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Religious Horror

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"God doesn't love you. Not like I do..."
Val, Outlast II

A Sub-Genre of Horror that relies on presenting the motifs of a real-life religion as fact within the story's universe. In Western examples of this subgenre, that religion is normally Christianity.

Satan is the Big Bad in a typical Religious Horror story, although he's rarely shown. He is mediated through a human vessel, such as a Creepy Child or a degenerate rock musician. Sometimes Satan is not much or even at all present in the story, but is instead a distant force of evil responsible for the actual Big Bad in the story. The protagonists are usually innocent people trying to live ordinary lives, not sensing anything wrong until their daughter or son starts speaking in someone else's voice, using foul languages she or he never studied, spewing Finnish pea soup, and/or chanting Satanic praises. Members of the clergy (most likely the Catholic variety; in this case it is justified by the fact that the Catholic church, of all the few that employ exorcism, is the most noted, although it does so very rarely) intervene eventually, with varying degrees of success. If there are human villains, they're evil cultists who facilitate the Devil's activity on Earth (or, rarely, the Puritans of Salem, Massachusetts, if the author is less favorable toward organized religion in general). A variation is a woman giving birth to Satan's child. This type of horror is often written just to cash in on the popularity of The Exorcist and Rosemary's Baby.

Another perspective, more common in recent years, is an inverted one, that of how God Is Evil; the fire and brimstone Disproportionate Retribution aspects of the Old Testament god are built upon to depict Him as the Big Bad. God Is Evil stories have an overlap with the Cosmic Horror Story, as God is often described as alien, omnipotent, invincible and whose nature is impossible to ever comprehend, in a very Lovecraftian style. Our Angels Are Different is usually in effect, with the angels being portrayed as alien and far removed from humanity (it helps that depictions of angels in the Torah and the Old Testament get quite freaky).

Occasionally, the story revolves around a Religion of Evil that has nothing to do with Satan, which may or may not replace him with a Satanic Archetype or an Expy in the form of a God of Evil. Even if these are more imaginative in their concepts than the Christianity-based works, they are not necessarily more bizarre.

Very rarely, you get a film that actually bothered to do the research, and includes horror either from the point of view of some religion other than Christianity, or more commonly, have another religion as an antagonist (or even more rarely, do both). In the former cases, even if the movie itself is bad, the concept is very interesting. In the latter case, it ends up a variant of type 2, with the added problem of sounding like something from Chick Tracts. (Alternatively, the "enemy" religion can be shown to not be bad in and of itself, with the problems primarily being caused by a group of whackjobs who take it WAY too seriously and/or feel threatened by the existence of the protagonists' religion and act accordingly, although this again veers into Type 2 territory.)

See also Cosmic Horror Story, which, as said previously, tends to show up in type 1. If a Cosmic Horror Story's Eldritch Abomination is worshipped as a god, then the story can fit into the second type. Folk Horror is a subtrope focused on "folk" or pagan "old ways".

See also The Bible.


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Christian examples

    Anime & Manga 
  • Angel Sanctuary, which is also a subversion in that the demons are neither good nor evil and the Big Bad Rosiel is an angel working for God Himself.
  • Blue Exorcist is one where the main character is Satan's son who sets out to kill Satan after he kills his adoptive dad.
  • Chrono Crusade was meant to be this, with the main character being an exorcist, but while still a wonderful story, it is not as scary as it was intended to be.
  • Devilman, where a teenager must become a half-demon Superhero in order to fight off Satan's hordes, may well be the codifier for this trope in Anime & Manga, having come out in 1972 and introduced many in Japan to Abrahamic legends, and would go on to inspire works like the below-mentioned Evangelion.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure:
    • Stone Ocean: Pucci's Made In Heaven invokes elements of the Book of Revelation, specifically, the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, with the Horseman of Conquest coming to mind. Given that Pucci's plan is bring forth a universal end/restart, it's thematically appropriate.
    • Steel Ball Run: It is revealed that the cross-country race is part of Funny Valentine's agenda of collecting the scattered corpse of Jesus. After combining them together, Valentine's D4C evolves and create an effect which draws good fortune toward him and casts misfortune onto innocents, playing on miracles in the New Testament.
  • Kichikujima- Kichikujima is based around many movies about cults mixed with mutant and supernatural based around a family on an island leading a cult.
  • For Western audiences, Neon Genesis Evangelion primarily because it takes Christian/Jewish symbols traditionally associated with good (crosses, Angels, haloes, etc) and uses them in what is otherwise a Cosmic Horror Story.

  • The right half of the Sistine Chapel's altar painting sees dozens of life-like characters drawn with all of Michelangelo Buonarroti's expertise being dragged into pits of fire by hideous demons, with terror plain on all their faces.

