Is ecological interconnectedness really oneness?

by Greg Mackie

This question has been in my mind a lot as I've witnessed all the excitement around the movie Avatar. Personally, while I thought the movie was technically brilliant and enjoyable (though predictable) as entertainment, I didn't see anything especially spiritual about it. But ever since, I've heard countless people, including Course students, rave about how spiritual it is because it's such a lesson in oneness (a oneness the Na'vi in Avatar apparently experience through those tendril thingies in their tails). But my view is that ecological interconnectedness, the primary "oneness" highlighted in Avatar, is not real oneness—at least not the oneness affirmed by A Course in Miracles.

Don't get me wrong: I do believe that physical things are interconnected. I believe it is wise for us to recognize this interconnectedness while we seem to be in these earthly bodies; we ignore it at our peril. I believe in treating kindly the illusory bodies of our brothers on earth in all their forms—not just human beings, but animals, plants, and even the ground we walk on. I believe this is a powerful way to communicate the oneness of minds that transcends the physical. To the degree that a movie like Avatar encourages these things, I'm all for it. But I just don't think the interconnection of physical life on earth is the oneness the Course is talking about. They are very different things.

To show what I mean, I'll start with a comparison of the typical reverential attitude toward ecological interconnectedness and the Course's attitude toward the same phenomenon. One of my favorite examples of the former is a conversation in the movie The Lion King between the young lion Simba and his father, Mufasa:

Mufasa: Everything you see exists together in a delicate balance. As king, you need to understand that balance and respect all the creatures, from the crawling ant to the leaping antelope.

Simba: But, Dad, don't we eat the antelope?

Mufasa: Yes, Simba, but let me explain. When we die, our bodies become the grass, and the antelope eat the grass. And so we are all connected in the great Circle of Life.

Cue Elton John. Let us all sing the praises of the great Circle of Life.

Contrast this with the Course's own description of ecological interconnectedness, which occurs in the Manual section on death:

Death is the symbol of the fear of God. His Love is blotted out in the idea, which holds it from awareness like a shield held up to obscure the sun. The grimness of the symbol is enough to show it cannot coexist with God. It holds an image of the Son of God in which he is "laid to rest" in devastation's arms, where worms wait to greet him and to last a little while by his destruction. Yet the worms as well are doomed to be destroyed as certainly. And so do all things live because of death. Devouring is nature's "law of life." God is insane, and fear alone is real. (M-27.3:1-7)

Notice that this is a description of the exact same process Mufasa describes in The Lion King: everything in nature is interconnected, because everything lives by eating everything else. Just as the lions eat the antelope and the antelope eat the lions (through eating the grass), so the worms eat us and the worms too get eaten.

But what a difference in attitude! In the Course's description, there is no reverence. Indeed, it is the exact opposite of reverence, for in the Course's view this whole cycle is based on rejection of the true God. It is not really a Circle of Life; it is a circle of death (or, as Robert likes to say, a circle of lunch). It is not a wondrous expression of creation, but a nightmare of insanity and fear. I can easily imagine Chopin's funeral march instead of Elton John's hymn in the background. This description of ecological interconnectedness is clearly not a description of the oneness that the Course does praise with poetic hymns.

What is ecological interconnectedness, really? The basic picture behind the above passage is this: This world consists of a collection of bodies. Yes, these bodies are each part of a larger whole—the earth, or the entire physical universe. But they are separate parts, which means that each part is really out for itself. Each part is trying to survive by consuming other parts. True, some parts cooperate with each other, but only against common enemies in the game of "eat or be eaten."

But no matter how well the parts play this game, in the end everyone loses. Everyone gets eaten. While the whole is preserved in this process (though only temporarily—even the physical universe will end eventually), for individuals this is not an experience of oneness: This is an experience of separation, attack, and death. This is not a loving process to be celebrated; it is a terrifying process that can only be feared. As our passage tells us, the true God of Love has been blotted out by a god of fear.

Real oneness, on the other hand, is a different thing entirely, something that we don't even experience on earth, except in reflected form. It is rooted in a reality that consists of completely nonphysical minds: God and the Sonship. Each mind is part of the larger whole, but it is not a separate part; as the Course says, "What is one can not have separate parts" (T-25.I.7:7). Paradoxically, each part is the whole, for "there is no difference between the whole and the part" (T-8.VIII.1:15, Urtext version).

The real universe God created, then, "is far beyond the petty sum of all the separate bodies you perceive" (T-15.VIII.4:5). It is a universe of minds that are truly one to the core. And since these minds aren't separate parts of the whole, they aren't out for themselves, as bodies have to be. There is no game of "eat or be eaten" here. There is no separation, no attack, no death. This is a genuine experience of living oneness, both for individual parts and for the whole. This is a universe that can truly be celebrated, a glorious expression of the God of Love. This is the oneness of true creation, and the Course never tires of singing its praises:

Creation is the opposite of all illusions, for creation is the truth. Creation is the holy Son of God, for in creation is His Will complete in every aspect, making every part container of the whole. Its oneness is forever guaranteed inviolate; forever held within His holy Will, beyond all possibility of harm, of separation, imperfection and of any spot upon its sinlessness. (W-pII.11.3:1-3)

In the Course, then, we do not seek oneness in ecological interconnectedness. Instead, through our Course study and practice, we seek and find oneness by reaching beyond the physical world entirely to an experience of the oneness that transcends the illusory oneness of forms. We seek an experience of the oneness of God's true creation.

How, then, do we live in this world? In the Course's view, once we have experienced this true oneness, we return to earth and share it in reflected form by joining with the minds of our brothers, human and nonhuman. In the paragraph immediately following the one I just quoted above, the Course speaks poignantly of our function of letting the oneness of Heaven—the full remembrance of which is the memory of God—be reflected in our life on earth:

God's memory is in our holy minds, which know their oneness and their unity with their Creator. Let our function be only to let this memory return, only to let God's Will be done on earth, only to be restored to sanity, and to be but as God created us. (W-pII.11.4:5-6)

As I said, I believe that one way of doing this is to treat the illusory bodies we see kindly. Taking good care of the earth and all its creatures can be a powerful communicator of the underlying oneness of our minds. But this care is not based on the "holiness" of that collection of bodies eating each other. It is based on the holiness of the minds beyond the bodies, which are literally incapable of harming each other in any way.

Let us, then, not stop at mere ecological interconnectedness as we seek oneness. Let us move beyond it to the real oneness of God and His creation, and then bring the reflection of that oneness back to earth. Let us not celebrate the circle of death. Let us join in the real circle of life.

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