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Posted on Fri, Jan 21, 2011 : 8 a.m.

Of rats and men: What the 'Michigan Squirrel Club' shows us about God's grace

By Benjamin Verdi


In the face of sheer evil, how will we humans defend ourselves?

(photo courtesy of

Nothing infuriates me more as a New Yorker than seeing my peers on the diag, on their stomachs, making friends with local squirrels. Every time I see someone making nice with a squirrel, feeding it, talking to it, I’m tempted to pick them up by their plaid collar and say, “You traitor! Don’t you know that squirrel is a parasite, and he’s just using you? He doesn’t think you’re nature lover. He thinks you’re an idiot!”

I’ll let you know right now, I don’t exactly do nature. I hate hiking. I hate camping. I hate sleeping outside. I hate bugs. As an 8-year-old, I got to the edge of the Grand Canyon and said to my poor parents: “You just look at it?” So perhaps I’m not an authority on anything to do with wilderness.

You don’t need to point out to me how out of touch my viewpoint towards nature is — especially compared to what most people my age think. I absolutely think the environment is important and am not saying that animosity towards living things is at all rational. But there were certain facts about certain parts of nature that I grew up reciting, and when they’re contradicted I get confused.

To quote my father: “Squirrels are rats with better agents.” Squirrels are pests in New York City, and I’ve actually heard of instances when they’ve gotten into people’s apartments, not to mention trash, and done serious, expensive damage.

When you jump and yell at a squirrel in New York, it knows to scurry away and panic, but, when you do the same thing in Ann Arbor, the squirrel looks at you momentarily and just carries on about its business. Squirrels here are insulated from what I call “the fear.” All they’ve ever known are hands full of food and the faces of smiling foreign kids. They have no reason to fear a human, and, initially, this strikes me as a failure on the part of those humans.

“Squirrels carry rabies.” This was literally the first thing I learned about the connivers when I was little. I learned this axiom before I knew what rabies was. It was just a fact. “Squirrels carry rabies.” Implied was that squirrels wanted to attack, bite and give rabies (whatever that was) to me!

I’ll admit, by now I have a slightly more nuanced view of squirrels — albeit that’s exactly what they’d want me to say — but I can’t help but see the ways in which my first encounters with squirrels mirror the ways I first learned about God.

If the thing I knew about squirrels was that they were out to get me, and what I thought about nature was how terrifying and underwhelming (see: “You just look at it?”) it was, then the first thing I thought about God was that He wasn’t necessarily that good.

In fact, God once seemed like the most evil thing someone could believe in.

I now realize I was not as down on God as much as I was judging the people I thought represented Him. That is, I can’t quite say there was ever a moment where I wholeheartedly embraced atheism, but, frankly, if God existed, I wanted no part of Him because I believed God was as out-to-get-me as anything else in nature.

Based on who I saw openly expressing a belief in God — God’s agents, if you will — I made my mind up about Him before meeting Him myself. In high school, I thought believing in God meant you had to be a Republican from then on. I thought it meant you had to support the Iraq War. You had to talk with a southern accent. Burn Korans. Hate gays. Yell on street corners about how everyone was going to Hell. Get a cross tattooed on your bicep. Molest children. Play in the NFL.

Not all of these things are bad, but none of them fit with who I knew I was.

I was judging God by the character of his earthly representatives, a small segment of them at that, much like I’d judged squirrels. I’d essentially believed the notion that squirrels were evil and wanted to hurt me, and that was that. There could be no compromise because any debate I entered I entered with clenched fists.

But if the only thing I’d ever done towards squirrels was fearfully stomp my feet, why was I surprised that every squirrel looked like it was going to attack me? The truth is, New York City squirrels mostly know mean, competitive and rushed humans, so they have no reason to think humans mean anything but death.

And, growing up, I stomped my feet at God in a similar fashion. “Get away!” I thought. “You’re that thing that awful people hide behind!”

What I failed to see was that it was not the people I was judging who were ignorant to the truth about squirrels, or God. The ignorance was mine. I kept the same distance from God that squirrels kept from me and thought anyone who did otherwise was stupid. It took a humble God willing to lie on His stomach and hand-feed me tiny pieces of His truth before I thought, "Maybe this guy infects people with exactly what they need."

Ben Verdi is a man with a Bible and a laptop and a nasty curveball. He can be reached at



Fri, Jan 21, 2011 : 9:24 p.m.

I think one of the most important things we can do for ourselves is to allow ourselves a bit of open-mindedness. We tend to 'judge' things, people, squirrels and God by what we've been told or what we've heard. The preconceived ideas make it a bit hard to be open, but if you can just observe and take a look at something from a different - unclouded - perspective you can gain a whole new perspective. Doing that doesn't necessarily mean you're going to run out to the nearest Whole Foods and buy a big bag of peanuts for your new found best furry buds. You still may not be especially enthralled with the little nut hoarding tree rats - BUT - you may find a new appreciation for them and for those who do like them. Plus ya won't be so quick to grab a squirrel fan by the collar and tell them how wrong they are.


Fri, Jan 21, 2011 : 7:59 p.m.

Just to clear up any misconceptions: I've seen the statistics from the DNR for the past seven years. No cases of squirrel rabies in Michigan. In fact, they almost never get rabies and they are not considered a cause of human rabies in the U.S. Squirrels are fascinating and entertaining to watch and will reward kindness with trust and friendship.

Wild Birds Unlimited mid-Michigan

Fri, Jan 21, 2011 : 5:49 p.m.

Thank you Bill for sending everyone to my post on Michigan Squirrels. And Ben I'm glad your views on squirrels have changed slightly. The Scriptures repeatedly bring attention to nature to illustrate lessons about life and conduct. Notice this passage in Proverbs which teaches about wisdom from nature: Four things are small on the earth, But they are exceedingly wise: The ants are not a strong folk, But they prepare their food in the summer; The badgers are not mighty folk, Yet they make their houses in the rocks; The locusts have no king, Yet all of them go out in ranks; The lizard you may grasp with the hands, Yet it is in kings' palaces (Proverbs 30:24-28). The teaching from nature is all around. And did you know you were publishing your article on National Squirrel Appreciation Day? <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Fri, Jan 21, 2011 : 11:55 p.m.

@ Wild Birds Unlimited mid-Michigan, great website!


Fri, Jan 21, 2011 : 4:15 p.m.

I don't follow the logic of this story, nor do I find it interesting or entertaining. However, just for clarity sakes, the &quot;Diag&quot; Squirrels are known as Fox Squirrels. In addition, here is a link of the 6 Michigan Squirrel species currently calling Michigan home. Link: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>