    Audio Plays 

    Comic Books 
  • Batman villain Deacon Blackfire, who originally appeared in the miniseries The Cult, wasn't originally Christian, but when he reappeared in The New 52 (the original Blackfire died when his cultists turned on him and tore him apart), he had been changed into an evangelist leading a cult out of Arkham Asylum. This version is also killed by his followers when he refuses to kill himself to prove his piety.
  • Dylan Dog often features literal devils and multiple Hells directly interacting with our hero for various reasons (one in particular seems to have had his subordinates deal with him so often he just wishes for anyone else to be an enemy).
  • Many of the early one-shot Hellboy stories revolve around this, particularly The Chained Coffin. Has become less prominent in recent years, as subsequent story arcs have revealed more of the Hellboy-verse's cosmology, which is more like a mix of Gnosticism & 1920s weird pulp fiction than Christianity.
  • Jour J: The Volume La Secte de Nazareth runs on this; New Testament figures are reimagined as terrorists and quotes from said testament are used to justify atrocities: They use greek fire to bomb major roman towns, slaughtering of non-combatants and are led by an un-martyred Jesus who looks distinctly like Osama bin Laden.
  • Lady Death in its original incarnation featured Christian elements with the main protagonist being a damned soul who usurped Lucifer's throne and became ruler of Hell, but not before being cursed with being trapped there unless all of humanity is wiped out. The following Armageddon would be a plot-point with Death clashing with the Forces of Heaven and the treasonous elements of Hell given this comic was published during the turn of the Millennium, but after 2000, the comic was rebooted as a Dark Fantasy that downplayed several of the religious elements with the demons and angels being present, but the setting wasn't necessarily Hell anymore, but another afterlife plane that was neither good or evil.
  • Garth Ennis's infamous Preacher, which is heavily influenced by Ennis's disdain for religion. The Christian God is a vindictive coward who willfully encourages the worst aspects in his followers, and cruelly manipulates people's lives to fit with his plans. He's also only Omnipotent while sitting on his throne in Heaven, which bites him in the ass when the Saint Of Killers finally ambushes him and kills him.
  • Many Son Of Satan stories are this, due to him being a half-human half-demon. The son of a mortal woman named Victoria Wingate and Satan (later retconned to be a high-level demon named Marduk Kurios), Daimon and his sister Satana were trained in magic by their father, before their mother figured out who he was and went mad. After she was institutionalized, Daimon and Satana were placed in different homes, with Satana eventually embracing her demonic heritage, while Daimon fought against it and fought against his father's evil forces, becoming an Anti Anti Christ.
  • Spawn derives heavily from Christianity, although it later brings in All Myths Are True. Whether a soul goes to Heaven to Hell is not dependent on morality, but through bartering between the two sides, who see most humans as cannon fodder, and both sides want the Ax-Crazy high-functioning psychopaths on their war rosters. The most obvious example is the use of God and Satan Are Both Jerks in the Armageddon story line, which takes the concept to nightmarish levels; God and Satan are literally exactly the same. They are both vicious, sadistic, petty monsters who regard humanity as nothing more than toys for them to break. At the end of the storyline, the devout Grandma Simmons can only spit vehement denials as to God's claims to be God, weeping that the "evil, monstrous child" cannot be the benevolent savior she has believed in all her life. Technically, she's right. Realistically, the True Creator still doesn't care that much.
  • Tex Willer, being a Western, doesn't normally deal in this... Unless Mefisto or his son Yama are around, as he's a warlock that derives his powers directly from the powers of Hell and has no problem unleashing all sorts of illusionary horrors. It's implied and eventually shown that Mefisto could do much worse... But he's well aware of the horrific risks and price involved and won't dare unless he knows it's the only way to survive a dangerous situation.

