Follow TV Tropes


Path of Inspiration

Go To

"'God?' Where does such a being exist? You should know by now how the 'Ethos' came about... It was an organization created by Solaris aeons ago solely for the purpose of managing ignorant humans. Its doctrines are just deceptions designed to control the masses."
Verlaine, Xenogears

A religion that appears benign but was carefully designed from the ground up long ago for a nefarious purpose, usually either to force the subjects of a state to behave as its founders would wish, frequently specifically to never attempt to rise in station or do anything but what they're told (popular with constructed state religions), or to empower an evil god or force without anyone realizing that said god or force is in fact evil. The end result is a Villain with Good Publicity. This is a type of Mystery Cult, hidden not through total secrecy but through its misleading image for the laity, who might be clearly brainwashed from an outside perspective. This church is widespread in a large country or even the world, and accepted without question, and may conduct Witch Hunts against unbelievers and heretics who have any doubts about its righteousness.

Occasionally, this is the form that an Ancient Conspiracy would take. Distinct from the Corrupt Church, in that instead of being a legitimate religion that went bad, the Path of Inspiration is by design rotten to the core; the Scam Religion, in that the Path's leaders are true believers, not con artists; and the Religion of Evil, in that the religion is not openly evil. The typical high-ranking member is a Straw Hypocrite. Usually has a Dark Messiah as the figurehead, whose outright evil is part of The Reveal. May overlap with Hollywood Satanism, especially in conspiracy theories. May also include references to, or parallels with, the Church of Happyology.

Compare with the Cult. Contrast with the Saintly Church. Often serves as inspiration for Religion Rant Songs by disaffected believers.



    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • The Wall Cult of Attack on Titan seems like a fairly innocuous — if fanatical — religion that believes God gave humanity the three walls that protect their civilization from the monstrous Titans that roam the outside world. They are vehemently against the idea of touching the walls and because of their clout with the royal government have made it quite difficult for the military to add defensive armaments and adjustments to the walls. It's later revealed that they are part of an Ancient Conspiracy, and their admonitions to avoid disturbing the walls are to hide the mysterious imprisoned Titans that make up the structures.
  • A most terrifying example is the Holy See in Berserk, who do not even know that the four "angels" they worship and their Messianic Archetype are actually the five members of the demonic Godhand, Transhuman Abominations who each crossed the Moral Event Horizon by sacrificing a whole load of people each (and who knows what else) and are subservient to a God of Evil. Oh, and they torture people. They are CRAZY obsessed with torturing people, often for no reason at all. It is implied that the four angels were originally inspired, not by the God Hand, but by the (actually benevolent) Four Elemental Kings revered by the pagan religion that the See supplanted, making it a combination between this trope and Corrupt Church.
  • The Cowboy Bebop episode "Brain Scratch" has a cult that brainwashes people into giving up their physical forms for a supposed digital existence by recording their brain waves onto the internet.
  • Father Cornello's cult the Church of Leto in Fullmetal Alchemist which was created so that Father Cornello could have his own army, Cornello is revealed to be a fraud and is killed, but Envy reappears as Cornello to complete the work using the weak-willed members of the church. There's also the fact that the deity Leto turns out to have been the Big Bad Father in disguise, so the entire religion is an example of this.
  • The religion from Rossiu's village in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann was specifically designed to let the village's elder keep the population below 50; notice, however, that he did this more out of necessity than out of evil, because the village couldn't support any more people.

    Comic Books 
  • The Church of Transcendence in The Authority: its leader, John Clay, infected all of his devotees with a psychic virus. This virus forced them to venerate him as well as give him some of their energy, turning him into a superhuman capable of taking on the entire Authority by himself.
  • According to the Chick Tracts, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, and above all Roman Catholicism (in addition to numerous other Christian congregations that do not focus on the "True Message of God") are examples of this. Chick is completely serious about this idea. He's not trying to be funny, or Cross the Line Twice.
  • In the Doctor Who Magazine Eighth Doctor comics, the Master sets up a fake religion that turns the whole human race into Suicide Attacking Omnicidal Maniacs.
  • Just Imagine... Stan Lee Creating the DC Universe has the Church of Eternal Empowerment, run by Reverend Darrk.
  • In Lori Lovecraft: Into the Past, Raoul Reichmann is running an ashram that is supposed to be allowing people to unlock their true potential. In reality, he is draining Life Energy from the attendees and feeding it to the Cabal to power their magic.
  • Rat Queens has a really bizarre inverted example. The cult of N'Rygoth started out as apparently a Religion of Evil worshipping an Eldritch Abomination and drawing dark power from it. In reality, however, the rituals were actually designed to slowly kill the chained Abomination by draining its energy, with only the High Priest knowing the truth. The problem is that over the years, the cult has become much less evil and more of a standard religion who just happen to have a weird god... which means that the Abomination isn't getting drained anymore.
  • Teen Titans has the Church of Brother Blood. Despite its name and being in control of nation known as a haven for the worst criminals, it had great worldwide publicity due to having brainwashed a number of big media and political figures.
  • The Transformers: Robots in Disguise reveals that all of Cybertron's religions were engineered by Shockwave after he was accidentally sent millions of years into Cybertron's ancient past as part of an incredibly complex act of societal manipulation- complex enough that creating a Stable Time Loop was merely a side effect of it.
  • Warlock (1967): The Universal Church of Truth in the 20th century is a galaxy-spanning empire that preaches the message "Convert or Die". It was founded by a time-traveling super-villain for his own evil ends. But in the 30th century on many worlds, it has become a somewhat more benevolent and spiritual organization.
  • Wonder Woman: Black and Gold: "Loved Failed" has Hypnota using their hypnotic powers to run a cult going by the name of The Guiding Light.

  • In the Apocalypse film series, Antichrist Franco Maccalusso has his Religion of Evil masquerade as this, with a Secret Circle of Secrets working in the shadows.
  • Licence to Kill has TV evangelist Professor Joe Butcher and his Olimpatec Meditation Institute serving as a front for Franz Sanchez's drug empire, with their donations going toward Sanchez's operations and "targets" being drug dealer lingo for agreeing on new market prices for their product.
  • In Logan's Run, everyone lives a hedonistic lifestyle, but are told that when they hit the age of thirty, they must undergo the ritual known as "Carrousel", where they are vaporized with the promise of being "Renewed". This was later discovered to be a lie designed by the computer running things in order to control the population and prevent it from becoming too large.

