Was World War I A Battle Between Good and Evil?

Sir Oliver Lodge’s London Speech on the Great War and Evil

In November 1914, the eminent scientist and member of the Society for Psychical Research, Sir Oliver Lodge, gave a talk about ‘Science and Religion’ at the Browning Hall in Walworth, London. The hall was crowded with more than a thousand people. The Mayor of Southwark was there in his official robes.

Sir Oliver Lodge began: ‘We all know that there are powers of good and powers of evil.’ How do we know that? Lodge had the answer to that, too: ‘We all know, because we are fighting them at the present time.’

World War I: ‘A Holy War’

‘The powers of evil are loose,’ he said. There was ‘spiritual wickedness in high places.’ Logically, this meant to Lodge that ‘in fighting them we are agents of God.’ For Lodge, the Great War was nothing less than ‘a holy war’.

The Germans were clearly not Satanists, so why were they, then, agents of the Devil? Because they were de facto atheists, according to Lodge. Through a bizarre twist of logic, Lodge first declares that the Germans embody a doctrine in which ‘there is nothing higher than the State’. And because the State ‘is the summit of everything’ it is ‘entitled to do whatever it pleases’. In putting itself higher than any moral law, which Lodges extends to saying that there is ‘no existence higher than the State’, the State then represents ‘practical Atheism’. This, according to Lodge, ‘is what we are at war with’. The State becomes Atheism; Atheism becomes the opposite of Good.

In contrast, ‘we’ – Lodge and his audience and implicitly the good people of Great Britain – ‘know that there is a moral government of the world’ and ‘we know that there are high ideals’. He must mean God in this context, but prefers bureaucratic and intellectual metaphors rather than the old stalwarts of belief and faith, which must have sounded papish and barbaric to him.

Lodge has evidence, too. Looking to the combatants, he declares ‘our troops – how splendidly they are behaving – could not do the horrible, the treacherous the abominably cruel things that these people’ – the Germans – ‘have done with this belief’ – the State – ‘forced upon them, this kind of coercion and falsity of belief.’ Propaganda concerning alleged German atrocities in Belgium had had its effect.

For Lodge, this meant that the British would win: ‘Right belief gives us strength, determination, and energy, and such vigour that we are irresistible and cannot be overcome.’ Having sanctified the British and demonized the Germans, ‘we’ would win because ‘the powers of good are stronger than the powers of evil’.

A.P. Sinnett published Lodge’s speech in The Spiritual Powers and the War (London: Theosophical Publishing House, 1915).

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