Saturday, April 19, 2008


Just Life

Steven Gey is one of the leading U.S. Scholars on religious liberties and free speech. He was often quoted on the constitutional issues involved in the Terri Schiavo case. Now Gey, 52, is dying of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis ("Lou Gehrig's disease") and has had to stop teaching.

He has arrived at the moment when people start to talk to God.

His students, many of whom are conservative Christians, are watching him die. They'd like to help him start the conversation. But he won't.

Gey doesn't pray for anything. An American Civil Liberties Union attorney and law professor at Florida State University, he ranks among the nation's top defenders of separation of church and state, of scientific inquiry, of rationalist, non-Christian governance.

He and those students come from opposite sides of the ramparts. A struggle over radically incompatible ideologies has torn the country apart. Evolution. Abortion. Stem cell research. It's a struggle that seems to offer no answer.
What's more:

One of the few hopeful avenues of ALS research has involved the transplanting of embryonic stem cells. Such research has been limited for seven years in the United States by religious conservatives and the Bush administration.

His adversaries have erased his last chance.

"The irony doesn't escape me."
But bitterness does:

Ben Gibson [one of Gey's students] prays for Gey. "I pray for him every day, everywhere I am. I pray for strength. I pray for his family. I pray for a miracle."

He told Gey what he was doing. Gey said, "I'll take all the prayers I can get." ...

Gibson has separated his faith from Gey's refusal to accept God.

"That's between him and God. It's not my job to change him."

He can't condemn his professor, or even pity him.

"It's my job to love him."

That is all Gey says he wants. His students call and e-mail and bring dinner.

It is, he says, "religion enough for me."
When he had to tell his students he could no longer teach, his farewell was: "Thank you for allowing me to fulfill my life's passion."

Damn. A former colleague of mine is in the same position -- ALS and can no longer teach. I thought of Gey (about whose illness I learned some time ago) when I heard of my colleague's diagnosis.

I've met Gey, and he's one of the genuine good guys of the world. So is my colleague.
I thought Gey's story was a wonderful example of grace under pressure and notable that it came without resort to the "comfort" of religion.

I wish Gey and your colleague the best, whatever that might be in their circumstances.
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