  • The Sharing in the Animorphs books is a Path of Inspiration that is disguised as a secular fraternal organization. It provides fun, social occasions, and volunteer work for the community, but its real purpose is to seduce people into voluntarily allowing themselves to be taken over by alien invaders called the Yeerks, and to serve as a front organization that keeps up the Masquerade.
  • Area 51: Brainwashed humans called the Guides set up a religion worshiping Airlia, claiming they're akin to gods and will bring humanity into the future. Those who don't believe, meanwhile, will be destroyed. It's just one means which the Airlia use to control humans.
  • The Chapter from Book of the Long Sun probably qualifies, because although individual members may be kindly or even saintly, the gods that they worship are in fact the uploaded personalities of a dictator, his family and some of his closest advisers, almost all of whose idea of a commandment is "Your government isn't sacrificing to me enough; overthrow them right now and let me know when you've done it; if you sacrifice enough children to me, you'll probably get my attention".
  • Inverted in Cat's Cradle. Everyone knows that Bokonism is a lie. The sacred text itself proclaims it. The idea was the give people hope, even false hope, in a dire situation. It is wildly popular anyway, and does indeed give people about as much comfort as they're going to get while encouraging good behavior.
  • Christ Clone Trilogy: Christopher Goodman sets up a false religion with the intent to mislead people. Among the things instituted are euthanasia for anyone who wants it, and public orgies. Its beliefs include the idea that ancient aliens seeded all life on Earth, a progressive reincarnation to get higher spiritual enlightenment, spirit guides, astrology, etc. — all stuff that fundamentalist Christians hate, naturally.
  • The Chronicles of Amber: Nine Princes in Amber has a variant on this where the Amberites can walk in shadow to find a planet where they've already been worshipped as gods, so that they can recruit the population as fanatical legions of foot soldiers.
  • The Chronicles of Narnia:
    • The Calormenes worship their god Tash, who is definitely a real and evil demon. Tash's cult has plenty of the trappings of being Obviously Evil; so far, it superficially appears to be a Religion of Evil. But we eventually meet a man named Emeth who is pure of heart and attained entrance to Heaven—who nevertheless was a pious member of Tash's religion—thus proving that the Calormenes (who are just normal humans, after all) are mostly just deceived and exploited, and not the kind of evil persons who would join the Religion of Evil.
    • The religion started by Shift and Puzzle definitely counts. Originally, Shift is just deceiving creatures into believing Puzzle is Aslan so he can get whatever he wants. Then things escalate and he teams up with some equally opportunistic Calormenes to create the worship of "Tashlan", a mash-up of Aslan and Tash that true believers of both are equally horrified at so that he can get rich selling Narnian resources (including its people) to Calormen.
  • The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant: The Clave from the Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant commits mass human sacrifices "for a good cause". Unfortunately, it doesn't quite work like that...
  • Kokchu, the shaman in the Conqueror books, uses trickery and sleight of hand to make it seem as if he is performing miracles and thus exert religious influence over the Mongol nation. It's somewhat ambiguous to what extent he himself believes in his own teachings.
  • In Daystar and Shadow, the New Christians seem like an extremely powerful organization of fundamentalists who want to keep their society as technologically simple as possible. In fact, their leaders are infected with mind control parasites from the Others, evil aliens who have programmed them to do their bidding.
  • Dinner at Deviant's Palace features a cult that promises its members peace and belonging and connection with the divine through the prophet Norton Jaybush. The whole thing has actually been set up to allow Jaybush to siphon off the life energy of his followers through the cult's rituals.
  • The Lazarus Intent in the Doctor Who Missing Adventures novel The Crystal Bucephalus was set up by a criminal who ripped off Christianity wholesale to create a religion which, rather than teaching the Messiah was resurrected and would return, taught that it was up to believers to invent time travel, and rescue their saviour from the moment of his death. The Doctor notes that while the church may be a fraud set up by an egomaniac (Lazarus isn't even a Dark Messiah, just a con man who thinks big), devout Lazarites tend to be good people.
  • Dragonvarld: The whole Sacred Order it turns out is a front for use by Maristara, an evil dragon, who secretly created it long ago to fight hostile dragons attacking Seth, ironically, taking over all its leaders and using the sons the women have as her accomplice's slaves without them knowing.
  • Dune:
    • The Bene Gesserit, specifically the Missionaria Protectiva, the subgroup which spreads the set of beliefs called the Panoplia Prophetica on several planets. These prophecies are all pretty vague and seem to be designed simply so Bene Gesserit sisters have the option of creating a religious cult around themselves if they ever get into trouble. Although not explicitly stated as a goal, it is also shown to give Bene Gesserit sisters a hint about conditions on the planet (Jessica recognises the specific parts of the Panoplia used on Dune as reserved for the worst planets where the most help would be needed). Subverted when the major prophecy spread by the Missionaria on Arrakis ends up being fulfilled by Paul-Muad'Dib, much to the surprise of the Bene Gesserit.
    • Subverted again by Leto II, this time intentionally. After merging with a sandworm, he sets himself up as God-Emperor of his own theocratic state, with the state religion specifically designed to be as restrictive and frustrating as possible for humanity. That in turn is part of his plan (Thanatos Gambit, actually) to get humanity to save itself through expansion and innovation, making him a Necessarily Evil form of this.
  • Originally, the Earthsea series portrays the Kargish religion this way, its religious beliefs (particularly their prejudice against magic-users) being imposed by evil gods. It's later retconned into being a good/neutral religion that got corrupted.
  • Isaac's version of Islam in Edenborn turns out to be this. His own spirituality was shattered by the revelation that God allowed humanity to die. He raised his children as devout practitioners of fundamentalist Islam to make it easier to overwrite their personalities with the minds of the extinct scientists who created him.
  • The eponymous Electric Church of Jeff Somers's Cyberpunk novel The Electric Church. Adherents of the faith have their brains mounted in artificial bodies to give them "time enough" to discover the truth of salvation. They tell others that "Time is your enemy" and ask them to "Let us show you an endless trail of sunsets", offering free immortality to anyone and everyone. Systems in the artificial body suppress higher brain functions to keep the adherents obedient servants. The whole thing is a monstrous world-conquering scheme to rule by religion, facilitated by the fact that converts keep their legal status as citizens in the world government because the brain is still alive, despite all free will and volition being suppressed by the technology involved.
  • If it's possible to have a secular one of these, the Brotherhood in Invisible Man is this in spades. Even the lower-ranking officials don't realize just how much the organization focuses on gaining power, and how little its highest-ranking members really care about helping the poor and downtrodden.
  • In John Carter of Mars, the religion of the red Martians, which encourages the old and infirm to make a pilgrimage to the South Pole in search of heaven, was created and is controlled by a society of cannibals who use the pilgrims as their primary food source. Their religion is in turn the product of another sect of cannibals who feed on them. When John Carter discovers these facts and relates them to the world at large, he's nearly executed for heresy before he manages to prove it. There's actually a third level of Path of Inspiration among said second sect of cannibals, whose leader presents herself as (and is considered to be by her followers) a living goddess, when in fact she's nothing of the sort. When Carter exposes her, it brings the whole system crashing down, and while he won't take her life himself, her cheated worshipers aren't so merciful.
  • The Laundry Files:
    • In The Apocalypse Codex, Bob Schiller's Golden Promise Ministry appears to be another American fundamentalist Christian sect, with maybe a few odd doctrines. This being a Laundry book, Schiller and his inner circle actually serve a powerful Eldritch Abomination, not entirely willingly. Once Schiller completes a human sacrifice of nearly unprecedented scale the entity will escape its prison under alien stars, and humanity will end. It's clear that Schiller actively believes that what he's doing is in Christ's name, even if the whole thing is clearly a front for Nyarlathotep and comes with all the attendant crimes against humanity you'd imagine it would. That makes it even more frightening.
    • The Fuller Memorandum also features a mention of the Free Church of the Universal Kingdom, another Nyarlathotep cult disguising itself as a premillennialist dispensationalism branch of evangelical Christianity.
