Indiana University of Pennsylvania Professor Alison Downie Explains Why Smiling Christians Enraged Her


Religion professor Alison Downie, who threw a student out of her class for arguing that there are only two genders, published a blog post earlier this year explaining why a group of smiling Christians sent her into an unanticipated rage.

Alison Downie, a professor of religion at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, recently came under fire for throwing a student out of her Christianity course after he argued that there are only two genders.

Now, a blog post authored by Downie in January may provide some clarity as to why she would throw a student out of the classroom over a discussion about gender.

Downie published a blog post entitled “Sunday Shaming,” in which she detailed a very brief encounter she had with a group of non-denominational Christians on a Sunday during her drive to visit her mentally disabled son in an alcohol abuse home. Before the encounter, Downie had just learned that the 43-year-old husband of a distant friend had passed away suddenly.

As both tragic circumstances weighed on her, Downie drove past a group of non-denominational Christians outside their local gathering space. One member of the church held up a sign to passing cars that read “SMILE! It’s Sunday!”

According to her own account, Downie flew into a fit of rage after she read the sign. She explained that the sign made her want to bring intense pain upon the members of the church so that they could understand that faith alone is not reason enough to smile.

I felt slapped in the face, stunned, and then . . .  enraged.

Though I drove on in steely silence, I wanted to slam on the brakes, storm into that cluster of shiny happy young people and throw down a Molotov cocktail of sudden death, mental illness, tragedy, and suffering of all kinds into their church street party: “NO! I will NOT smile because it’s Sunday. And who are you to tell me I should? Who are you to imply that if I do not smile, I somehow don’t measure up to your understanding of what faith or salvation is?”

Rage boiled within me for miles and miles, churning over the shame these young people tossed around in an insular, and therefore, arrogant obliviousness.

Downie equated the young man’s sign to a form of religious shaming. “Unless I muster the courage to confront those who shame others by dogmatic commands and proclamations of certainty, masked as religious virtue, I’ll never know,” she wrote.

It is unclear why Downie assumed that the church members had not themselves also experienced tragedy and hardship. It’s certainly possible that the young man holding the poster is suffering now or has faced suffering at some point in his life.

One does not need to be free from suffering to find internal peace and happiness from faith. As a professor who teaches classes on Christianity, Downie should know this firsthand.

Downie is laser-focused on her belief that the young man’s poster constituted a form of religious shaming. “In that Sunday smile poster, all the smug, self-righteous, condemning religiosity which formed me in shame as I learned to talk, walk, and never break a rule, assaulted me once again, as Alison, not Dr. Downie,” she wrote.

In reality, Professor Downie’s several-second encounter with the young man and his poster as she drove by the church members is far less an example of shaming than Downie’s blog post — and her more recent treatment of a student in the classroom.



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