At first glance, both words share the same arrangement of letters, but we would be mistaken if we thought they had the same meaning. Yes, one very early meaning of the word atonement (1500s) was “the condition of being at one.” But as we will see, the word oneness itself has several meanings, which run the gamut from being literally one, to having shared values or a close relationship. In the case of atonement, oneness cannot be literal since that state requires an action of ‘reconciliation’ before it can be attained. In other words, atonement is based on the belief that we are all separate from one another and from God. This meaning is most commonly associated with religion, which assumes that not only are we separate, but our separation is intensified by the presence of sin.
In this scenario, it is our sinfulness that keeps us from a meaningful relationship with others, and most importantly, with God. For most religions, the atonement that’s needed to heal these relationships is usually a literal sacrifice, or the belief in a sacrifice. (btw, synonyms for sacrifice include ritual slaughter, immolation, relinquishment, concession, renunciation, forego, forfeit, cede and surrender. None of these words give the sense of a mutually fulfilling oneness, but speak more to subservience.)
Although sacrifice/atonement can be associated with money, valuables or good works, the Bible connects atonement to the spilling of blood. The Old Testament, at Leviticus 17:11 tells us, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood…for it is the blood that makes atonement, by reason of the life.” And the New Testament at Hebrews 9:22 agrees, saying, “…without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” According to the Bible, a temporary state of oneness with God could be attained through the repeated sacrifice of animals. The Bible claims that a more permanent sacrifice was provided with the death of Jesus, but that sacrifice cannot bring a state of atonement without faith in the sacrifice and continued obedience. Although we’ve only touched on the Bible explanation of atonement, the same scenario of sacrifice has played out in countless religions. The point is that the ‘oneness’ that atonement offers has nothing to do with a literal oneness, and the figurative ‘oneness’ it offers has little or nothing to do with an actual joining of hearts or equality.
On the other hand, at-one-ment is based on the inarguable, very literal oneness of everything in existence. As quantum physics demonstrates, oneness is a given! Science writer Lynne McTaggart points out, “There is no such thing as a thing; there are only relationships… It’s impossible to say where we end and the rest of the world begins. We exist only in relationship.” Nicola Tesla explained it this way, “If you wish to understand the universe, think of energy, frequency and vibration.” How can that be when our eyes tell us that we live in a world of separate forms?
Physics has revealed that the world the eye perceives as solid form is actually an illusion projected by quantum consciousness. Instead of existing outside us, the ‘material’ universe is contained within consciousness. Although quantum physics is a relatively new field, this truth has been understood by mystics throughout history. In the second century the mystic philosopher, Porphyry, rightly observed, “You must not think of me as this person who can be touched and grasped by the senses, but my true Self is remote from the body.” You are quantum consciousness projecting a world of separate form. Whatever we ‘see’ in this world, including the concepts of sin and sacrifice, have come from our own imagination. If you suddenly had the ability to observe the universe as it actually is, you would see one indivisible, interconnected sea of energy permeated by consciousness. It is only our desire to deny our essential oneness that makes separation appear possible.
Separation or oneness, atonement or at-one-ment? The choice seems obvious; it makes sense to align ourselves with what is, instead of continuing to cling to the illusion of separate form. However, a very different mindset (leading to very different actions and results) is involved with each choice. If we choose separation, we’ll continue to see ourselves as a separate body pitted against a hostile world. And if we believe a God exists, that god will be separate as well. This means continuing to make atonement is the hope that we might attain a relationship with God that, at best, can only mimic oneness.
On the other hand, if we choose to acknowledge our literal oneness, we will inevitably begin to see everything in a different way. We will no longer be able to think of anyone or anything as ‘other,’ including the Divine. In fact, the realization of universal oneness turns our entire world upside down. But looking at the world separation has produced, that’s a very inviting thought.
One thing, all things: move among and intermingle without distinction. To live in this realization is to be without anxiety—Sosan
This I know…I am all men as One even as I know that the Light of me is the Light of all men—Walter Russell
Separate yourself from all two-ness. Be one on one, one with one, one from one—Meister Eckhart
The One is made up of all things, and all things issue from the One—Heraclitus
There is an Infinite Knowledge that has always existed, and in it resides everything. And that will someday dawn on you—Hafiz