that current U.S. president, Barack Obama could have taught "Tricky Dick" a thing or two. According to former CBS reporter Sharyl ... continue reading


School shooting in Washington state leaves 2 dead, five injured Watch

Image of Kids and parents react to news of the shooting.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

A shooting has occurred at a school in Washington, in which authorities believe a bullied student shot and killed another. The shooter is also believed to be dead. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - A school shooting has taken place at Marysville-Pilchuck High School ... continue reading


Guns Do Not Have Rights, People Do. Legitimate Self Defense is One of Them

Image of Guns have no rights, only people do.Yes, one of them is the Right to Self Defense - and the Right to defend your neighbor. You may ask,

By Keith A. Fournier

We live in a precarious time in the United States of America. Many of us are deeply concerned about the effort to infringe upon the fundamental rights which were delineated in the Bill of Rights to the United States Constitution. I have written extensively about ... continue reading


Rest in Peace, Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete: Communion and Liberation Priest Enters Eternal Encounter Watch

Image of Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete was a leader in the ecclesial movement called Communion and Liberation. He was also a gifted writer, known for his naturally supernatural holiness of life. Those whom he touched are a living testimony to a life - and a priesthood - which was well lived. In encountering him, they encountered Jesus Christ. That experience is the very heart of the Gospel, the meaning of the Christian claim. It is the key to understanding the Church. It is the spirituality of Communion and Liberation.

By Deacon Keith A Fournier

As we pause to honor Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete, Communion and Liberation Priest, may our prayers accompany him, lighting his passage into the eternal encounter with the Lord whom he loves. Let us also ask for his prayers - and follow his example. Let us decide to ... continue reading


All U.S. News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Ephesians 6:10-20
10 Finally, grow strong in the Lord, with the ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 144:1, 2, 9-10
1 [Of David] Blessed be Yahweh, my rock, who trains ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 13:31-35
31 Just at this time some Pharisees came up. 'Go ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for October 30th, 2014 Image

St. Alphonsus Rodriguez
October 30: Confessor and Jay brother, also called Alonso. He was born in ... Read More

Marketplace

Image of THE SAVOIR HOLY CARD

The Savoir Holy Card
Prayer Cards

Image of Antique Silver CURSILLO Visor Clips

Cursillo
Visor Clips

Image of St. Joseph Keychain in Antique Gold

St. Joseph
Keychain

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter