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4/21/2007                                                                                       View Comments

A 'Bless You' and a Curse

by Amanda, a.k.a. newly not

So I'm in a bit of a dilemma here being newly not. I was in the car the other day with my Christian friend - whom, to her knowledge, still thinks I'm a Christian, too - when she did the unthinkable - she sneezed. I sat there in silence, scrambling to come up with how I would react.

Do I betray myself and go all hypocritical by saying "bless you"? I'd rather not.

How about subtly turning it into an atheist thing by "accidentally" pronouncing it wrong? (WTF is a "blesh"?!). Nah, that phrase is too close for comfort in conforming to Christian culture.

I could say "excuse you", but some would consider that even ruder than remaining mum.

"Gesundheit"? Changing the language is not changing the origins.

I could always say nothing...as in, sorry I'm not acknowledging your biological, involuntary functions!

I chose to do the latter. Gosh, that isn't very polite now, is it?

To counter, I thought it was a dumb aspect of culture to begin with. I mean, no one says "congrats" when you cough. Why do we sometimes feel the pull to blindly conform to entrenched godly traditions? ("Thank God!" is another one that comes to mind). Not giving an empty blessing is a fairly simple choice to no longer make in this situation.

Ya'll can go on "skipping heartbeats", and I'll skip wasting my breath.

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25 comments:

Carl Kaun said...

You can't say "bless you"? That's taking things a bit far, IMHO. You're not invoking something you don't believe in doing the blessing, and even if you did, what's the harm? And "gesundheit" is literally "good health", and has no relation to a deity. Being an ex-Christian doesn't mean you've left for some other world, it just means you don't believe in Christianity. Most of our behavior and our interactions with others are based on social mores more than explicit Christianity, and there is no reason to deny these.

patjeep2@juno.com said...

The flip side of this dilemma is when you yourself are the sneezer and recipient of a blessing.
I'm a polite person, but I've had people stare balefully at me for not thanking them...for what? What have they done for me by saying "bless you?" Since I have allergies and sneeze a lot...they've made me feel conspicuous by highlighting an involuntary action I'd rather they ignore.
While teaching, I've had students use the blessing me custom as an excuse to get off topic over and over again.
Sneezing for me is often accompanied by headaches, etc., and having to cope with weird customs at the same time is very distressing.

SpaceMonk said...

I thought saying "Bless you" originated as a pagan custom anyway, since when you sneeze you're expelling a bit of your soul, and the blessing restores it...?
Of course "us christians" don't want to continue that, so at my place we never did, but nowadays,
who cares?

Anonymous said...

An atheist friend likes to say "I acknowledge your nasal discharge".

Seriously, though, how about "Are you ok?"

If I'm in the presence of someone who gets blessed after sneezing, I'll often explain the historical context: people used to believe that when you sneeze, your soul is expelled briefly from your body (soul=breath). Blessing the person was supposed to keep the devil from slipping into the body in place of the soul. So how about saying, "I hope an invisible, evil creature didn't take over your body just now" ?

stronger now said...

I think that we should secularize the definition of the word blessing to mean: a good or happy thing. It makes more sense to everyone and does away with the supernatural. That is how I view it anyway, and since I live in this reality too, I can change things as much as I want.


So TAKE THAT!! ye haughty men of faith!!

jfraysse said...

The blessing associated with sneezing is rooted in superstition. Perhaps the blessing is even Biblically based as sneezing was a response to a resurrection in the case of Elisha in 2Ki:4:32-35 where the “Man of God” raised a boy from the dead and he (the boy) sneezed seven times and opened his eyes. In this case, sneezing could be viewed as warding off death and could be generally accepted as a harbinger of good fortune.

I used to think that I should not respond with the “sneeze blessing” as it was rooted in superstition and, above all things, I wanted to be “rational”. But I liked and allowed Halloween activities so perhaps I was being inconsistent and a bit of a prude as well. I now give “the blessing”, if I think the person is expecting it. It doesn’t harm me, and it makes the sneezer feel better. All in good fun, methinks!

MothandRust said...

I'd try saying "the invisible pink unicorn blesses you for discharging nasal mucus" but it just seems like a lot of syllables. Ditto for the spaghetti thing.

Why is there not a 'god bless you' for farts?

Amethyst said...

Gesundheit actually means health, so I guess it's like you're wishing someone good health. Other languages have different sayings that are similar that don't have religious connotations.

Anonymous said...

I never say "Bless you", and like someone said before "what is bless anyway". its not even a real word unless your religious. No, I just say "you ok?" Now if its a big sneeze it gets a well deserved "woo hoo! that was huge!" unless the sneezer gets some on me then i say " DUDE! WTF". or i will comment on the sneeze, Kinda like how we rate farts.
Some people have pattern sneezes, i for one use to sneeze in 3's. but as im getting older, i sneeze in 4's so i try to form words in my sneeze.
Create your very own ways of responding.

AtheistMommy said...

Ok, here's a confession....
I, most of the time, don't say anything when someone else sneezes. I am irritated with the whole "bless you" thing because it is sometimes used to spite me. Example? My father-in-law, who knows fully that we (me, my husband, and our children) are an Atheist family, will make it a point to say "GOD BLESS YOU!" when any of us sneezes. Needless to say, I find myself trying to get rid of the urge to sneeze now. I think you can tell when it's a good wish and when it's a bad wish (Curse). Even the best words/phrases can be turned into curse words/phrases.