  • Left Behind: The syncretic mishmash of world religions called Enigma Babylon One World Faith that becomes the official one-world religion during the first half of the Tribulation period, believing that all religions are true and have valid paths leading to God, yet denouncing biblical Christianity (as defined by the books' authors and the Tribulation Force characters) and its message of Jesus Christ being the only true way to God as heretical. In following with the interpretation of Mystery Babylon in Revelation chapter 17, this "anti-church" was merely set up to serve the Antichrist for a time and then would be destroyed, only to be replaced by the single-deity worshipping religion of Carpathianism.
  • The Terraist Church in Legend of the Galactic Heroes encourages people to return back to their roots, i.e., the planet Earth, which by the time period of the seriesnote  has become an isolated backwater planet. As the series progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that the Terraist Church's real objectives are to regain the lost status and power that Earth enjoyed centuries ago, and they will resort to any means, from brainwashing its members to plotting assassinations of key figures in the galaxy, to achieve their objectives.
  • In Lord of Light, Hinduism is used for this purpose, to allow a handful of self-styled gods to control all technology under the guise of protecting the populace from progress too quick for them to understand. The protagonist uses Buddhism as a religious tool to recruit the opposition. It is worth noting that said protagonist only picked Buddhism because he needed to represent a religious leader as a way to present change as an option; when asked "why Buddhism?" he replied that Christianity would have hurt.
  • The Renewalist Church, the official religion in Midnight World. Basically, it's Christianity, but bowdlerized so hard that it's not dangerous for the world-ruling vampires.
  • The Mist has a version of this, in that it's one woman's interpretation of religion that inspires the people in the store to form a cult and attempt human sacrifice.
  • Plato advocates doing this in The Republic.
  • Safehold: The Church of God Awaiting was designed by megalomaniac Luddites gone mad with power to prevent the last colony of humans from ever redeveloping advanced tech, in an attempt to avoid the attentions of the xenophobic alien Gbaba. And, of course, to feed the egos of the megalomaniacs in question by making them into "Archangels". The original idea for the colony was that they would abandon advanced tech for a few centuries to hide from the Gbaba, but preserve records of tech and the existence of the Gbaba so that the colony would know what to avoid doing until they had tech advanced enough to destroy the Gbaba. In the eight centuries between then and the present day, the members of the Church of God Awaiting, ignorant of this, also make it into a Corrupt Church.
  • Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari contains a section about "humanist religions", where religion is defined as a system in which human society is governed by a superhuman order. (Note the difference between "superhuman" and "supernatural".) One of these is much closer to this trope than the others, but we present all three for completeness.
    • Liberal humanism: Humanity is unique and special, and the greatest good is to protect the freedom and individuality of individual humans. Based on the Christian doctrine that all humans have free and unique souls.
    • Socialist humanism: Humanity is unique and special, and the greatest good is to reduce inequality between individual humans. Based on the Christian doctrine that all human souls are equal before God.
    • Evolutionary humanism: Humanity is unique and special, and the greatest good is to allow it to evolve to a higher state, by promoting the Right Sorts and culling the Wrong Sorts. Based on a major misunderstanding of Darwinism, it has been under something of a cloud since the defeat of the Nazis.
  • The Holy Mauser faith in Scrapped Princess was actually designed by the aliens who conquered Earth and exiled brainwashed human survivors to a small portion of its surface. Its function was to a) prevent humanity from ever discovering their true history, b) allow semi-sentient weapons named Peacemakers to act without interference as "Lord Mauser's angels", and c) rally the entire world population against the person carrying the genetic anomaly enabling her to "cancel" Peacemakers' presence and challenge the status quo, who happens to be the protagonist. It may be also notable that all this was apparently organized for humanity's own good, at least from the aliens' point of view.
  • In Snow Crash, L. Bob Rife's religion is in fact an attempt to render people susceptible to brainwashing using the ancient Sumerian language, which is in fact a programming language for the human brain. The title refers to the drug that does this, and the computer virus that can do this to people in the virtual world.
  • The Church of the Summer Kingdom in The Somnambulist engage in murder and kidnapping, with darker plans against all of London. Their corporation Love, Love, Love and Love takes away their employees' names and replaces them with "Love" followed by a number.
  • Inverted in ""Souls in a Vacuum"". The Paragons' Path was an artificial religion created by memetic algorithms. It's completely open about that fact, and is designed for maximum benefits of its followers and the world at large.
  • In an alternate future to the Expanded Universe of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, a large number of people in the "Bajoran Ascendancy" worship the True Prophets in the True Celestial Temple, a second wormhole that leads to the Grigari Meld in the Delta Quadrant. Most of these people are brainwashed by the Grigari, but the Grigari themselves are true believers—because the True Prophets want to reduce the universe to a mathematical abstraction.
  • Star Wars Legends has the Potentium Heresy, a Sith lie which says that dividing the Force into good and evil is too simplistic and that as long as you listen to the Force, everything will work out for the best. It actually catches Han and Leia's son, though he doesn't teach Luke's son about it.
  • The Ahrimanites in Tranquilium are eventually revealed to be led by American secret agents aiming to monitor and control the situation on Tranquilium, whilst utilising "occult"-seeming ancient Atlantean magical practices.
  • Victoria has an unusual type, a neo-pagan cult that worships Astarte. While this does not sound evil on the face of it, the group is always shown as subversive and hostile to the Victorian state and its culture, which is conservative and Christian. The Victorians retaliate with a veritable inquisition, outlaw the religion, and have the senior priestess of the cult burned at the stake. Keep in mind that the reader is supposed to root for the Victorians.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Colony has the Greatest Day church, a movement which preaches that the alien Hosts are actually benevolent and that their conquest and occupation of Earth was really for our own good, as it will lead humanity to paradise so long as they do as they're told. Near the end of Season 2, Snyder flat out admits that it's a sham designed to indoctrinate people into being obedient.
  • The Robot Religion in Red Dwarf is a Played for Laughs version of the "force the subjects to never attempt to rise in station or do anything but what they're told" version. It was very obviously invented by Divadroid International to convince AIs that if they did as they were programmed, they would be rewarded in Silicon Heaven.
    Kryten: It's common sense, sir. If there were no afterlife to look forward to, why on Earth would machines spend the whole of their lives serving mankind? Now that would be really dumb!
  • Runaways (2017): The Church of Gibborum is a Church of Happyology that appears to be a friendly charity organization that worships a cosmic "Spectrum" of color and light. The current leader, Leslie, is using it to sacrifice runaways to revitalize the immortal Jonah. Leslie's daughter, Karolina, is a main character and portrays the religion positively despite the dangers of the church itself. It's repeatedly implied that Leslie's father founded the entire church to worship Jonah in the first place, though he's normally spoken of in metaphor, so most people don't know the real purpose.
    Leslie: It's my church!
    Jonah: And it's my religion.
  • Stargate SG-1:
    • "Hallowed are the Ori". The series implies in the final season that Origin is a largely benign religion, possibly one followed by some Ancients before their Ascension, and that the Ori are corrupting it and using it as a tool to control their followers, some of whom realize this and are extremely angry but are largely powerless against the Ori and their Priors. Daniel Jackson, having read the Book of Origin, quotes passages that seem to contradict the Ori forces' actions from time to time, which never works. Likewise, Ori worshipper Tomin calls a Prior out on his twisting of Origin, signaling the start of his Mook–Face Turn. After the Ori are killed, in Stargate: The Ark of Truth, their former subjects take up Origin as a legitimate religion, albeit with some changes. "Can you take out the parts about burning people alive?"
    • We also see snippets of the Goa'uld religions which suggest that they're trying for the vibe, but due to the Large Ham Chaotic Stupid nature of the Goa'uld, they mostly come across as straight-out Religion of Evil (a large portion of the Jaffa population was loyal more out of fear of getting their brains melted rather than any genuine spiritual devotion).
  • Star Trek:
  • In the third season of Weeds, a new suburb called Majestic which ultimately absorbs Agrestic in a kind of weird symbiosis springs up next door. The community is centered around Absolute Truth Ministries, an ecumenical, quasi-Christian megachurch which exists to propagate a religious conservative ideology and fleece its congregation and the community for everything it can get (the massive sign on the complex not-so-subtly highlights its acronym, ATM).