    Fan Works 
  • Always Visible: As such, there is no horror in the work at all, but one of Galbraith's nightmares mentions a dark room in which mister chief inspector Schaeymoure read him a strange speech about believing in a criminal, after which it turns out that all this time it was a wooden mannequin made by doctor Baselard.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Alien³ focuses on Ripley crash-landing on the prison planet Fury 161, which is filled with XYY chromosome-only prisoners who use religion as a means to redeem themselves for their dark history of rape, murder, kidnapping, drug dealing, torture, assault, and child molestation. The Xenomorph comes off as more demonic and controlling than the ones from the previous two films, even mind-raping the prisoner Golic, an already disturbed man, into aiding it to escape a trap. However, most of the religious horror comes from the much longer Assembly Cut of the film, in which Dillon compares the Xenomorph to a herald of the apocalypse, which Ripley later agrees with, stating that if the alien ever got loose on Earth, it would be devastating. In the infamous unmade Vincent Ward 'wooden planet' version, it's outright said that the Xenomorph is a demon, and the ending blatantly rips off The Exorcist, with the character of Brother John dying exactly like Father Karras does; he even 'exorcises' the Xenomorph out of Ripley. To say that this would've outraged fans far more than the final film ever could is an understatement.
  • Angel Heart has some really creepy religious elements. It turns out at the end the entire plot was orchestrated by Satan himself, who hired Johnny Favourite to condemn himself to Hell.
  • Antrum is an interesting example of this. The framing device is that of a supposedly cursed movie that caused a number of people to die after seeing it. The internal story within the titular movie has two children trying to dig a hole to hell to save their dog's soul. The movie is purposefully vague as to whether or not they actually did manage to awaken something demonic.
  • Babylon 5:
    • In the direct-to-DVD movie The Lost Tales, a maintenance worker is possessed by what is implied to be a literal demon — specifically not the devil, rather a lower-ranking servant. Colonel Lochley calls an exorcist. In a twist, the demon wants to be exorcised... in space, a.k.a. "The Heavens". Lochley and the exorcist instead decided to ship his ass back to Earth first.
    • Given that B5's Earth has been visited by Sufficiently Advanced Aliens at least once for a sufficient timespan to leave their marks in the human genome in the distant past, whether the 'demon' was a literal one or whether literature in turn and the practice of exorcism were inspired by events caused by him and his friends — whatever kind of entity they might 'really' be — hanging out on the planet since who-knows-when remains somewhat inconclusive.
    • The Backstory of B5 does seem to imply that demons were memories left behind by the Shadows.
  • Babysitter Wanted (2008) has a babysitter who eventually learns that the man who has broken into her home is trying to kill her charge, who is the literal son of the Devil.
  • Bless the Child, starring Kim Basinger , features a Satanic cult trying to capture a girl with psychic powers.
  • The LDS-made film Brigham City uses elements of religious horror based on the LDS faith and puts them to work quietly in the background. This makes the film jarring to members of the LDS church without being over the top.
  • Everything in The Conjuring series. The Nun is obviously the most blatant example, but they all follow ordinary people who've been attacked by demons for whatever reason (they bought a house where a witch performed Satanic rites, a demon pretended to be their dead daughter in a Creepy Doll, their convent was bombed and reopened a portal to hell...) and need to rely on Christian rituals to get rid of them.
  • Constantine (2005) is the In Name Only movie adaptation of Hellblazer. The main villain is Mammon, the son of the Devil, and Catholicism is shown to be almost entirely correct.
  • The Day of the Beast follows a priest who has prophesized the second coming... of Satan.
  • The Devil's Advocate features Satan in the form of the head of a New York law firm, and the protagonist as his son.
  • End of Days, starring Gabriel Byrne as The Devil, and Arnold Schwarzenegger as the protagonist Jericho Cane, a retired cop.
  • Errementari, a tale about a man striking a literal Deal with the Devil and later going to Hell (in all its Hieronymus Bosch flavor).
  • The Exorcist is about a child who is possessed by a murderous demon, forcing the mother to try to convince the local church to give her an exorcism.
  • Eye of the Devil revolves around a Town with a Dark Secret — namely, it's a Satanic cult. The cult has taken on much of the iconography and symbolism of the Catholic Church, including black masses that look a lot like the regular Mass, and the use of crosses and Christian symbolism for their human sacrifice.
  • From Hell, starring Johnny Depp, based on the comic book series of the same name.
  • Hellhole (2022): An undercover cop joins a remote church as a priest to investigate reports of missing women and discovers the priests are conducting a ghastly satanic ritual in order to bring forth a new world order.
  • Holocaust 2000 (one of several films following in the wake of The Omen), which revolves around The Antichrist being born at the end of the second millennium and utilizing nuclear technology to bring about the apocalypse.
  • The House of the Devil deals with a babysitter and a group of Satanists.
  • Immaculate revolves around a young nun who discovers she's pregnant despite being a virgin and comes to realise her convent is hiding a dark secret.
  • The titular Mister Frost is a serial killer who, having been shuttled from mental institution to mental institution after being caught two years prior, reveals to the one doctor he's willing to speak to — one Sarah Day, who does not believe in religion — that he is actually Satan in human form. She initially dismisses his claims as the same nonsense as many patients who've come through the facility before have spouted, but it soon becomes clear he does have supernatural abilities. His Evil Plan is to make her believe in him to the point that she'll be willing to murder his Earthly form, which will ruin her life, all so he can regain the power he's lost in the last century due to people coming to believe that Evil is mental deviance or human cruelty rather than a force in and of itself. Interestingly, while Christian iconography does appear in the film, this Satan hearkens back to the Old Testament in that he doesn't want to conquer humanity, but rather regain his edge in the Cosmic Chess Game he plays with God.
  • In the 1999 film The Ninth Gate, book collector Dean Corso is called to retrieve a book of The Nine Gates, causing many scary things to happen such as people dying, Corso himself nearly getting killed by people who want the book for themselves for satanic purposes, and being followed around by a mysterious blonde woman only known as The Girl.
  • The Old Ways involves Cristina, an American woman, being possessed by a Nahuatl demon in the remote jungles of Mexico. Much of the movie's horror is derived from the contrast between the extremely modern, extremely Americanized victim clashing with the archaic Christian rituals and folk magic that subdue the demon. Notably, the ritual involves symbolically crucifying the victim, demon and all, in effigy, which clues Cristina in that the ritual doesn't exorcise the demon as much as it pacifies it through horrific violence against the host, which is the demon's goal.
  • Because of The Omen (1976), many people think that the name Damien means "demon". It actually means "tame", which is used in the story in the sense meaning "kill".
  • The Pope's Exorcist is a horror film based around a real life Vatican exorcist attempting to exorcise a demon from a young boy.
  • Prince of Darkness is about a bunch of theology students trying to stop the The Antichrist from releasing his father, The Anti-God. It's a sort of deconstruction of the Religious Horror sub-genre, because most of the characters aren't theology students. Instead, they're scientists of one kind or another, four or five of whom are under the direct tutelage of a physics professor who had been selected for a series of televised debates with a Catholic priest because of his philosophical beliefs on science. Those debates happen before the story begins, and the two characters seem to be very good friends when the movie starts. To be fair, when speaking of said professor, one student says that "he wants philosophers, not scientists", so it is a little open to debate or interpretation.
  • The Prophecy and its two sequels, The Prophecy II and The Prophecy 3: The Ascent, are about another war in heaven with Christopher Walken as the Archangel Gabriel.
  • The Reaping features the return of the Ten Biblical Plagues of Egypt, now returning to the modern-day American South.
  • [REC]: While the infection certainly has a biological aspect, the end of the first movie strongly suggests, and the sequel confirms, that Demonic Possession also has a part in it.
  • Requiem (2021): A Period Piece set in 1605 England during the witch hunts, exploring how any woman who in some way was suspicious or nonconforming (such as by being a lesbian) had to face the risk of a witchcraft accusation and the fate this brought.
  • Rosemary's Baby is the iconic story of a woman giving birth to The Antichrist.
  • Also the LDS-made WWII film Saints And Soldiers, in the context of Deacon's hallucinations (the only character implied to be Mormon). Understandable in that he accidentally killed a room full of orphans under the age of eight (and thus not accountable for their actions, making them unquestionable innocents) and a couple of nuns with a grenade while fighting Germans in a church, and is only being held together by his faith and desire to return home to his wife as he's dealing with his PTSD.
  • The Sentinel (1977): A woman moves into an apartment building that turns out to house the gates of hell.
  • The Shrine has an interesting twist. At first, the viewer believes the small Polish village is involved in Satanic rituals with Human Sacrifice, but it turns out that they are only exorcising the tourists who unknowingly approach a demon statue that possesses them.
  • Stigmata, starring Gabriel Byrne as the protagonist, Father Andrew Kiernan.
  • The Unholy features a woman named Alice who has the ability to perform miracles due to the blessing of who she believes is the spirit of Mother Mary. This film carries heavy themes of religion and faith, and explores the damage that could occur when a malevolent entity impersonates a religious icon.
  • Valhalla Rising, one of the many interpretations of the film has the Christians being punished by the Gods of nature for killing their worshipers.
  • The Wailing starts as a thriller taking place in a small Korean village, but the crimes are quickly rumored to be caused by something supernatural, and a Catholic priest as well as a shaman are called to defeat the source of the evil that has cursed the town. The director studied both Christianity and Korean shamanism thoroughly to be as accurate as possible, so that when the Japanese man reveals his true nature to the priest, followers of both religions would see him as the ultimate evil.
  • We Summon the Darkness is a subversion, and a satire of the "Satanic Panic" of The '80s. The "Satanist" villains are actually born-again Christians staging a fake Satanic murder spree in order to scare people back into the church.
  • The VVitch is set in 1600s New England, where a Puritan family is banished from their village and must set out on their own into the wilderness, where they are tormented by the title creature.
  • Witchfinder General is a Religious Horror movie in a religion-gone-bad sense rather than in a supernatural demonic horror sense. Indeed, there are no demons, devil cults, or any supernatural evil at all. Instead, the main driver of the horror is the corruption and cruelty of its main villain and title character, a Witch Hunter who engages in horrific torture and burning of innocent people for witchcraft.
  • In Zombie Cult Massacre, a sleazy cult leader pretends to be a compassionate man of God but is really in league with Satan, raising an army of zombies. It does not end well for him.

