The Scourge of God
"I am the punishment of God. If you had not committed great sins, God would not have sent a punishment like me upon you."Maybe you're being stalked by some depraved serial killer. Maybe your nemesis is a horrible alien abomination seeking new, exotic Earth meats. Maybe you're facing something out of a Cosmic Horror Story, or maybe even Satan himself! Surely the best and brightest shall be the first to fall. Not quite. It turns out that the common ground most monsters and antagonists, regardless of alignment, intelligence, or sanity, seem to share is a habit to pick targets who have just exposed some minor vice of their own. Given the choice between the prim and chaste (but initially vulnerable) Final Girl, or the smoldering, seductive temptress, they will, without fail, gut the temptress, probably just after she's had sex to show us how promiscuous she is. Such a pattern will continue throughout the tale until the monster is out of sinful meat and will be forced to finally make an attack against the designated protagonists. By the end of the tale, the only people left standing will be those who comfortably fit into a mainstream, chaste, god-fearing ideal, and the monster has run out of the "instant death" moves that allowed it to kill a normal human being before they even realized it. A close relative of Karmic Death, except that victims of the Scourge of God generally aren't Asshole Victims, instead being "guilty" of comparatively minor foibles. One is left with the impression that the Big Bad, whomever they are, is the arbiter of some decidedly twisted god's justice, and that those who perished are somehow supposed to have deserved their fate. Occasionally, though, the "guilt" of these crimes can spill over to the innocent as either a parable for these original sins being so bad that others suffer too, or to include an Anyone Can Die vibe. The name comes from the Romans' nickname for Attila the Hun, claiming that his success at pillaging half their empire was God's punishment on the wicked. It is especially notable and ironic that even director John Carpenter, who essentially caused the "boom" in the masked slasher genre by making the film Halloween, was often mistaken to have been making a statement about promiscuity. Quite the opposite in fact, Carpenter has said on many occasions; the characters who were picked off during or after sex were only so treated because they were distracted and not concentrating on what was happening, not because he wanted to make any sort of moral statement. The main survivor of the teens in the film survived despite having partaken in illicit drugs earlier in the film, for example, but was collected enough to survive a run-in with a masked maniac (with a fortunate chance stop-in of a psychiatrist with a vendetta, armed with a gun, who ended the encounter and saved her life). Similarly, in the first Friday the 13th, the survivor partakes in illicit drugs and, in the original script, a premarital affair. The survivor being a chaste and pure character is something that has occurred with the Flanderization of the genre. See Death by Sex, The Punishment. If the "god" is implied to be the Earth itself in retaliation for environmental damage, this is Gaia's Vengeance. Unrelated to Word of God or Shrug of God.
— Genghis Khan (attributed)
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Anime And Manga
- Godzilla is the 50-100-foot, nuclear-breathing, Immune to Bullets sublimated-god embodiment of this trope.
- Harvey Dent from The Dark Knight begins as something like this in his conversion to the 'Fallen Angel' of Two-Face, but as the story reaches its climax beings to subvert the trope. He begins with those of with the most guilt and least sympathetic motivation (The Joker, Det. Wertz, Maroni) and moves on until he begins to punish those who are only questionably guilty or downright innocent.
- Eric from The Crow is one of these. In fact, the entire movie (or comic book) can be seen as a horror movie viewed through the other end of the telescope... except if you're not violent, he's not either (witness him helping Sara's mom by forcing the morphine out of her body).
- Used in the 1950s horror movie The Horror of Party Beach (which was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000). The main character's girlfriend at the start of the movie is a hard-drinking party girl who flirts with any man she sees, so naturally she's the first victim of the mutant fish monster. Of course, this frees our hero up to get with his boss's sweet, chaste, beautiful daughter.
- At least in the later Final Destination movies, Death seems to wait for ridiculously minor infractions. Such as disobeying the "No food or drinks allowed" sign. (Particularly onerous when you're at a theater with the same taboo, solely to force you to pay their markups.)
- Played with extensively in Se7en; the serial killer targets people demonstrably guilty of one of the seven deadly sins (mostly). Subverted when the last person he kills is Brad Pitt's innocent (and pregnant) wife, which is then used as the justification for his own death via Suicide by Cop.
- Sam, from Trick 'r Treat, is a variation on this: he's the Scourge of the Celtic god Samhaine. Hell, he probably is Samhaine. Sam targets people who don't respect Halloween. Serial Killer Steven Wilkins has a similar agenda, but he oversteps his bounds by killing an (apparent) innocent, and is then eaten by a werewolf, with Sam's implicit sanction.
- Jackson the sniper in Saving Private Ryan.
- In John Waters's Serial Mom, Beverly Sutphin (Kathleen Turner) is the eponymous protagonist. She's a Scourge of God but not against violators of morality, rather those sins are against propriety or etiquette, such as wearing white shoes after Labor Day.
- The Big Bad of Blood And Bone quotes Genghis Khan's pleasure of killing a man, riding his horse, taking his crops, having his way with his woman, leaving no one alive to mourn the dead; and the protagonist in return quotes that line at the top of the page. The antagonist thinks this is just to show that he also knows Genghis Khan but he really means what he says.
- The protagonist in Faster gives off a line relating to this trope after a man he killed realizes his wife was warning that he had it coming to him.
- In Pacific Rim, there's a cult in Hong Kong that view kaiju as this, using the skull of one as a place of worship.
- The Bible had no small number of these, the plagues of Egypt being perhaps the best-known.
- The Horsemen of the Apocalypse in particular, while by far not the most impressive, are sufficiently iconic to deserve a mention.