    Mythology and Religion 
  • According to some interpretations of The Bible, The Antichrist will create one of these religions.
  • Hindu Mythology: After being destroyed by Shiva for causing mayhem in various worlds, the monster Tripurasura seemingly retained his memory after going through however many reincarnations that took to become the masquerading demon Mahamada and tried to start a religion based around members of the Trimurti becoming his servants. When people caught on to the fact it was a lie, Mahamada departed to a foreign land and set out to start a demonic religion, based around corrupting the very idea of religion.

    Tabletop Games 
  • ComStar in BattleTech, who maintain humanity's Subspace Ansible network, act as neutral mediators, and maintain a quasi-religious presentation. ComStar also spent some 200 odd years actively sabotaging efforts to recover Lost Technology, assassinated scientists, blew up factories, engaged in countless False Flag Operations, and hoarded every piece of tech they could find to fulfill some prophecy. When ComStar became secular (following a coup after the ruler tried to take over all of known space), the more radical elements broke off and formed the Word of Blake, which didn't try to hide its intentions at all.
  • Every new cult or religious sect that gets a mention in CthulhuTech is actually just a front to indoctrinate the vulnerable into cults worshipping evil horrors from beyond. But the game has "Cthulhu" in the title, so what did you expect?
  • Okay. Follow this closely. Deadlands has more Cults than you can shake a jackalope's foot at, and at least a few of them masquerade as legitimate religions. Then there's the most visible example and/or subversion, the Church of Lost Angels. Beginning as a standard Protestant sect, many people suspect the Lost Angels' leadership to at least be involved in power grabs centering on the scarcity of food near the eponymous City of Lost Angels. (It's amazing how much someone listens when you're giving them the only hot meal they'll have all week.) Then there's The Reveal: the "hot meal" is made of people, and their raison d'etre is the corruption of the unsuspecting. Two centuries later, though, the Angels are most definitely on the side of, erm, angels. Subversion? Inversion? Double Subversion? You decide!
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • Eberron:
      • The Trope Namer is the Path of Inspiration, the state religion of Riedra, created by the quori forces of the Dreaming Dark to both oppress the masses and help empower a great evil. The Path emphasizes peace, diligence, and doing what you are told. The people are separated into racial castes (with the Chosen, the bred vessels of the quori, at the top), and told that if they serve well in this life they will reincarnate as a better race in their next life; coincidentally, this encourages people to keep their heads down and do their duty without complaint. The books go out of their way to stress that life under the Path of Inspiration is not bad at all: its followers lead a life of relative peace and sanctity. The only major points of contention from the point-of-view of an informed outsider are the whole "tricking followers into helping empower a great evil" bit and the part where followers have no personal freedom or even concept of entertainment (and those who do try to resist tend to disappear).
      • The Blood of Vol from the same setting is a lesser example. To the common man, it is a slightly creepy but otherwise okay religion that views blood as a gateway to immortality and venerates undeath as a great martyrdom for the sake of teaching others (as in Eberron, undead creatures are not Always Chaotic Evil). Considering that the afterlife of Eberron consists of a drab wasteland that slowly erases your memories until you're a mindless wandering shade, you can see where they're coming from. The truth is a little harsher: the Blood of Vol is actually being manipulated by Big Bad Erandis Vol in order to advance her agenda in Khorvaire, with the actual dogma being an altered form of House Vol's beliefs preserved by elves fleeing Aerenal. Even then, Keith Baker emphasizes that Vol didn't actually create the religion and is barely in control of it; it was a natural evolution of the Vol beliefs.
    • The gods of Athas in Dark Sun are dead and gone, but that hasn't kept the sorcerer kings from spinning tales about their supposed "divinity" to keep their thralls docile and subservient.
    • This is the general state of religion in the Ravenloft setting when it isn't a straight Religion of Evil. Many Darklords will make up a religion to help control their subjects, such as Azalin Rex and the undead-worshipping Eternal Order, and some will just use a permutation of an existing faith for the purpose. The Nidalan church of Belenus is a real god but doesn't actually resemble the deity of Nidala (since the faith was founded by an ex-paladin of his, Elena Faith-hold). Although unconfirmed, religion of Yutow the Peacebringer also is very likely to have been made up by Valachan's Darklord, considering that it teaches extreme Anti-Intellectualism, acceptance of one's station in life, and reverence of panthers, which is useful for keeping the population ignorant, unmotivated to rebel, and not suspicious of the werepanthers the Darklord uses as his secret police.
    • A Dragon article about the Demon Prince Fraz-Urb'luu says he has two kinds of cult, and the most dangerous are the Cults of Deception. These pose as Lawful Good religions, do some actual good work in a desperate community, get some true believers, and then choose one follower a year who they manipulate into committing evil acts for what appear to be good reasons, before finally convincing them to volunteer for Human Sacrifice (usually by having an evil cultist seduce them, then claiming that cultist is the chosen sacrifice unless someone else takes their place).
  • Exalted:
    • The Immaculate Order qualifies as this. Instructing the masses never to attempt rising above their station impedes the development of exemplariness necessary for Celestial Exaltation. Furthermore, if any of them do reach those lofty heights, the faith has spent centuries spreading the false belief that they are Anathema, normal humans overwhelmingly and irrevocably possessed by demonic intelligences. Considering that when they were in charge the Solar Exalted went nuts thanks to the Great Curse and unknowingly threatened to bring the world to ruin, keeping more of them from showing up doesn't seem like an entirely bad idea... This, combined with the fact that it actually does tend to lead to a nice, happy community if followed correctly, makes it actually a bit closer to the version in Plato's Republic — a religion deliberately founded for the good of the people. Whether or not they actually succeeded is, as with many morality issues in Exalted, a matter of debate.
    • To provide a bit of black to the debate, we have the state religion of Skullstone, which was created entirely to produce a regular supply of soulsteel for the Silver Prince's ersatz First Age fleet.
  • The Brothers of the Morning Star in GURPS Technomancer are a superficially hippyish group who claim to grant followers magery through spiritual teachings learned from Ozymandius, the last survivor of an ancient Venusian civilisation, hence the "Morning Star" in the name. However, Ozymandius is not at all what he claims to be, and the name secretly refers to a different "Morningstar" entirely.