I do however like the suggestion of "Are you ok?" I too have allergies and so I'm prone to sneezing but I've learned pretty well how to get rid of it.

Going to college I'm surrounded by "bless you" if I (or anyone else) sneeze/s.

I think though, if my father-in-law had not turned it into a bad thing, I may have not had such a problem with the phrase at all.

Dave8 said...

I don't bless strangers, or argue with strangers who bless me, when I sneeze, to do so is an assumption of their purpose and belief.

I however, bless myself, followed with a... 'man, those demonic spirits are flying today'... It's my blessing... why should someone else get to put their religious spin on it. I tend to not let others take something in my life, and use it for their gain; I am not a political poster board for their God marketing campaign when I sneeze.

It's like the other thread with the shootings at VT... When a person/group doesn't proffer a comment on the topic, others will fill in the blanks to their cause and benefit.

My friends know how I am not religious; and so, when they sneeze, I ask them if they are okay, it's a sign that I care, I even throw in a joke every now and then.

Bill said...

I never say anything to strangers when they sneeze, but when someone dear to me sneezes, I usually say, "Well that was a nice one." I do often use religious overtones such as "God Bless" all the time just to be a smartass to some of my friends.

I must say I can't stop saying "Thank God" in certain situations. It's an expression that's permanantly fixed in my brain I just can't seem to ditch.

Anonymous said...

I'll sometimes say "bless You", as I feel the 'god' being taken out of it is a 'good-enough' compromise. IMO

Re: Thank god:

I too have had difficulty redacting that phrase from my vocabulary.

I have had some small success substituting "thank goodness", but have (mostly) switched to "thank WOOD-ness",....

Just because I think it's funny.....

Or, "oh my WOOD-ness"...as an exclamation....etc.

Dave, not the WM said...

When someone says "Thank god" in my presence, I often respond with "You're welcome". It's definitely worth the weird stares I get.

When someone says "Jesus!" I use a response I first heard from a drunk many years ago... "How'd you recognize me without my sandals?"

Joe said...

I'm with the say nothing crowd. I never really understood the difference, some odd bit of information about skipped heart beats aside, between sneezes and coughs. So, I let people around me go unmolested while they cough, hiccup, clear their throats, sneeze and wheeze, except maybe to offer a tissue.

eel_shepherd said...

The inquiring mind of mothandrust wanted to know: "...Why is there not a 'god bless you' for farts?..." ;-/

It's because, for farts, we have, "Speak again, o toothless one!"

But I digress.

There must be some say-nothing expression from rap culture that could be ported to the post-sneeze platform. Might give it some longevity that it would otherwise be denied. Maybe "word", or something ending in "-izzle". "Yo' mama" would not be a good choice...

Or from Chinese. There must be some sneeze response that has to do with long life or good luck (in Chinese culture, there's a good luck tie-in to e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g...). Hey, there y'go: how about simply "Long life." Beats "It's all good."

Anonymous said...

Not having read all the comments, but "Good sneeze!" is an alright response because it usually feels good after a sneeze. ~Kim

Anonymous said...

Someone beat me to it; I was going to tell you that gesundheit means (good) health (to you); so it's not a translation of "bless you."

Perhaps you could say, "bliss you," which is what a lot of freethinkers and/or pagans are saying these days. Close enough to confuse them; they'll think you're saying bless you. It's like when I say the pledge (I'm a teacher, and have to say it every stinking day); I always say, "one nation, Underdog, indivisible..." Not one student has caught one. A boomer friend of mine jokes about saying, "one nation, Tennessee Tuxedo, indivisible..."

Anonymous said...

I meant no student has caught on, not caught one.

Anonymous said...

A simple gesundheit is fine. A simple social tidbit that doesn't have any deep meaning. It's similar to the "How are you?" upon greeting someone casually. Nobody expects a full rundown of troubles and illnesses when asking that question. It's all about a simple social lubricant.

Anonymous said...

ha!when i sneeze , it sounds like i'm saying aww--shitt !!!! so nobody usually blesses me. i usually apolagise too!!!just keep it in the kleenex thankyou!

Anonymous said...

In my German dictionary, 'Gesundheit' means: health; sanity; Bless you!
~Kim

bill2 said...

I now say, "Stop It !" and if they sneeze again I say, "Staawp IT !" Why should they be blessed anyhow? They are the ones spreading the germs on me, if anyone needs a blessing during this event, then it should be the one who has to wear the germs. A sidenote is that I hear a few more people, here at work, now saying "Stop it !" when somebody sneezes...LOL. Did you ever notice that when you sneeze and someone "god blesses" you, you usually sneeze again; this is evidence that the "bless you" didn't even work at all.....

Anonymous said...

LOL, just had a thought, I myself sometimes say 'Gesundheit' which means simply 'good health' literally in German however, I wonder how George Carlin that great comedian would handle it since he's always ripping on Christians? Here's his site http://www.georgecarlin.com

newly not said...

Obviously you can still say "bless you" if you're an atheist. Secular society is really good at stealing Christian catchphrases and stripping them of their godly meaning, so I guess it just comes down to personal choice. I'm certainly going to keep on celebrating Christmas, because it's fun - thanks, Christians! (wait, they got that one from the pagans!!) And I knew what gesundheit means, that's why I said it is not changing the origins of the tradition ("bless you" seems to be more popular, anyway). As for asking if they're okay, when is sneezing a life or death situation?! My article was meant to be funny more than anything else.

I had to stop myself from laughing my ass off (I'm at a library) at all of the clever comments and suggestions.