For the last few days, as I have waited for my kettle to boil, I have been watching what I think is a family of young squirrels learning that they cannot get the seed out of our bird feeders. And as I watch, I have been reflecting on capitalism and Christianity!


It is obvious as I watch ‘my’ squirrels that they are not all equal. One is slightly smaller than the others, and whenever this one attempts to try its luck with getting seed from one of our bird feeders it is aggressively chased away by one of the others. Indeed they seem to spend more time chasing this one, than they do looking for food. My reaction is invariably to feel sorry for the underdog, or in this case the under-squirrel, but it’s pretty obvious that the other squirrels feel no such empathy.


I believe the squirrels are simply following their instincts, evolved over millions of years to ensure that when food is scarce over the winter, the strongest and fittest squirrels survive, those most likely to be able to breed successfully next year. As I watched I found myself reflecting on where, in our society, I see the ruthless competition displayed by the squirrels in my garden, and where I see empathy.


Empathy is, or should be, one of the cornerstones of Christian faith. In Matthew’s account of Jesus’ ‘Sermon on the Mount,’ Jesus instructs his followers to, ‘Do for others what you want them to do for you.’ One of the theories for the origin of capitalism is that it began in the UK as trading ships began bringing in large quantities of exotic goods from around the world, as a way of allowing those who could not afford to build a trading ship to share in the profits of such trade. Certainly there are many UK banks and large firms which have Christian origins.


I believe there are two prevailing world-views in our world. One, typified by the behaviour of the squirrels in my garden, assumes that resources are limited and we must each protect access to those resources, for ourselves and those we love. The Christian world-view assumes that God has provided a planet that can provide abundantly for all, provided we all live according to godly values, and therefore our behaviour towards others should reflect God’s generosity towards us, and our focus should be on co-operation not competition.


  • Which of the world-views I describe is closer to yours? Why?

  • Do you believe generosity and empathy to be uniquely human characteristics, or even uniquely characteristic of particular world-views? Why, or why not?


Prayer for the week - 3rd July 2020


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