- In The Count of Monte Cristo, the Count believes himself to be God's instrument of vengeance upon his enemies. Somewhat justified considering that some of his main targets were rather naughty individuals besides betraying him. Not justified considering the Count's revenge also affects some of the enemies' innocent family members.
- Inverted for Agatha Christie's book, And Then There Were None. The murderer killed his victims from the ones he considered most innocent to the one he considered least innocent, so that the ones he considered the most guilty would suffer from anxiety and shock, while the slightly less guilty get a quick death.
- Subverted by Simon R. Green in Beyond the Blue Moon. Contrary to popular belief, the Walking Man couldn't care less about minor vices. He reserves punishment for real monsters — like a pedophile/child-murderer/necromancer, who gets beaten into a barely recognizable corpse...bare-handed.
- Baron von Rothbart in The Black Swan (Mercedes Lackey's retelling of Swan Lake) captured the maidens and turned them into swans (ostensibly) because they had been unfaithful to men (their husbands or fathers).
Live Action TV
- Inverted in Buffy the Vampire Slayer when a monster called "The Judge" kills on sight if he sees any sort of goodness or humanity in your soul. This becomes significant when he sees Angelus and lets him live.
- Babylon 5: Ivanova references this when she encounters hybrid shadow-human ships:
Ivanova: Who am I? I am Susan Ivanova. Commander. Daughter of Andrei and Sophie Ivanov. I am the right hand of vengeance, and the boot that is going to kick your sorry ass all the way back to Earth, sweetheart! I am Death Incarnate, and the last living thing that you are ever going to see. God sent me.
- Sebastian the Inquisitor claims to have once believed himself to be such, pursuing a murderous course of action while believing himself to be The Chosen One. The Vorlons abducted him and taught him the error of his ways. His punishment is to spend the rest of his very long life only being allowed to torture and kill people by way of testing their worthiness. He hopes they will allow him to die one day.
- Invoked in an early episode of Supernatural. The Hook Man (undead serial killer with a hook for a hand) is unknowingly linked to a very devout woman and kills people she views as sinners. He even comes after her when she realizes the correlation and views herself as immoral for wishing their deaths.
- The Soldier from Team Fortress 2 paraphrases Genghis Khan's line occasionally when dominating an opponent.
Soldier: If God had wanted you to live, he would not have created me!
- In Final Fantasy X, Sin seems to be this. In reality, this is just a lie the Church of Yevon teaches the people of Spira.
- Terraria: The Wall Of Flesh only appears when you chuck a voodoo doll of someone you know into a pit of lava.
- Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem: At the culmination of Roberto's chapter, the warlord that hired him Pious Augustus quotes Timur the lame as he lets people fall to their death to become part of the Pillar of Flesh, right before he allows Roberto to make his greatest contribution to the project.
- This is the name of the Hunnic Unique Power in Civilization. The Huns can raze cities at double speed, and gain extra production from pastures. They also have two unique units: The Battering Ram, which is really good at attacking cities (and nothing else), and the Horse Archer, which can be made without having any Horse resources. Don't ask how this works.
- The Darkspawn of Dragon Age are said to be what came of the Tventir Imperium's attempt to invade heaven. The Maker was so angry he struck the magicians responsible with a terrible curse and cast them back to Thedas to sow chaos and destruction-according to the intro cutscene, anyways...
- The original Trope Namer was Attila the Hun, who ripped through the Goths and Romans like they were tissue paper in the early 400s AD. Rather, he was called the scourge of God by his adversaries instead of coming to the conclusion himself.
- Back in The '80s, a lot of conservative Christian groups proclaimed that AIDS was punishment for homosexuality and drug use. This (mostly) stopped once straight people and non-junkies (most notably Ryan White) started getting AIDS too, and especially once it became a public health catastrophe in Africa.
- In fact, we could make an entire list of proclamations by religious groups or televangelists that some disaster or another (9/11, Katrina, the Haitian earthquake) was divine punishment for the sins of its victims. Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and Fred Phelps are particularly infamous for this, and it's one of the major forms of political rhetoric in the Islamic world.
- Abraham Lincoln suggested this was the divine purpose behind The American Civil War in his second inaugural address. The speech is chock full of biblical references, and this passage hammers the point home: "...if God wills that it [the war] continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said 'the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'" It's a pretty chilling speech, considering most people on both sides of the war thought they had the blessing of the Almighty on their side (see: Battle Hymn of the Republic).
- Some people (including Ulysses S. Grant) also saw the American Civil War as a divine punishment for the preceding war against Mexico.note
- C. S. Lewis deconstructed this sentiment by saying that while this may indeed be true, if we desire to have the devil's job, we must be ready for his wages.
- Invoked by Ronald Schaefer who wrote a history of the strategic bombing campaign of World War II called Wings of Judgement.
- Winston Churchill used a Biblical quote about vengeance to justify the British bombing campaign against Germany. Alluding to the earlier Luftwaffe blitz on Britain, he pronounced: They have sown the wind. They shall reap the whirlwind. One bombing offensive was even code-named Whirlwind.
- During the run-up to the 2004 US Presidential election, a map of the paths taken by hurricanes Charley, Frances, and Ivan in the 2004 hurricane season started making its rounds of the internet claiming that the hurricanes only hit counties that had voted Republican in the 2000 election, implying that God was punishing those counties for their vote. The map deliberately manipulated the paths of the hurricanes to make the claim, however, and the hurricanes trashed counties that voted Democrat as well.
- The infamous Westboro Baptist Church believes all natural disasters and actions committed by people to be God's will. They believe things like earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, car crashes, and mass shootings to be part of God's punishment for society's growing acceptance of homosexuality, abortion, other religions, divorce and remarriage, and the selling of Swedish vacuum cleaners. Their funeral protests are just their way of saying "thanks."