Maggie Rowe has written a memoir Sin Bravely: My Great Escape From Evangelical Hell that describes how she managed to break free of the shackles that bound her to the evangelical movement. In this interview, she discusses her obsessive worrying about going to hell and her search, while still a believer, for a therapist who could soothe her fears within the framework in which hell remained a reality. She search took her to a place called Grace Point Evangelical Psychiatric Institute
There, Rowe introduces us to a curious cast of characters – one might say “colorful” (especially in the case of the perpetually irate, reformed biker who found Jesus after dropping a hellish mixture of angel dust and crack) but overall, the personalities she encounters are painted in sad, anxious shades of black and grey. Grace Point is not a happy place, despite the forced cheerfulness of its employees; the friendships Rowe forms during her time there feel rare and precious, glimmers of light in the fog of meetings, therapy and the misguided exclamations of her dangerously clueless counselor, Bethanie.
The smug, saccharine Bethanie – the closest thing to an outright villain found in Sin Bravely – constantly tries to force wildly inaccurate diagnoses on Rowe for the sake of what seems like convenience, if not outright ignorance. Group therapy sessions with her were a nightmare, as she steamrolled discussions and thundered against what she saw as heretical ideas, even when her tactics worked to the detriment of her patients. Rowe saw her as both an adversary and an almost pathetic figure, one with whom she locks horns more than once.
Hell is a truly ghastly concept that philosophers David Lewis and Philip Kitcher argue makes any possibility of a loving and compassionate god totally untenable. They argue that any religion whose god can allow people to end up in a life of eternal torment makes all believers in such a god the moral equivalent of Nazi collaborators. I have written before about some evangelical megachurch pastors such as Rob Bell and Carlton Pearson who found the entire concept of hell problematic and abandoned it but lost their ministries as a result.
Hell is religion’s albatross that will eventually drag it down deeper and deeper. There are some who have tried to replace it with a more upbeat ‘prosperity gospel’ message that allows the pastors to also get the parishioners to give more money.