  • It's woven into the groundwork of "Sennentuntschi" what with the un-Christian-like behavior of the herdsmen, but some versions call special attention to it. In "Die Unze", a priest needs to get involved to banish the doll. In "Die Schintemunt-Alm", it's the fact that the men don't respect food as God's gift by play-feeding a doll that causes it to come to life. In "Die Puppe auf Klariden", the leader likens his creation of the doll to God's creation of humans and declares it not that big a deal.

  • The Blood of the Lamb starts out rather mild, with a priest (Peter Carenza) discovering that he was cloned from the Shroud of Turin, and as a result had the power to heal, walk through fire unharmed, and even raise the dead. But, after killing his best friend of jealousy, his personality becomes much darker, and by the end he manages to scare the ever-loving shit out of a pair of Jesuit assassins, kills the Pope, and has pretty much become the only candidate for The Antichrist.
  • Jeffrey Sackett's Candlemas Eve, a fun fiction novel about a rock band that adopts two self-proclaimed witches to add something unusual to the act. They turn out to be time-traveling Satanist Puritans who assumed the identities of two modern-day women because of some kind of curse that forced them to please Satan after their deaths. A faux-Satanic rock musician's kid and his friends let them in by casting a spell on Halloween.
  • The Cthulhu Mythos often falls into the Religion of Evil version below, but even its official stance is this. There is no God, nor is there a Devil. There are entities of tremendous power such that humans would call them divine and deific, but these entities, due to their power, have no more concern for humanity than humanity as a whole would care for a dust-scurrying bug. Morality is a human creation, and humans are most certainly not special. Humanity must make worth of their own life, they have no inherent worth as a race.
    • Also, more traditional gods do sorta exist, but only in the mystical Dream Land created from humanity (and all other sentient life)'s collective unconscious.
    • There is a creator deity known as Azatoth who is responsible for creating our universe, but he's not sentient in the traditional sense and exists as a formless mass of chaos outside physical reality. He's referred to as the "Blind Idiot God".
  • The Creepypasta The Devil Game is about how to summon the Devil - and how that ritual can go wrong.
  • Dennis Lehane's Darkness, Take My Hand features a trio of serial killers who model themselves on the Holy Trinity and crucify all of their victims before killing them.
  • David St. Clair's The Devil Rocked Her Cradle, a book that should probably not be sold as nonfiction. A young man kills his father, bruises a prostitute, rebels against his Catholic upbringing, becomes a thief, and hears demonic voices. He grows up to be an abusive husband whose daughter goes through on-and-off Satanic possession, especially after her newly widowed father starts living with his wife's sister. This leads her to projectile-vomit green stuff, recite Madness Mantras, and gesture obscenely at nuns and priests. (The book's preface even includes the pricelessly redundant line, "[T]his book is not intended to be anti-Christian or pro-demonic.")
  • Parodied in the Gaiman-Pratchett collaboration Good Omens.
  • Keeper of the Swords: a fantasy series with heavy religious horror overtones, set in a world that is nearing an apocalypse ordained by an evil Crystal Dragon Jesus, with the protagonist being shanghaied by unknown forces to accept the mantle of this world's Antichrist.
  • Graphic depictions of Rapture fiction like Left Behind and Christ Clone Trilogy series can easily become this, whether intended by the author or not.
  • Robert Anton Wilson's The Masks of Illuminati reads like a rather moralistic Religious Horror story right up until the very end, but if you're at all familiar with Wilson's other works, you should know that things aren't going to be that simple. Lets just say that it takes the Unreliable Narrator to new heights.
  • Demons drawn from Abrahamic cosmology represent the main villains in the Merkabah Rider stories. Then again, the Angels aren't that nice, either.
  • Older Than Radio: M.G. Lewis' Ambrosio, or the Monk subverts this trope.
  • The Mysterious Stranger is a very cynical take on this trope and, depending on one's interpretation of it, can also be considered a huge Take That! at Christianity.
  • Petaybee: Shepherd Howling's Nightmare Fuel cult is heavily influenced by Christianity, most evidently in the title "shepherd".
  • John Saul's Punish the Sinners is a subversion: the villain is not Satan, but the principal of a Catholic high school.
  • In the French thriller Le Serment des Limbes by Jean-Christophe Grangé, the protagonist is a French policeman who'se also a devout catholic. Non-reassuring near-death experiences feature heavily in the plot, and are interpretated by some as descending to Hell and meeting the Devil (a phenomenon named "the Oath of Limbos", which is what the novel's title refers to); various people who suffered from this ordeal and are referred as "the Lightless" later committed very gruesome murders under this influence. Some of the antagonists belong to a cult of Devil-worshippers named "the Enslaved", who track the Ligthless to extort a report of their near-death experience from them (to use first-hand testimony of meeting the Devil in order to write their own holy scripture). A scene where the protagonist meets and fights a party of Enslaved (described as looking sickly and grotesque) in Kraków drowned in fog reads like something straight from a horror novel.
  • Steven L. Peck wrote a short story, "A Short Stay in Hell", in which after death, a man is sentenced to a limited stay in Hell before he can go to Heaven. Of a multitude of hells, he is sent to a library filled with books of every possible combination of characters on a keyboard and tasked to find the autobiography of his life among the nearly infinite number of nonsensical volumes.
  • Many of Frank Perretti's novels have elements of this, one of the most prominent being, The Visitation.
  • The White People is a vastly more subtle example than most. The story combines The Fair Folk, Eldritch Location, Unseen Evil, and Children Are Innocent with references to classic narrative poems to create a covertly religious horror/Folk Horror tale. However, the frame story, in which one gentleman discusses the "infernal miracle" with a friend of his, reveals that Satan is afoot in the woods explored by the young heroine.

    Live-Action TV 
  • This trope is the very essence of Carnivàle.
  • Evil (2019) is about a trainee priest, a techie and a psychologist teaming up to distinguish between real and false hauntings and possessions; many of them turn out to be real and linked to a diabolical conspiracy to corrupt humanity.
  • A Haunting, which aired from 2005 to 2007, was a series of reenactments of "true" ghost stories.
  • Midnight Mass (2021) follows strange supernatural events occurring when a new priest brings upon miracles on a sleepy little town. The fervent religiosity taking over the town even as things begin to take a darker turn, as well as Beverly Keane justifying horrible things by quoting the scripture, are part of the horror.
  • Revelations (2005) was about an astrophysicist and a Catholic nun trying to avert the End of the Days.
  • Seasons 4 and 5 of Supernatural, what with the impending apocalypse and all. The forces of Heaven and Hell continue to be a problem afterwards, but the show eventually slides into an All Myths Are True mythology.
  • The X-Files had its share of this. All Souls is a good example.

