One of my very early memories as a child is asking why we should say ‘bless you’ after someone sneezes.
I was told there used to be a superstition similar to the explanation in the comic. I didn’t quite reason in the terms I do today, but wondered why sneezing got special pleading while coughing and burping were things you had to excuse yourself for*. Why not get coddled for those as well? Whatever the origin of the phrase, the lack of consistency never sat well with me. Plus who was I to bless anyone anyway? And why should that blessing take? And how many times does a person need to be blessed before they stop sneezing for good? I had a lot of questions.
This happens to be one of those things that as a skeptic you can pick out and harp on if you’d like, but really there’s no point. When someone next to you suddenly has a loud full body convulsion, it’s nice to have something to say to keep it from being awkward, and society passed us down this phrase, even though it’s meaningless and no one thinks about it or believes it (which is why it’s not worth the energy arguing over).
Picking your battles for things that matter is something I always try** to be aware of so as not to dilute the patience of those willing to listen. Which reminds me, when I heard the news about American Atheists, INC. protesting the inclusion of the Cross-beam in the WTC Memorial I wondered whether or not it was worth it. I think they phrase the argument well but even the best of the media coverage isn’t doing the cause any favors. So I was on the fence for a bit. But upon further reflection I decided that the outcome of the beam case doesn’t matter. What does is the ongoing effort to raise general consciousness towards the issues, so when they arise in the future, the religious point of view isn’t given a free pass without proper consideration. Maintaining a presence in the media is the way to achieve this and I suspect that’s the whole point of the hulabaloo anyway.
This is one of those issues that separates the skeptics from pedantic skeptical asshats. You’re not less of a skeptic/atheist for saying “praise jeebus” or “guhblessyoo” (Acceptable mumblings). It will always be an arbitrary matter of politeness. No matter how much I’d like to move away from religious incantations in my daily vernacular, it’s not worth using an eyebrow raising, foreign language analog because then it only calls more attention to the aforementioned incantation. No thanks. I’ll say two meaningless words or nothing at all.
On the matter of multiple nasal outbursts (not the Fran Drescher kind, mind you) I’ll give a person one “bless you”… if they’re lucky. But if you sneeze four times in a row? What am I, the goddamn Pope? Blessing everything in sight? I have work to do.
This post was brought to you by Germanium (Ge).
*Saying ‘Gesundheit’ meaning good health at least made more sense when I learned about it.
** “try” is the key word.