A conversation I had with my lawyer last night brought up the issue of my beliefs. Was I a Marxist? It was asked. If so, there appeared to be some distance between my theoretical commitments with this school of economic thought and my mode of being in the world, which was, at a personal level, much more open and much less certain. My answer to this was Keynes's uncertainty principle. No matter how well an idea is planned or executed, its outcome can never be fully known. Something of this kind was expressed by the Vancouver-based political economist Geoff Mann in his engaging book In the Long Run We Are All Dead. A revolution, for example, might believe it has all the right ideas and motives, but certainty about the efficaciousness of the revolt is ungrounded. We can only act not on certainty but a guess, which might prove wrong. A fearless revolutionary must never be trusted.
My lawyer, who has a lovely First Hill apartment designed by Olson Kundig, then pointed out my atheism. It's theoretically solid; it has one clear conclusion: the universe is purposeless, and that God only exists in the culture of a great ape that happens to be on a planet that happens to be habitable. But, what I expressed theoretically was not always consistent, she stated, with what I felt, which is: rule out nothing, even God. I finally confessed to my lawyer that my feelings about God were complicated by an idea that has haunted me since watching Andrei Tarkovsky's 1979 film Stalker.
In this film, some cosmic event has disrupted standard earthly space-time in a part of rural Russia. At the center of this area, the zone, there is a building with a room that, if entered, will make your wish come true. But to get to this room, you need a stalker, one who has the supernatural instincts to negotiate the shifting, otherworldly terrain. But the stalker in the movie has a terrible story about the magical room. There was once a man who went there under the belief that his wish was to bring back to life his dead brother. The man reached the room, entered it, and made that wish. But when he returned home, he found instead heaps and heaps of money. And so, what he knew he wanted was not at all the same as what he didn't know he wanted.
Here, then, is a much better concept of what happens to us when we die and arrive at those much-talked-about pearly gates. Think of heaven as exactly like that room in the zone. You arrive, and you think you are going to get in because you believe you believed in God. But in fact, you did not. During "yu time pan ert" you really believed in money and nothing more. So, you go straight to hell. But the same is true for the atheist who arrives, after death (hit by a car or something normal like that), at the pearly gates. This person thought they did not believe in God, that black holes led to other universes that were also godless, and so on. But to their surprise, heaven is there, there is a creator, there is a masterplan. And also to their surprise, the gates open. God knows the other them. He knows this silent, never expressed other always believed in him. He welcomes the dead soul to eternal bliss.
This was Tarkovsky's genius. He understood that what we think we believe may not be the same as what we really feel. The former and the latter might coincide, but there is no way to be certain about this. The mind is not only a terrible thing to waste, it's also a terribly mysterious thing. This fact may not be comforting to those who pray regularly, who attend church every Sunday, and who consistently vote for family values. They did everything to make what they thought they believed known, to make it as clear as possible to other believers and, of course, to God Himself. But what could only matter to an interesting God, or, put another way, a God adequately (meaning, cosmically) conceived by a human culture, is not what you think you are but what you really are, whether you know it or not.
Of course I do not believe in all that—in Peter with the register of deeds at the pearly gates. It sounds to me too much like private property, which, as any good Marxist knows, is the foundation of capitalism.