Cult of the Lamb from the Perspective of Jesus
Yep - you read that title right. We’re going to talk about it. I have to be honest that this whole topic makes me crazy uncomfortable, but I couldn’t help myself. I mean, if you want me to play your rogue-lite cult simulator game, then you better make it with adorable art and a ding-a-dang farming sim structure.
Y’all know I’m a sucker for that Stardew Valley style of gaming. I had to dive into this game.
And what I found when I started playing Cult of the Lamb was a brutally fair depiction of cult behavior. It’s hilarious. It’s disturbing. It’s adorable. And it’s brutal. And I loved every second of it. But can Cult of the Lamb teach us anything as Christians? Can it do anything other than just make us question our own indoctrination? I think it’s a great way to understand what sets the Lamb of God apart from this leel lamb. So let’s talk about it.
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Matthew 7:15-23 (NRSVue)
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you who behave lawlessly.’
What is Cult of the Lamb?
CotL is the newest game from famed indie published Devolver Digital and developed by Massive Monster.
You start the game by literally dying as this adorable little lamb. You quickly get resurrected and possessed by a mysterious and ominous and very much imprisoned demon lord.
The demon gives you the power to create a cult that will empower you to the point that you can destroy the four bishops of the world that imprisoned the spooky fella.
You spend the game in two noticeably different playstyles. In the overworld, you are the cult leader, creating followers of your flock, building things to make their lives easier to worship you, and since this is a sim, fishing, and other relaxing chores.
These villagers will give you new powers, unlock new skills, and the strength you need for the second major part of the game.
And then you go into several different zones where you work through a series of dungeons, not dissimilar from Binding of Isaac, where you work your way towards the land's big bosses by purging the region's nonbelievers, recruiting some along the way.
There are some significant mysteries and questions to be answered by the game. Is the lamb alive? Are they possessed or resurrected? Are they in it for themselves? What happens when we free the demon of his bindings by destroying all of the bishops?
It’s a fun and obviously tongue-in-cheek game. But in every joke, there is a little truth. If the art in this game weren’t so adorable, the themes and ongoings of the cult rituals would be truly disturbing and haunting. While this game isn’t inherently a horror experience, it wouldn’t take much tweaking to make it so.
But it’s a fun experience. Who wouldn’t want to be in control and deference to a crowd of followers? In all honesty, it’s really just Pikmin, but the Pikmin can talk and poop everywhere (and they will be pooping everywhere, let me assure you.)
But the bigger question here is - what does the church have to do with all of this? The theme of cult behavior is an uncomfortable topic. Whether it’s Christianity or another spiritual sect, it’s almost certain that real-life cults have some kind of connection to religiosity.
Christianity has been seen as a cult, what with communion confusing the early Christian gatherings with pagan cannibalistic rituals of consuming the body and blood of some dude named Jesus. Long story.
Even today, we still have the occasional cult accusation pinned - rightly or wrongly - on the church. One more prominent and less outwardly nefarious is the cult of personality. This is where church members go there exclusively for the pastor themself.
Maybe it’s because their pastor knows Justin Beiber or because they are just simply incredibly enigmatic, or perhaps it’s just because they have a fleet of aircraft (talking about you, Kenny)... regardless of the actual reason itself, these churches have legitimate Christians as well as confused people getting fooled by someone preaching a demonstrably false gospel.
And it’s that false gospel we’ll discuss today in our scripture.
Jesus talked quite a bit about false prophets, in fact. I had a tough time honing it down to just one passage for this particular nerdy sermon, but I chose this one because it was a bit on the nose.
During the time of Jesus’ ministry, he was actively working on two things - reformation of the existing temple and the Pharisees that were doing things poorly and a foundation for Peter and the other disciples to build the followers of Christ upon in the days to come.
In this passage, he deals with both of those parties. And most importantly, rather than talking to them in this passage, Jesus is speaking to the prey of these false prophets, you and me.
Jesus says, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing (eyes) but inwardly are ravenous wolves.
I mean, I had to, right? Sheep’s clothing? Cult of the Lamb? You get it.
Jesus continues, You will know them by their fruits…good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.
That gets trickier, right? I know some people that appear to produce good fruit. Are they good trees? Let’s see if Jesus gives us more to work with here.
He continues, Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you who behave lawlessly.’
Okay, now we’re cooking with gas.
What differentiates the false prophet from the real prophet isn’t the fruit of their congregation - it’s the fruit of their personal life. It’s piety. It’s holiness. It’s what we take home with us when the day is done.
The pastor, prophet, or priest will inevitably be held up to the Godhead and either be recognized or not be recognized. It doesn’t matter how much they prophesy, cast out demons, or do mighty works - it’s a heart thing.
The false prophet is unrecognizable because they didn’t live the life that they were speaking of
This is, unquestionably, an interpretation of the wolf in sheep’s clothing, right? On the outside soft, but on the inside wicked. That’s what sets the false prophet apart.
So… who is our lamb? Are they evil? Well, that ultimately depends on… you. The outside has already been determined. As far as I know, you can't choose to be anything other than the lamb as the main character. You will be soft and gentle on the outside, but your choices in-game vary wildly.
I’m doing about as close to a pacifist run as you can in my playthrough. I have graves honoring all of those who have died. I denied the cannibalism quirk. I haven’t had the followers do anything other than what I feel pretty good about. Except for the one time my game forced me to sacrifice a follower. Oops?
What you, as the lamb, determine your experience in this game is what you decide to do with and for your followers.
So the challenge offered by this game ultimately becomes - who are you? Are you a false prophet? Are you better than we think, or will you give into the power?
I’m not finished with the game yet, and I’m almost 100% certain that the demon we’re trusting in the game will inevitably turn against us in the end, and we will have to defeat them as the final boss. That’s just a good story.
If that’s the case, then this game is a fantastic take on Jesus’ assessment of the false prophecy of the Pharisees. Would Jesus recognize your lamb? Did you do the best possible that you could with the situation that you had? Did you use the little control that you had for good?
It’s a valid question and a heavy topic to weigh, but it’s one that Jesus himself lifted. Would your lamb cult produce good or bad fruit?
That brings us to the question - what does this mean for us today? How can we use this game for good? Is there any redemption in a cult simulator?
I think so. I think the game invites us into a simulation of literal power-hungry temptation. We are given a chance to perform in a good or bad way. The things we’re doing may seem to produce fruit in the beginning, but when it comes to shove - would we be recognizable as a hero or a villain when all is said and done?
It’s the same conversation games like Undertale bring up with their genocide and pacificist routes. Games like these play with the meta-narrative of player control and how players choose to make decisions.
I’m not telling you that you can’t play this goofy fictional simulator for the memes. If you want to lean into the darker fantasies of the game, it’s just a game. But just be aware of the possibility in the story being told. We are the lamb, and we get to decide whether or not the wool is pulled over our eyes. When the skin gets removed, are we a lamb or the wolf?
Whether you’re a memelord, stuck between two tough choices, or just a confused follower figuring out who to trust, know that you’re always welcome at Checkpoint Church.
God loves you.
We love you.