Pathologically moral

In her memoir, comedian Maggie Rowe lays bare a struggle with excessive guilt that rivals Martin Luther’s.

Many of us live with a fragile soul, one ever prone to fracturing due to the paralyzing fear of rejection, judgment, even damnation. “Sin Boldly!” responded Martin Luther. When sinning boldly or bravely (pecca fortiter), one can more sharply realize the forgiveness of God. One can more fully experience the overwhelming beauty of God’s grace. One can more elegantly flower as a human being. Only a robust soul can sin bravely; only a soul bathed in divine grace can thrive on the stains of life and laugh at impurity.

Maggie Rowe reveals some of this grace in her coming-of-age story. Rowe, who has written for Arrested Develop­ment and produces the Comedy Central stage show sit ’n spin, excels in creating theatrical satire. Likewise, the theological satire in her memoir is warm but pointed.

Rowe lived with a fragile soul until she was 19. Images of eternal hellfire plagued her mind, much as they had plagued the mind of Elizabeth Bowes in 16th-century Scotland. Just as Bowes annoyed her Calvinist pastor John Knox with persistent questions, the young Rowe kept asking her own pastor: Am I one of the saved or one of the damned? How can I know for sure? Have I committed the unpardonable sin?