  • Black Sabbath's "War Pigs" was originally written as "Walpurgis," which was recorded but never released. Hence, why "War Pigs" contains references to witches and Satan.

    Mythology & Religion 
  • The Ur-Examples of a lot of creepy religious tropes come from the Book of RevelationSatan figures prominently, among other nasty demonic beings, and lots of people die. In fact, Jesus himself is also described rather... eerily, being deathly pale and able to produce a sword from his mouth.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Demon: The Fallen is made for this. In the Crapsack World of the Old World of Darkness, you play a Fallen Angel that possesses the body of a human, not only potentially being a source of religious horror to humans, but also a victim to it, especially due to the Earthbound, demons that have become so debased over millennia that they became rather like dark gods or Eldritch Abominations that run on human faith. And just might want to enslave or eat you.
  • Vampire: The Masquerade had strong elements of casting Kindred as the Damned, starting with vampirism itself being a manifestation of the Curse of Caine, the first murderer. The very idea of Gothic Punk that Vampire codified was half-based in the visual elements of decaying cathedrals. Of course, this was dialed up with the Gehenna supplement, and the majority of scenarios end with God himself passing His judgement on vampirekind in some way (the only one that doesn't is instead about Lilith and Caine). The clearest possible example comes from the "Wormwood" scenario, where God sends a red star and miasma down to Earth to wipe vampire-kind quietly off the Earth, and only a handful of vampires are Chosen to take refuge in a broken-down cathedral for forty days (a metaphor for Noah's Ark) and prove that they are worthy to be allowed to live as humans.

    Video Games 
  • ANNO: Mutationem: Though the story takes place in a Post-Cyberpunk setting, there are various elements pertaining to this. The Eldritch Location called Limen is an enormous crater that brings out supernatural phenomena with a humongous cross emerging from its center when being surrounded by Creepy Crosses, the world of Hinterland itself has demented crosses over a hellish landscape, including skeletal marked crosses.
  • The Binding of Isaac is about a young boy (the eponymous Isaac) who hides in a basement filled with horrific creatures and Christian symbolism in order to escape his fanatical mother, who believes God wants her to kill Isaac as proof of her faith.
  • BioShock Infinite features a very twisted but still recognizable version of Christianity. Father Comstock claims an angel came to him with an order from God to build Columbia, a hyper-Christian-American xenophobic flying city that doubles as a superweapon, and use it to cleanse "the Sodom below". Since then, he has tried grooming his child Elizabeth, who is repeatedly referred to as "the lamb", to complete his holy task. Warped religious imagery is found throughout Columbia, most of its citizens are more than willing to kill and be killed if Comstock tells them to, and Comstock has total control over the government. The entire story only happened because an alternate version of Booker severely misunderstood the concept of baptism. Whereas Booker saw baptism as the fresh start it's supposed to represent, Comstock saw baptism as "all my sins are justified by God, and nothing I do is wrong".
  • The aptly-titled Blasphemous is built around the more morbid elements of Christianity (specifically Spanish Catholicism), particularly focusing on the obsession with guilt, penitence, and martyrdom. The world of Cvstodia abounds in warped Catholic imagery and faux Latin terminology, and lore reveals that the land used to be ruled by The Theocracy who preached a religion defined by the need to suffer endlessly to atone for one's inherent sinfulness. Then came the Age of Corruption, when the Grievous Miracle arose and transformed the land into a hellscape by warping its people into hideously maimed yet undying monstrosities as living manifestations of their guilt and their obsession with being punished for it. The player is presented with equal ambiguous evidence as to whether this happened because the Grievous Miracle is a cruel, sadistic monster, because it is lashing out at a Corrupt Church that tried to twist and exploit its power, or if it is merely genuinely trying to grant people their wishes... and in a culture obsessed with the need to suffer to prove their spiritual virtue, this is what people genuinely wish for.
    • The sequel, Blasphemous II, deals with a resurgence of the Grievous Miracle and a fresh wave of horror, mutation and madness. The Penitent One is revived from the dead to halt the efforts of the Miracle to spawn a new Dark Messiah to give it guidance and restore its rule over the land.
  • Castlevania:
    • The Castlevania: Lords of Shadow games have this as a central pillar of the story. The main character, Gabriel Belmont, is part of a christian warrior group called "The Brotherhood of Light", and the plot of the first game is about Gabriel trying to revive his dead wife and restore Earth's displaced connection with the Heavens which prevents dead spirits from moving on. It even turns out that the main antagonist is Satan, who appears in physical form in the story. His main goal is to gain the power of an artifact known as the God Mask, which he believes will allow him to challenge God, his father, as retribution for casting him out.
    • Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2: The brotherhood has been under the thrall of Satan's spawn for some time, and the Antichrist has taken over the church in Castlevania City. He has turned half the believers into Satan-worshiping madmen, who praise inequality, torture, and despair as their gospel. All those statues in the courtyard? Satanists who were live buried in plaster specifically to murder any supernatural threats to the Antichrist.
  • The world of Darklands is our 15th century Europe, except that the Catholic mythology is literally real (as are many other folk legends from central Europe). For one, the many Catholic saints featured in the game will actually listen to prayers if one is pious enough, bestowing all kinds of helpful benefits. Secondly, the game's Big Bad is Baphomet, one of the demons of later Christian mythology, who is using Satanic cults in an effort to bring on the apocalypse.
  • Don't Chat with Strangers: In the player character's room there is a cross on a wall. Turning it upside-down causes a big shadowy cross to descend into the room and eventually the player character appears crucified on it and slowly dies. The cross will invert itself during the conversation with the mysterious girl if you say that your favorite color is red (because that's the color of Hell), saying "jeez" (as in "Jesus Christ") or saying you don't like the Christian God.
  • The original Doom series features an invasion by the forces of Hell, who among other things love to Sigil Spam the faces of the Barons of Hell everywhere and have an Unholy Cathedral dedicated to whatever they worship. The Icon of Sin can be assumed to be something like Satan.
  • Trauma from The Evil Within is a hulking monster spawned from Ruvik's religious frustrations. Think The Incredible Hulk with arms nailed to a plank and wrapped in barbed wire (crucifixion and a crown of brambles, which tells us the religion Ruvik's frustrated with).
  • FAITH: The Unholy Trinity is about a priest that, despite lacking Vatican approval, returns to the site of a failed exorcism to finish the job, having to fend off monstrous and malevolent demons and Satanists in his quest to put the victim's soul to rest.
  • Lucah Born From A Dream features the protagonist wandering either limbo or a post-apocalyptic world. It's difficult to tell. Either way, the hellish environ definitely is the fault of the Church.
  • The Testament of the New Ezekiel in Outlast II, who are a religious cult of fanatical, child-murdering Christians possibly driven mad by a Murkoff experiment who kill every child that's born in the cult in order to prevent the birth of the Antichrist. And then there's their enemies: the Scalled and the Heretics, who are just as violently deranged.
  • Like its sister series, Umineko: When They Cry deals with this, only rather than Shinto it revolves around Western occult lore. Most notable are the Stakes of Purgatory (who all represent the Seven Deadly Sins), and the various demons from the Ars Goetia.
  • Wasteland 3 has a repeated motif of religion creating horror in a post-apocalyptic America. The Dorsey Clan is an early-game enemy faction that mixes Hillbilly Horrors with the horror of being a revivalist-style Christian doomsday cult movement. The Dorseys believe that the setting's nuclear war represented a second Deluge to purge humanity of sin (the Great Flood being the first) and seek to create a third Deluge (this one in blood, to contrast the one of water and the one of fire) by rigorous bloodletting of all non-Dorseys. The first boss in the game, Jarrett Dorsey, is set to a minor-key gospel version of the Presbyterian hymn "Are you Washed in the Blood?".
  • We Know the Devil presents the inverted perspective discussed, though it seems to follow the more conventional form at first. God is described as an oppressive, stifling presence who demands that the queer protagonists cast one of their own out for merely being a little worse. The devil, on the other hand, wants the characters to be free of the expectations forced on them. In the true ending, the characters embrace the parts of themselves they were taught to hate, and cast off their earthly forms, becoming the three worst girls since Eve.