  • Hunter: The Vigil features the Knights of Saint George, ostensibly a secret society within the Anglican Church devoted to battling sorcerers because they believe magic primes the world for invasion by "dragons." As the members climb the ranks in the order, however, they slowly learn that the "angel" they supposedly gain their power from is actually a fragment of the Abyss, a rift in the basic concept of reality.
  • Mage: The Awakening:
    • The Seers of the Throne Ministry of Paternoster is devoted to making every religious faith as dogmatic and closed-minded (especially in regards to magic) as possible, in accordance with the commandments of the Exarchs. Notably, they don't want sleepers to directly worship the Exarchs, since they believe that for anyone other than a mage to do so profanes them. They also believe their own hype. All of it. They even have their own priests and ceremonies!
    • If you belong to certain Orders, you can actually run your own benevolent version. The Guardians of the Veil maintain Labyrinths, fake conspiracies and occult practices meant to groom worthy individuals into Awakening and shunt those not up to the responsibility into a tiny pocket of lesser occult knowledge. The Silver Ladder, meanwhile, runs Cryptopolies, mixtures between civic organizations and mystery cults (think Freemasonry) that are meant to teach Sleepers the lesser principles of Awakened wisdom before they come into the greater ones.
  • Magic: The Gathering:
    • On Ravnica, the Black/White Orzhov guild are known as the "Church of Deals" and built a religion in order to exploit their faithful and provide a support structure for their inner circle. Ravnica exists within a planar bubble that causes departed souls to be unable to depart to any sort of afterlife, so the guild's core tenet, when stripped of all its pomp and circumstance, is simply to provide a framework through which one can purchase a comfortable and stable eternity as a spirit — for the chosen handful.
    • Another Ravnica example is the Selesnya Conclave, at least when the plane was first introduced. They preached of togetherness, community, and the greater good whilst seeking to exterminate all individuality to achieve that goal, including using brainwashing to pacify its members and enforce loyalty to the guild. Zigzagged in that when this was revealed, the Conclave rebuilt itself from the subsequent wave of riots, lynching, and departures as a more sincerely benevolent organization.
    • There is also the plane of Amonkhet, where its sole city of Naktamun has, in the wake of the dead spontaneously rising everywhere upon death as ravening zombies, become a theocratic Martyrdom Culture, where everyone trains from childhood to undertake five dangerous trials, with the fifth one, the Trial of Zeal, being a fight to the death in which the last survivor is personally executed by their manifest God of Zeal. They believe those who die in this final trial will be transformed into exalted beings called Eternals, who will be revived in a new paradise when their God-Pharaoh returns; those who perish in earlier trials are made into mummified "Anointed" who serve as the laborers that keep Naktamun alive when its living population does nothing but train and battle. It's revealed that Naktamun's entire culture is a corruption of a once-a-year sacred rite that revolved around a singular Human Sacrifice, done by the malevolent dragon planeswalker Nicol Bolas, who has turned the plane's inhabitants into an industrialized generator for elite undead soldiers he intends to use to invade other worlds. When he finally deems the army large enough, he comes to Amonkhet to claim his army — and to annihilate the surviving residents of Naktamun.
  • Shadowrun:
    • The nice benevolent facade of the Universal Brotherhood hid a collection of bizarre alien insect-beings whose main purpose was to infuse insect spirits into its members. An orbital nuclear strike was avoided only because said nuke was delivered at ground level, unleashing horrible horrors into Chicago. And that was the good ending of this saga. Strangely enough, it's implied the Universal Brotherhood was an attempt at a benevolent Path of Inspiration before the bug spirits found it — an attempt to boil down religion to the root memes in an effort to provide a structure for humanitarian action and universal acceptance.
    • On an ever-so-slightly less evil note, the Mayincatec religion of Aztlan is a 'revival' of ancient religion by Aztlan intended a) as a tool of social control by replacing the Catholic Church in Latin America and removing a foreign power from their shores and b) a means of justifying and codifying the use of Blood Magic among the nation's elite.
  • In Transhuman Space, with memetics as a mature technology, many new religions have been designed to promote certain behaviours, not always the ones they claim. One of the most targeted is the United Way, a religion of civil disobedience and potentially violent martyrdom that was designed in the TSA as a weapon against China.
  • Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000:
    • Most chaos cults appear to be legitimate on the surface, not even as a religion, and both settings have a lot of people who are worshiping or aiding the Ruinous Powers without being aware of it. Recently joined an academic circle specializing in recovering lost knowledge? There a reasonable chance you're now working for a cult dedicated to Tzeentch. Are you an aristocrat who regularly attends the "social functions" of a new upper-class club? Chances are that you're now part of a pleasure cult. Joined an abnormally secretive and bloodthirsty iteration of the official church? You might now be in a Khornate blood cult. For those in the inner circles, however, it's plain Religion of Evil.
    • Straight up averted with the state church in both settings. Some denominations are more moderate, in that they emphasize things such as humility, hard work, and the like as being more foundational in their understanding of righteousness. But these denominations are rarer in that the mainstream of the churches in both the Empire and the Imperium are a naked Church Militant with a xenophobic and puritanical bent, and martyrdom and eliminating the physical, political, and especially spiritual enemies of the state and of Humanity are some of the most important tenets.
    • The Tau Empire's guiding principle of "the Greater Good" may or may not fall into this. The Greater Good is a secular philosophy, on its surface perceivable as either not-quite-Confucianism or a form of philosophical utilitarianism. The Ethereals, the spiritual and highest-ranking political leaders of the Tau Empire, guide them to make sure that deviate as little as possible and make sure that the Empire is always on the right side of history. Of course, some sources interpret the Ethereals and the Greater Good in a not-so-kind-light (with the blessing of the IP originator to do so). Ethereals may just be a bunch of hypocrites who gladly use indoctrination, reeducation, genocide, a surveillance state, and pheromonal influence to cover up the cracks in the Greater Good or where action departs from ideology, and that they may be in some ways be just as bad as the "barbarians" they need to defend themselves against or bring enlightenment to. While Tau generally prefer to use diplomacy and propaganda to bring new worlds and species into the fold without firing a shot, they have occasionally used military conquest or extermination not as a mean of last resort, and have employed commanders who would go to war with enthusiasm.

