NEWSTROM – The difference between believing and knowing isn’t always clear

Elon Newstrom and friend Gilbert Gondwe in 1981.

MY RECENT readings and writing have been about the relationships between God (or one’s Higher Power, however you define it) and Quantum physics.

The connectivity of that relationship is enough to send many of us in a scurry to hide under the bed, but it is stirring and stimulating for some of us.

For my column I am very pleased to be getting responses to these spiritual and secular mysteries that bedevil me.

Recently one of the replies to my column explained that they had taken, “…leadership roles in a number of funerals & memorials for people” and that the “…family and friends seldom wish to hear about Quantum physics nor would Newton’s Laws draw any sense of closure or bring comfort for the grief people are experiencing.”

The reply finishes by, rightly so, cautioning me that, “Perhaps God works in ways which are not ‘measurable’ as scientific experiments.”

Perhaps this person’s feedback is founded in the old dispute between religion and science. That dispute is not nearly as intense as it once was. Unlike decades ago, many more scientists now believe in some form of Higher Power and many clerics are now willing to let science do its job.

In my defence I wish to make it clear that neither Quantum physics nor Newton’s Laws should be used to structure eulogies or comfort the grieving.

Yet, perhaps that is not such an unworkable idea.

All this reminds me of an experience I had while on a junior diplomatic placement in Africa in 1981.

My host was a religious institution in Kabwe, Zambia. It was close enough to the capital, Lusaka, that I could be in that bustling city almost daily.

The market was the most interesting with women sitting on blankets selling wild picked oranges and boiled eggs, often with babies shawl-strapped to their sides.

Shoe repairmen cobbled together shoes out of scraps of leather and self-taught smithies hammered together pots that wouldn’t leak from the metal fenders of abandoned cars.

The poverty and inventiveness of tribal Africans who just wanted to survive kept up a din of lively animation that Westerners can only marvel at. They spoke little English; a rapid Swahili was their lingua franca. They also didn’t think the way we do. Their thinking was much more direct.

For me the market was a reverse of being in crowds where I might notice a black person. Everyone around me was black. I was aware of how I stood out.

Mishanga boys sold barbecued beef from braziers. Mishanga means cigarette, which they also sold.

The most mobile part of the market was the coughing buses that lumbered into the square, belching brumes of diesel soot. As they took on passengers I noticed that Africans don’t mind very tight crowding; they jam themselves onto those buses, at least 150 to a sixty passenger vehicle.

While I was there enjoying the tumult I got to know the manager of the bus station, Gilbert Gondwe. He never seemed to manage much, yet it was plain by his presence he managed his bus drivers.

I never saw a bus driver check the oil on a bus before he started his shift. They simply walked out to their motors with a three-litre jug of oil and dumped it in. I had asked Gilbert about this.

“Yes,” he said. “The buses are gifts from Yugoslavia.”

I spoke with Gilbert almost every day but on one occasion noticed he wasn’t on the job. The next day I asked him where he had been. He explained one of his drivers had been killed and he had been at the man’s funeral.

Ever curious, I asked him how the man had come to his end. This is what he told me.

It had started out an ordinary day for this hapless driver. He had been taking his regular load of 150 villagers to their huts near Lusaka when a front tire of the bus hit a foot-high cone shaped ant hill on a wrongly banked corner.

These small cone-shaped African ant hills are not the kind we are familiar with. African ants will build them anywhere they please in a few hours out of mud, which always bakes brick hard in the sun.

The bus tipped over, villagers were killed, more were severely injured.

Those who were able, right there, kicked the driver to death.


Because, in their unschooled minds he meant to do that, tip the bus over. There was no explanation, no understanding of what an accident is. Only blame. In the minds of those villagers, he meant to tip that bus.

What explains this is that those villages could not distinguish between believing and knowing.

They believed/knew that the driver meant to tip that bus. So they kicked him to death.

It would be smarmy for citizens of developed societies to think that we are any better at distinguishing between believing and knowing.

So, I repeat that neither Quantum physics nor Newton’s Laws should necessarily ever be used in eulogies or to comfort the grieving.

There’s little we can do for those passed on but honor and remember them.

But let us caution ourselves to not assume believing is knowing.

For those grieving and still living, it would be rewarding and comforting to develop a robust curiosity about the laws of nature.

Elon Newstrom is a Kamloops resident and sometime university student. 


About Mel Rothenburger (9230 Articles) is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

1 Comment on NEWSTROM – The difference between believing and knowing isn’t always clear

  1. Jerome Farrell // June 25, 2017 at 10:16 AM // Reply

    A cautionary tale!

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