    Web Animation 

    Web Comics 
  • I'm the Grim Reaper is a deconstruction of Protestant Christianity. It's set in a world where God was the first being in existence, and did create the universe, humanity, the Devil, Heaven, and Hell. Then it goes on to give explanations to why God would even care about a trillion pathetic humans, and the answer is horrifyingly apathetic, resulting in a monstrous world where corruption and eternal torment is not just tolerated but desired by God, all without Them being actively sadistic.
  • Silent Hill: Promise seems to be crossing into this, especially in the church.

    Web Originals 

    Web Videos 
  • Mandela Catalogue has shades of this, with the alternates implied to have been meddling with humanity since biblical times and the "Metaphysical Awareness Disorder" video advising people to avoid religion all together. Probably the biggest example, however, is the revelation that Satan has disguised himself as the Archangel Gabriel and has proclaimed himself as the true saviour to win humanity's trust so that he may conquer Earth with help from the shape-shifting Alternates.

    Western Animation 
  • Castlevania and its sequel Castlevania: Nocturne. In both series, there are Corrupt Churches that heavily relay on summoning monsters, performing sacrifices, planning on using Dracula's invasion to rebuild the world.
  • The Owl House at first seems to be an "Other Religions" example, as the Big Bad of the show is a theocratic emperor and prophet for a being called the Titan that make up the Boiling Isles. "Hollow Mind" reveals that Belos is actually a puritan witch hunter who co-opted the belief system of the isles (or created it wholesale) as part of his goal to commit genocide against the witches, which immediately reframes the very Christian-like aesthetics Belos has for most of the show.

Religion of Evil examples

    Comic Books 

    Film — Live-Action 
  • The Cabin in the Woods has a backwoods redneck torture family who worship pain itself, as well as a sadomasochist who is referred to as Fornicus, Lord of Bondage and Pain, who appears after the two surviving members of the Five enter the complex under the woods. In both cases, these individuals sought the sensations that torture promised them, both causing and receiving it to the point of deifying its very essence. Their prayers were eventually answered, by the true Old Gods who the Five sacrifices are intended to placate in the first place, who had some use for such devout worshippers. What they got was becoming the hunter in this sick cat-and-mouse game that the Gods demanded as a sacrifice.
  • Children of the Corn featured a cult based around "He Who Walks Behind the Rows," revealed at the end of the story to be a demonic-looking monster. In the movie versions, it's revamped to be an entire, nearly omnipresent (within and around the town) spirit whose influence increases when it starts to get dark. Though it is implied to be a devil-worshiping cult, it is never outright stated to be a demon or Satan. It's referred to with pronouns by those who don't worship it. The Dark Tower eventually revealed that He Who Walks Behind The Rows is another name for Big Bad Randall Flagg, who is also the main villain of The Stand and The Eyes of The Dragon.
  • The Facts in the Case of Mister Hollow follows the examination of a photo containing possible evidence of a Greco-Roman cult in Northern Ontario, connected with the disappearances of over one-hundred children. Though not Satanic in nature, the cult is explicitly presented as anti-Christian.
  • The Nordic pagan cult in Midsommar orchestrates some gruesome human sacrifices.
  • Not exactly treated as a religion of evil, but Voodoo is not framed in the best light in The Serpent and the Rainbow.
  • The original version of The Wicker Man has nature-worshiping pagans living on a small island in northern Scotland. The protagonist is a devout Protestant, and a bit of an asshole, but by the end, he's become very sympathetic.
    • Interestingly, the ending of the original was almost meddled to have it start raining, putting out the wicker man. This was cut because it clashed with the whole point. A deleted scene showed that the sacrifice worked, but it was deleted to leave the ambiguity in place.
    • Also interestingly, it arguably falls under an intersection of the first category and the third; the historic Celtic pagans, which the islanders claim to be, are recorded — admittedly by the Romans Caesar and Strabo — to have used "wicker man" sacrifice in the event of a bad harvest. It is certainly less disputed that the Celts practiced human sacrifice. There is a departure from what even the Romans record, though, in that there was no requirement that the sacrifice be a virgin or a representative of authority; indeed, it seems that the peoples who practised this custom sacrificed criminals and delinquents whenever possible.