    Video Games 
  • In Arcanum, the Panarii were created as part of an extremely long game by K'an Hua and the Dark Elves. It's actually a Saintly Church, but its true purpose is to obscure historical events by turning them into religious mythology and recasting Arronax as evil so that people in the modern age wouldn't know that he was actually a powerful mage and anti-tech zealot whose wards needed to be maintained. That would cause the wards to weaken over time and eventually allow them to free Arronax.
  • The Ancient Conspiracy of Arc the Lad uses more than one strategy to Take Over the World. This is one of them.
  • In the Assassin's Creed series, Christianity itself is treated as simply a tool used by the Templars and their predecessors to manipulate the masses for their own nefarious goals with most religious figures in the series being primarily antagonists.
  • The Healing Church from Bloodborne was founded by students of Byrgenwerth College who saw the healing properties of the Old Blood from the Pthumerian Labyrinth beneath Yharnam and thought that it should be given as a gift to humanity against the wishes of their cautious teacher Provost Willem. The Healing Church uses the panacea-like old blood to form a stranglehold on Yharnam's government while using Yharnam's citizens as guinea pigs for their true goal; ascending humans (mostly themselves) into beings like the Great Ones. When it turned out that imbibing too much Old Blood turned people into werewolf-like beasts, the Healing Church created the Church Hunters to kill beasts (and anyone who looked like they might put two and two together) and started a propaganda campaign to blame foreigners for Yharnam's troubles and convince Yharmanites to keep taking blood treatments. By the time of the game, you can barely take five steps before tripping on yet another of the Church's crimes, and if it's not them, it's another splinter faction of the Byrgenwerth scholars.
  • Breath of Fire:
    • The Church of St. Eva in Breath of Fire II. 'Saint Eva' is actually Evandeath the demon overlord.
    • The religion of the Urkan from Breath of Fire III also somewhat qualifies. Though their god isn't exactly malevolent (just so overprotective of the world that she decided to commit genocide on a race that could destroy it, even though they were a very peaceful race), she is the final boss.
  • The Records of Fate in Chrono Cross were set up as a way for the residents of the El Nido archipelago to not only record what they did but also get any information they need. Naturally, this is all a part of the supercomputer FATE's plan to keep the people of El Nido (and you) in that area and never wander into the rest of the world that Chrono Trigger took place in.
  • The Church of Optimology from the Chzo Mythos, which by Yahtzee's own admission is Scientology in sheep's clothing.
  • The Circle of Thorns in City of Heroes are part this, part Ancient Conspiracy, and... well, they kidnap random people and have them possessed by ancient ghosts, and that's just the start...
  • Arguably, the "New Terran Myth" wonder in Civilization: Beyond Earth. Not even the people who created it can decide if it's a cynical power grab or actual divine revelation.
  • The Brotherhood of Nod from Command & Conquer are usually depicted as a quasi-cult with their leader, Kane, determined to continue the spread of the ecology-destroying Tiberium substance with the belief that it will advance the human race. It's even more so in Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars on a massively successful scale, getting a large chunk of 80% human population who live in the deserted Yellow Zones to go against GDI and work on his goals even further. Then subverted in the final installment, as in some cases, they were actually right.
  • Dead Space features the Unitologists... and their Marker, which unleashed a horde of zombies when the Unitologists began not only studying it but worshiping it (and the guy who found it). More generally, they're aiming for an Assimilation Plot they call "convergence" — but interestingly, they don't keep that part a secret. They just don't tell people that the assimilation involves getting murdered by bloodthirsty zombies and bonded to an undead necromantic Hive Mind. Dead Space 3 reveals that the markers were in fact created by a species of Eldritch Abominations for the purpose of reproduction, and that "convergance" is when the zombie population reaches critical mass and begins to form one.
  • The Diablo lore, expounded in tie-in novels, has two significant cases:
    • The Triune, the most prominent example, was an apparently benevolent church that was actually a front for the machinations of the three Prime Evils. Diablo became Dialon, the Spirit of Determination; Mephisto became Mefis, the Spirit of Love; and Baal became Bala, the Spirit of Creation. None of their lay believers had any idea that they were actually worshiping powerful demons who were the exact opposite of their Spirit counterparts.
    • Much later, the Black Road did much the same thing, but it was a more obvious Deal with the Devil situation.
    • Also, the Templar Order, an offshoot of the Zakarum that engages in torture and brainwashing of those it recruits into zealous and self-loathing warriors of the Light, is revealed in Reaper of Souls to have been formed as a response to the threat of both demons and angels, the latter part normally being a bad thing except that angels in the Diablo universe are not guaranteed to be on humanity's side due to humanity's nature as the children of both angels and demons. The evil part comes in when we learn that the torture and brainwashing were part of the order from the very beginning and that the Grand Maester wants to do this to every single citizen of Westmarch and beyond to turn them into Templars.
  • Religions created by the player in Dominion of Darkness can be considered this. They are player's tools in manipulation of Free People and struggle for world domination.
  • The Chantry of Dragon Age was founded by the Orlesian Empire, a xenophobic, aggressive nation that uses the Chantry to justify its violent expansionism. Kordillus Drakon, the founder of Orlais, also founded the Chantry with the stated belief that Andraste had tasked him with redeeming the world by spreading the Chant of Light. He conquered the other clans of Orlais, all with their own varying beliefs about Andraste, and forcibly converted them, even wiping out a pacifist cult with thousands of people. He then conquered and destroyed the native beliefs of Orlais' neighbors Ferelden and Nevarra before officially founding the Chantry, which codified Orlesian intolerance. Chantry doctrine states that the Maker will return to the world once the Chantry of Light is sung from the four corners of the earth, giving Orlais religious and moral justification for attacking other peoples, since anyone who is not part of their religion is, in their eyes, literally preventing God from returning.
  • The Cult of the Watchers seems to be the state religion of The Empire in Drakengard, though actually they don't even bother making pretenses of good intentions. They just straight-up brainwash all their subjects and anyone they capture. It's the quicker, easier way really. It's not a Religion of Evil because the "Watchers" they serve and worship are the same beings as the gods worshiped by the Crystal Dragon Jesus religion.
  • The Path of Inspiration of Eberron is seen by name in several high-level adventures in Dungeons & Dragons Online. Player characters with the True Seeing ability will see the not-so-diminutive Quori creatures, which animate and control the faithful, latched on the head of the Inspired. They preach out in the streets about their happy ol' church, with none (but the player characters) ever the wiser.
  • Dying Light: The Following. Good news, the priests are pragmatic bulwarks who protect the civilians of Harran by spreading a zombie cure. Bad news, Despair Event Horizon is an understatement to their grandmistress' emotional state. And she's been driven insane from the cure's horrific side effects.
  • The Elder Scrolls provides a number of examples. Much like real-world cults, each attracts members from the fringes of society with promises of purpose and paradise. To note a few specific examples:
    • Morrowind has the Sixth House Cult, a group that worships the Big Bad Physical God Dagoth Ur, who formerly led House Dagoth, the "sixth" Great House of the Dunmer (Dark Elves) in ancient times. The Sixth House Cult is primarily composed of House Dagoth members given Corprus-based immortality by Dagoth-Ur and Dreamers, normal Dunmer whom Dagoth Ur has contacted in their dreams and promised power. The Sixth House Cult's general doctrine is becoming partially divine through accepting Dagoth Ur's Corprus Disease (which turns most people into bloated abominations, but in believers Dagoth Ur can control its progress and manifestation, turning them into dangerous Ash creatures), but House Dagoth cultists tend to see the cult as a means of revenge against the Tribunal Temple for betraying Dagoth Ur (which may or may not have actually happened, but Dagoth Ur certainly sees it that way), and Dreamers see it as a way to force the Empire out of Morrowind. To be fair, Dagoth Ur isn't exactly lying to them; he does in fact plan on taking revenge against the Tribunal and forcing out the Empire, but to people free of Dagoth Ur's mental influence, those things are a very bad trade for becoming mutated slaves to a Mad God.
    • The Mythic Dawn in Oblivion see themselves as a sort of Religion of Necessary Evil; their dogma is that all of creation is based on a lie and thus corrupt from the start, and so must be destroyed to bring about a true, better one (this being the 'Mythic Dawn' the cult is named after), with the faithful being rewarded with Paradise for their service. What makes this a Path of Inspiration instead of a bog-standard Apocalypse Cult is that the cultists are also being lied to; their leader Mankar Camoran is only in it for his own power, quite possibly made up their dogma out of wholecloth, and "Paradise" (a minor Daedric Realm created using the Mysterium Xarxes) is a trap where people are tormented for eternity by Daedra.
  • The Children of the Cathedral from Fallout are led by an insane mutant made up of several people who wants to turn all humans into Supermutants.
  • Final Fantasy:
    • The Glabados Church from Final Fantasy Tactics qualifies, though one must both play through the whole game and read the Germonik Scriptures to get this whole picture. It also seems that even among the highest officials of the Church, few know of its true origin and purpose (though many of those who aren't aware are rather evil anyway). Simon, for example, rose to become one of Church's most powerful priests, before accidentally discovering the Germonik Scriptures and learning the truth. Their entire church is based on a lie. Their "god" is actually one of the most powerful of demons, Ultima. Thus, Glabados could be seen as both a Path of Inspiration and a Corrupt Church. The prequel Final Fantasy XII reveals that the false god's masters were demiurges, creating entire races for their research and manipulating them via religion and prophetic visions into waging war.note 