  • William Gladstone's Cat's Cradle, which is about an ancient cult whose religion revolves around Half Human Hybrids. The cover is pure distilled Nightmare Fuel, and the novel itself is extremely violent.
  • Craig Skipp's and John Spector's The Scream, a novel that uses the Satanic Panic as a backdrop. The novel revolves around the titular rock band, which is accused of being Satanic, but actually serves a demon named Momma that the band's manager met in Vietnam.

    Live-Action TV 

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Warhammer 40,000 setting occasionally veers into this; there's an entire chapter of the Inquisition devoted to hunting down Daemons and banishing them back to the Warp, supported by a specially-trained chapter of the Space Marines.
  • Warhammer: Age of Sigmar: The titular god, Sigmar, is usually written as a God of Good, albeit a very pragmatic kind of good, since that's what's necessary to beat back the Chaos Gods. Having said that, it's been shown that while Sigmar might be good, he still has followers that become fanatical, self-righteous, and power-mad. The most noteworthy examples of this are Stormcast Eternals who Came Back Wrong; the Stormcast are supposed to be paragons of good and righteousness, but coming Back from the Dead chips away a little more of their soul every time Sigmar reforges them, eventually turning them into a Black-and-White Insanity Knight Templar. Imagine a golden warrior forged from the soul of one of humanity's greatest heroes, coldly butchering "rebellious" citizenry, sparing only those as fanatical and dogmatic as they are, all while praising their god in cold, hollow, emotionless voices. Thankfully they're the minority (especially compared to their 40k counterparts) and Sigmar is working to fix the problem, but it speaks volumes that one of the most terrifying things in the setting can, under the wrong circumstances, be its greatest heroes.
  • Werewolf: The Apocalypse features the religious tradition of the Black Spiral Dancers, a tribe of evil werewolves who worship the Wyrm (the god of decay and destruction). As a rite of passage, every member of the tribe walks through the Black Spiral Labyrinth, a spiritual dimension that leads them through through the Wyrm's broken mind and corrupts their body and soul. Book of the Wyrm and Chronicles of the Black Labyrinth provide information on Wyrmish theology and the elaborate pantheon of totem spirits, Urge Wyrms, Elemental Wyrms, and their Maeljin Incarna.
    • Some human Wyrm cults, such as the Seventh Generation and the Pretanic Order, borrow heavily from Black Spiral Dancer tradition.

    Video Games 
  • Bloodborne features the Healing Church. Despite being visually based off Gothic and Christian imagery, the Healing Church worships the Great Ones and uses magic blood that can cure any ailment to control the city of Yharnam, killing dissenters and being indirectly but knowingly responsible for the Scourge of the Beast ravaging the city. The Great Ones themselves (notably Oedon) are all notably and feverishly seeking out surrogate children without caring much for the well-being of humans or other life, and the Healing Church has also long been abusing their newly obtained abilities and the Great Ones themselves to try and keep themselves in power; it doesn't end well for the latter.
  • Kirby Star Allies, of all games, features an Apocalypse Cult as the main villains of the story. When Kirby and friends finally encounter the Big Bad, Lord Hyness, their light-hearted adventure about The Power of Friendship turns deadly serious as the cult leader rants insanely about taking revenge on the Ancients who banished his cult to the edge of the galaxy by summoning up Void Termina to destroy everything. The ensuing battle is chock-full of creepy gamelan music and other assorted Nightmare Fuel, and even when Hyness is beaten, he still has enough left in him to perform an onscreen Human Sacrifice of his own followers and himself! You know, for kids!
  • Resident Evil 4, the Los Illuminados cult mixes this with traditional zombie-styled horror.
  • The Silent Hill games have this for the Type 2 cult that summons/awakens the town's latent evil. In the third game, when the deity/demon The Order worships appears, the main character whimpers "This is God?".
  • The Tal'darim from StarCraft II is an ancient Protoss cult that knowingly worships Amon and expects him to hold his part of the bargain and ascend the strongest of the Tal'darim into hybrids. Subverted in Legacy of the Void: They (except Highlord Ma'lash) had no idea Amon was not going to keep his word. Once they find out, they pull a Heel–Face Turn.
  • The Payasos from Wasteland 3 are a church of Monster Clowns, driven mad by the apocalypse. They believe the atomic cleansing of the Earth was the greatest joke ever played on mankind, and take nihilistic glee in re-delivering the punchline to anyone still left standing in the audience — which is to say, you and everyone else in reach.
  • Xenogears:
    • There is an entire Religion of Evil to start with, but it goes From Bad to Worse towards the end when you discover Deus, creator of humanity, is a malevolent interstellar weapon who created humanity to repair his organic parts.
    • Somewhat closer to Type 1, Deus, despite being responsible for creating most of that planet's human population, turns out to be a false god. The real "God" shows up in the form of the enigmatic "Wave Existence", who created the whole universe... apparently by accident, which, in some ways, is even more terrifying, especially since he has no particular interest in His creations and just wants to go home. He's not a bad guy, though, and does help our heroes along eventually.

    Web Originals 
  • Archangel from The Fear Mythos embodies this for all religions. He is the afterlife and the only way to not become his slave after death is to sell your soul to the Slender Man — which is hardly a better alternative.
    • This was also a central theme of The Refugees, a Slenderblog revolving largely around a Fundamentalist Christian sect who believed the Slender Man was an angel. It was the central theme of supplementary story The Transcend Manuscript.
  • Again, the SCP Foundation have a few of these, most notably SCP-231-7.

Other Religion examples

    Anime & Manga 

    Film — Animation 

    Film — Live-Action 
  • The Taiwanese film Double Vision is a religious horror in a Taoist setting.
  • The Dybbuk is based on Ashkenazi Jewish folklore, about a woman who is possessed by the spirit of her dead beloved.
  • Feng Shui (not to be confused with the tabletop game of the same name) is a movie of Taoism in the predominantly Catholic Philippines. A woman finds a ba gua mirror, which brings her luck, though the source of her good luck is a tradeoff, sacrificing her neighbors and loved ones in order to bring her material fortune.
  • Ghouls (2008) is from the perspective of Celtic Druids.
  • The Golem is a Jewish horror movie about what happens when someone tries to channel the power of God through the kabbalah without the ability to control it.
  • Jigoku, a very graphic depiction of the horrors of Buddhist Hell.
  • The Possession is all about demonic possession and exorcism. This time, it is with a Jewish theme.
  • Svaha: The Sixth Finger is about a Catholic priest who specializes in exposing cults and religious scam artists. He winds up uncovering a particularly evil, murderous cult that is an offshoot of Buddhism.
  • The dark side of hoodoo is explored in The Skeleton Key.