    • The Church of Yevon from Final Fantasy X was created to make people accept the periodic resurgence of Sin, formalize the stopgap method used to keep him at bay, and kneecap anything that could challenge the Yevon government (most notably the development of weaponized machina).
    • Most of Valisthea's religions in Final Fantasy XVI are centered around the Mothercrystals, living crystal mines that provide magical resources and protection from the Blight. Sounds like an obvious assumption, until Cid points out that crystals use up aether, and an aether shortage is what is found in the Blight, so logically the Mothercrystals are actually causing the current apocalypse. In truth, the churches have suppressed any thought processes about how the Mothercrystals work, while pushing everyone to mindlessly obey the kings controlling these crystals. The church in Waloed in particular has one ruthless purpose: convince everyone on the continent of Ash to lay down and die slowly to Akashic mutation so that their aether will be absorbed by the Big Bad and they can be used as attack zombies.
  • Grandia II:
    • You know that war that happened 10,000 years ago between Granas, the benevolent creator, and Valmar, the destroyer? And how Granas won? That was a bit of a lie. The truth is... when they both defeated each other, Granas was the one who died and Valmar was split into multiple pieces. And the highest members of church knew this and kept it from the general populace, to keep order. Furthermore, Granas and Valmar were never truly divine in the first place. They were merely scientists who unlocked the power to warp reality and used it to set themselves up as gods.
    • The pope lied to Elena about the reasons for gathering the remaining pieces of Valmar. It wasn't to kill him in one strike. The pope just wants to be the new reincarnation of Valmar. He succeeds... kinda.
  • Guild Wars:
    • The White Mantle straddles this and Corrupt Church. The founder of the White Mantle was a decent guy who wasn't aware the Mursaat were evil; by time that became apparent, the Mursaat had saved his people and taken him away never to be seen again. On top of this, once the Mursaat are beaten, it turns out they had been holding back an even worse evil.
    • The Charr had a different kind led by the entire caste of shaman. The Flame Legion used smoke and mirrors and copious amounts of magic to seem like they were Gods for the sake of controlling the rest of the legions, and were the ones who began the Searing and the war that followed. Players kill the Imperator and prove to Charr-kind that they're not divine, omnipotent beings, and as a result Charr finish the job and are Nay Theists by the time the sequel rolls around.
  • In the Halo series, the Covenant is both a religion and a caste-based interstellar empire incorporating multiple species. They worship the Forerunners, who they think Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence by means of the Halos, and seek to recreate this "Great Journey." Unfortunately for them, what actually happened was that the Forerunners lost their war against the Flood and decided to go out by annihilating all non-indexed sentient life in the galaxy with the Halos in order to starve out the Flood. In fact, the short story Wages of Sin reveals that many in the Covenant leadership always knew that "the Great Journey" part of their religion was a sham. The Covenant also veers into straight Corrupt Church territory regarding its genocidal campaign against humanity; its High Prophets discovered humanity's connection to the Forerunners, and quickly sought to cover it up by all means possible.
  • The Cult of the Spider God in League of Legends. It's actually a front that Elise uses to lure in human sacrifices to said spider god (Vilemaw) in exchange for her own eternal youth and beauty.
  • The Divine Ascension in Pandora: First Contact is a religion based on social networking, used to collect data and blackmail their followers, at least that's how it started out.
  • Path of Exile: Chapters 5-10 reveal that every single religion was created in honor of gods who were actually driven insane from achieving godhood, a fact which was lost to history when The Devil saved the world by putting them all to sleep. Utula in particular deceives the player character into believing his god Kitava was the god of freedom, then helps Kitava awaken in Oriath and begin eating everything.
  • Morninglight from The Secret World is part Church of Happyology, part Mansonesque hippie cult, and they secretly worship an Eldritch Abomination (although most members are blissfully unaware of that fact).
  • Shin Megami Tensei: Since God Is Evil and every game features an apocalypse of some kind in this universe, Paths of Inspiration are boosted.
    • Shin Megami Tensei II offers us the Order of [The] Messiah. The guy they worship... let's say he was the former poster boy for God Is Evil. The Senate Elders? The Four Archangels. The Dark Messiah they're trying to create to summon the Millennium Kingdom? The Hero.
    • Persona 3: Strega sets up a death-cult to come and witness the inevitable yet breathtaking end of the world while eating popcorn. They told the truth about the Apocalypse Wow but lied about it being inevitable and painless, as the cultists are set to transform into shadows and attack the city's citizens to disrupt any help they could give to SEES.note 
    • Shin Megami Tensei Devil Survivor: The Shomonkai cult wishes to complete the Trials of God. Except they do this by worshiping the demon lord Belberith.
    • Shin Megami Tensei IV: The Church of the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado; for the most part, they're just indulgent monks who have to put up with arrogant Luxuors between their intimate moments with precursor technology... except their leaders are technically responsible for the demon-transformation plague because they genetically modified humans with Chaotic thoughts to mutate into demons. And in their ending, they choose to mass-murder Tokyo, you, and even themselves to ensure no further cultural ideas make it to the surface.
  • The Crystal Dragon Jesus faith of Trinitism in Skullgirls is an odd example. All evidence from the game itself is that people genuinely believe it, even its practitioners, and that it's seen as a force for good even by its clergy. However, playing through Double's storyline reveals the sinister truth behind it: the three goddesses that Trinitism worships are evil, having created the Skullheart in hopes of one day producing a Skullgirl strong enough to destroy the world. Exactly why this is the case, isn't made clear, although playing Eliza's storyline implies it may be some kind of revenge gig, as apparently the Trinity used to be mortals themselves.
  • The Order of the One True Way from Suikoden Tierkreis believe in predestination to ridiculous levels, to the point of not running in terror when a townsperson is struck and killed by lightning because their leader said it would happen.
  • Tales Series:
    • The Church of Martel from Tales of Symphonia is a worldwide scam that normalizes the unnatural ebb and flow of the world's fortunes as a natural cycle solved by the Journey of Regeneration. It's also a complicated scheme by the Big Bad Yggdrassil to produce genetic copies of his deceased sister across millennia of careful breeding, then have these "Chosen Ones" give up their bodies so his sister can be resurrected. That said, the spoiler-tastic portions of this trope are restricted to the innermost circle of the Church: the rest of its members are either faithful believers who don't know any better, or corrupt in a more mundane, power-hungry sense.
    • Tales of the Tempest looks like it'll be this, but the church is actually good, and the pope was being manipulated.
  • In Terranigma, the disciples of Beruga believe that he will create for them an earthly paradise in which they shall no longer fear death. When the hero descends into Beruga's castle, he discovers a laboratory where robots experiment with biological agents, supposedly for the purpose of prolonging life and curing diseases. This sounds like a justification for Withholding the Cure, but the cure is never really mentioned again, though the disease is successfully weaponized.
  • The Order of the Mechanists in Thief II: The Metal Age. The Mechanists want to spread advanced technology to improve life and inspire progress in The City. Father Karras wants to kill everyone because he believes that machines are the chosen of the Builder.
  • The Fellowship from Ultima VII are rather obvious about this, having been created by the Guardian for the purpose of subverting the virtues and turning the Britannian people against Lord British and the Avatar. And, you know, summoning an omnicidal demonic monstrosity into the world. The inner circle is all about ritualistic murder of anyone who gets in their way, and all of the section leaders (except one) are in on it.
  • World of Warcraft:
    • Depending on who you ask, the Scarlet Crusade is either this or a Corrupt Church. The depends part, hinges on whether you believe the founder of the sect-Alexandros Mograine-was a good guy or not: and whether you think the internment of the orcs following their defeat in the Second War was justified or not.
    • The Light in general is portrayed this way in the Maghar Orc allied race campaign. And the behavior of X'era the Lightmother certainly backs it up. Whether or not this is actually true, is a matter of much debate among the fans though.
  • Xenoblade Chronicles 3: Downplayed. The soldiers fighting the Forever War wouldn't really understand the concept of religion if someone tried to explain it to them, but the core of the war ends up looking like a religion, albeit a rather simple one. Both nations have a Queen who, in a Teenage Wasteland, serve as both god and mother; the Queens are said to be the source of all life, and all life returns to them in the end. The only duty of the soldiers is to kill the enemy to honor their Queen, and their highest honor is surviving their full ten-year lifespan, dissipating into ether motes in a ceremony witnessed by the Queen. Of course, the heroes discover early on that the war is utterly meaningless and perpetuated by the Moebius consuls for their own purposes, and soon after that they discover that the Queens are nothing but robots spouting Moebius propaganda. However, there is some truth in the religion. The true Queens who the fakes were modeled after, Queen Nia of Agnus and Queen Melia of Keves, were the leaders of two separate worlds on a collision course. They worked together to create Origin, a massive supercomputer that would save both worlds. Origin was hijacked by Moebius, locking the world into a perpetual stalemate, and Melia was captured while Nia went into hiding. Because of all this, when the true Queens reveal themselves, it takes minimal effort for them to rally both nations to fight Moebius.
  • Xenogears: The "Ethos". They're a church that purports to offer aid and salvation to the unfortunate, and that exterminates the mutant "Reapers" or "Wels" that appear in the world and threaten humanity. However, it is in fact a front for the nation of Solaris, to keep the humans living on the surface docile and under control, and to furnish Solaris with excavated resources and slave labor. Oh, and they also are involved in deploying and keeping track of the Wels as well as exterminating them.