  • A Wolf in the Soul presents a werewolf story from the point of view of Orthodox Judaism.

    Live-Action TV 

    Tabletop Games 
  • KULT is based on a very dark take on Gnosticism, heavily emphasizing the concept of the world being a lie and a prison meant to keep humanity ignorant and hobbled as well as the power and malice of the powers that made and rule it, while portraying humanity as particularly helpless in the face of all the malice arrayed against it and, in the end, not significantly morally better than their jailors anyway.
  • New World of Darkness: The setting is full of this in all flavors and varieties.
    • Evil religions, mad cults, etc? They're all over the place. Vampire: The Requiem includes Belial's Brood (vampire satanists who basically worship the principle of becoming demons) and the Church of the Crone (who are a player-character faction). Mage: The Awakening has the Seers of the Throne, who deliberately subvert and manipulate existing religions to make them into tools of spiritual oppression. Demons and Mummies can actually found cults for their own purposes. Werewolves can technically be these, due to their connection to the spirits.
    • Perversions of existing religions? Well, how can one not acknowledge the Lancea et Sanctum, a Christian "cult" created for and by vampires? Or the existence of Joe Beal, aka "Blood of the Lamb", an Abyss-worshiping Thrysus who Awakened due to his obsession with his own interpretation of Christian doctrine as a cannibalism-glorifying Blood Magic theology, with Jesus Christ as the Apex Predator, and whose Awakening involved torturing and eating Jesus?
    • The world simply not working in ways that religious faiths teach? There is no canonical evidence that a benevolent god of any kind exists. Spirits are ravening, near-mindless elemental forces that exist only to propagate themselves and which would be considered evil by any human. The closest things to candidates for the Abrahamic God are the Principle and the God-Machine. The former is strongly implied to be a mindless, universal force, a "god" of creation and destruction in much the same way as Azathoth is a god. The latter is a techgnostic Demiurge that either has a Mythosian indifference to humanity as anything other than raw materials for its hardware, is completely batshit insane, or both. Even the "holy miracles" of the Malleus Malleficarium have implications they come from decidedly less than holy origins.

    Video Games 
  • The Wii survival horror game Cursed Mountain plays with the taboos, traditions, and underlying horrors of Himalayan Buddhism as its central theme.
  • Ditto with the Fatal Frame series (especially with the first and second titles), which is centered around secretive Shinto sects with forbidden and outright blasphemous practices. In Shinto, some deities are malevolent and must be placated, but the All-Gods Village take it to a whole new Squicky level, with a Human Sacrifice ritual gone horribly, horribly wrong. It's like a follower of an Abrahamic religion having to fight his or her way through an entire village of Satan-worshippers.
    • With the exception of Mask of the Lunar Eclipse, the series feature Human Sacrifice in order to keep some sort of Hellgate sealed up. Fatal Frame II's sacrifice is probably the least Squicky of the examples (Fatal Frame involves a Virgin Sacrifice being torn apart by ropes attached to her legs, arms, and neck; Fatal Frame III is much worse). However, in the second game, there is another ritual that must be performed if the first can't be done for some reason. It involves torturing an outsider to death with the clear intent to cause as much suffering as possible for the Hellish Abyss to be temporarily placated.
    • To generally clarify, the Shinto religion doesn't deal with death and afterlife all that much in Real Life, leaving those matters to Buddhism. The shrines seen in the games are obsessed with dealing with the line between life and death, and this alone will seem eerie to the original intended audience. Of course, they implicitly don't have much choice; the portals weren't created by humans, they only try to keep them under control.
    • Also, the rituals get pretty gory, which does not fly with Shinto at all.
  • Although most Western viewers (and probably the rest of the non-Japanese audience too) don't get it, part of the horror of Higurashi: When They Cry for Japanese viewers comes from the Shinto temple with a history of human sacrifice. Shinto places a high emphasis upon "purity", and shedding blood in a religious context is anathema to Shinto, as is touching corpses and bodily wastes. That Rika's ancestors presided over ritual sacrifices in which the participants ate the intestines of the victims makes their religion as much an inversion of Shinto as Satanism is an inversion of Christianity. To western viewers, it's merely disgusting. To believers in Shinto, it's beyond blasphemy, much like sacrificing a pig on the altar of the old Temple in Jerusalem. For added irony, Oyashiro herself is not happy with it.
  • The Senpou Temple in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is a Buddhist temple whose monks have basically completely abandoned the teachings of the Buddha on the impermanence of the self, and kidnap and do horrible experiments on children in the pursuit of immortality, with truly messed up results.
  • The Skyfishers from Wasteland 3 are a faction of people who formely lived underground, and upon seeingthe sky for the first time came to view it as divine. They have essentially re-captured a hellish mix of various pre-Columbian spiritual and religious beliefs: The Skyfishers believe the sky to be alive (much like some Great Plains beliefs), and to coax its favour they must provide the sky with Human Sacrifice (similarly to the Aztecs). They do this by capturing enemies, flaying them alive, and making kites from their skins from which they fly their victims so the sky will see their devotion and make it rain. Skyfisher territory tends to be flush with human kites, and they are viewed as The Dreaded by most other factions in Colorado.

    Western Animation 
  • Onyx Equinox doesn't hold punches in regards to its depictions of Mesoamerican beliefs. Not only is the world full of eldritch monsters, but it occasionally explores the cosmic horror of the gods having created and destroyed humanity many times.
  • In She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, Horde Prime's cult/regime has several Christianity-coded elements. He berates Hordak using language borrowed from the Bible ("I made you in my image, but you have become an abomination."). The season 5 trailer shows a clone soldier standing in a pool of green liquid, as if he were undergoing baptism. Another scene in the trailer shows Horde Prime projecting a colossal holographic image of himself to the Etherians, as if he wants to appear godlike to them. Horde Prime's voice actor, Keston John, likened him to a proselytizer in a May 13, 2020 interview with Meaww.
    Keston John: He thinks that he's bringing his version of the gospel to every planet and they're better for it even if they have to die to receive it.


Video Example(s):



"And no wonder! For Satan disguises himself as an angel of light." - 2 Corinthians 11:14

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Main / ReligiousHorror

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