  • Averted and lampshaded at the same time in this Adventurers! strip. A character mentions a church, which instantly worries Karn until she specifically assures him that it's not a front for an evil mind-controlling organization.
  • The basic shtick of the Luminositan Church in Errant Story, founded on a Deity of Human Origin which its priests use to keep the country of Veracia under their thumbs. (In fairness, it was the magical energy pumped into Luminosita that had much to do with Veracia becoming a world power to begin with, and we're not sure yet that Luminosita is of human origin, but he certainly isn't one of the "real" gods of the Errant World.)
  • Hellgasm Slaughter: The world is so crapsack that God was the original path of inspiration. To get into Heaven, you have to fear God; love and sin are irrelevant. God's angels then torture you for ages to siphon off your soul's fear-based energy, and turn what's left of you into a drug-addicted battery.
  • In Homestuck, Gamzee's cult worship of the "Mirthful Messiahs" is seen as a harmless highblood affectation. However, at least one of the Messiahs is actually Lord English. Due to Weird Time Shit, it is ambiguous how many of the followers actually knew about this, but it's likely that it was used to fuel the highblood Subjugglators' campaign of, well, subjugation of lowbloods.
  • The Way in Juathuur. It actually ensures that juathuur will not achieve power over men.
  • The Seven Demiurges in Kill Six Billion Demons are usurpers of Heaven, each forming their own cult to control the masses:
    • Mottom claims that she requires young ladies as handmaidens. They're ritually sacrificed to a Tree of Life so she can indulge on the fruit of immortality.
    • Inverted with Mammon's cult: they're an army of thieves and whores whose initiation is to survive the gauntlet of deathtraps guarding Mammon's treasure vault. Except once they reach Mammon (usually through defeat and capture), they quickly learn that the Fog Of Ages has whittled his mind away to a senile cheery calculator, and they swear to protect the god and the humble-highborn families who grow dirt farms on top of mountains of gold coins. Subverted when Mottom crashes her flying palace straight into Mammon's treasure vault, driving them all into crazed vengeance with spear chainsaws.
    • Solomon 'tries' to maintain his humanity, but his kingdom is run on Nepotism, he changes laws to his preference, and he's planning to leave his kingdom behind to follow Zoss on the path to enlightenment.
    • Gog-Agog offers her subjects eternal beauty if they link to her Hive Mind. Then she eats them.
    • Incubus offers people Determination so they can fix their own problems. Trouble is, the loaned DT eats them from the inside until they are left bitter, rotting shells.
    • Downplayed with Jadis and Jagganoth, who have cults of fanatic zealots willing to die for their gods, but don't care if their followers learn the truth and are eager to explain their true motives to anyone willing to listen. Jadis is literally a goddess of truth, as her mind was warped beyond repair by witnessing all of space-time at once and thus cannot speak anything but what is always factually true, but her worshippers tend to misinterpret her (nihilistic) teachings, lie about them, or delude themselves. Jagganoth's selling point is simple, hedonistic pseudo-nihilism; we're all going to die one day, even the gods, and even if we're reincarnated, every last memory of what exists now will be obliterated. Now, Jagganoth is planning to fix the multiverse, but cannot allow anyone from this corrupt era to live in this new paradise and even plans to kill himself when he's finished, so why not have some fun before the end?
  • The 'Angelo's Kids' organization seems to be this in Our Little Adventure.
  • Phantomarine: The church of Cheline is the only surviving religion in the post-apocalypse, and civilization prays to their goddess to save the world from a literal sea of undead. Anyone who actually meets Cheline in person, however, quickly discovers that she is a pathological narcissist who demonically possesses her priestesses and discards anyone who stops being useful to her. Sadly, as most of the world's population would sooner slit their throats than worship her 'evil' brother, she has a significant inner circle who will shut up and follow orders no matter what she does to them and their families.
  • The spirit's cult in The Phoenix Requiem didn't start as one, but became one once its origins were forgotten.
  • Slightly Damned: Four of the six warrior-caste angels shown have crippling anger issues due to their fervent belief in Gaia, the goddess of love and peace, and her 'edict' to wage genocidal war on demonkind to defeat her archnemesis Syndel, the God of Evil. Nobody knows if Gaia was rotten all along or when the Council of Angels seized control of Heaven, but Gaia and Syndel have been absent for the past 15 years, with Death going on a quest to find them, and Heaven has turned into a fluffy police state with its enforced caste system and overpowered military. Meanwhle, Hell is currently under the religious control of a fake Syndel, who looks like an angel of all things, but most of the demons are convinced he is the real thing because he is apparently immortal and can use all four kinds of elemental magic. His ambition is to seize control of the Evil Power Vacuum left behind by the three gods and take over the universe, not caring about how many people - including his followers and his former brothers - he gets killed.

  • The Oracle Machines in Orion's Arm ran one of these. As godlike AI, they were able to convincingly fake the power to see the future, which they used to establish a cult around themselves. While seemingly benign, the cult was actually nothing more than a mechanism meant to keep humans and their descendants in a stagnant, easily controlled state. Eventually, the Oracle Machines dropped the pretense completely and resorted to open imperial conquest.
  • The Fifthist Church in SCP Foundation materials is a textbook example. On the outside, it's a harmless celebrity cult with a Secret-esque self-help book as its centerpiece. When given free rein, they very nearly destroyed the world.

    Web Videos 

Alternative Title(s): Conspiracy Religion, Evil Church Disguised As Good