punch It how Do friend Respond to an Atheist’s Sneeze? by Christian Hagen • 18 October 2013


I tend to sneeze favor a grenade go off inside my face; the sudden, it’s noisy, and it’s incredibly alarming. (And don’t even get me started on what shrapnel is in this analogy.)

So, that course, as soon as I sneezed top top a quiet Sunday drive to the mall through my mam recently, it made she jump halfway the end of her seat.

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“Jesus,” she chuckled, and returned to her monk-like meditative passenger-side silence.

I waited. And waited. She stayed silent. Finally, my propriety kicked in.


“Well what?” she asked.

“Aren’t girlfriend going to say ‘bless you?’”

“Why would certainly I?” she asked.

I might scarcely think my ears. Had I married together an impolite reprobate knowingly, or had her selfishness crept right into our once-lovely marriage by degrees? ns heard a childhood scolding come the end of my mouth favor a speaker playing ago a recording from 20 years ago.

“You’re claimed to speak ‘bless you’ when someone sneezes. The rude no to!” ns said, most likely with a “harrumph” because that emphasis.

“What do you care?” she shooting back. “You don’t also believe in God.”

That close up door me ideal up.

How had actually this believed never emerged to me before? Of course someone who doesn’t believe in God’s blessings would have actually no usage for a blessing they receive for something together normal and also human as a sneeze. And, come to think the it, what did civilization think to be going to take place if they no say “bless you” when someone rather sneezed? exactly how did this man superstition gain started?

I’d learned to say “bless you” from a really early age. In fact, ns was so involved as a child about what could befall me if mine snotty expulsions weren’t appropriately blessed, that for years (for actual human being years of my life) I believed I had actually to speak “bless me” after my own sneezes—within three seconds or it i will not ~ count.

I should suggest out the this was throughout the same section of mine childhood once I thought pointing my middle finger in ~ the ground supposed I was flipping turn off the devil. Clearly I never completely grasped just how religion is supposed to work.

But now, in the face of my wife’s cold, pure logic, my totality system that polite rituals to be being called into question. And I had actually to ask: what does a humanist do when someone sneezes?

First, yes sir the inquiry of whether a humanist needs to to speak anything in ~ all. Responding to the body’s herbal defense come expel undesirable particles in the sleep cavity (which is what we’re talking around here, save in mind) is a surprisingly ubiquitous practice roughly the world. In ~ some suggest as humans evolved, migrated, created communities, prospered civilizations, developed new languages, excelled at invention, and invented the Taco Bell Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Taco, we all either collectively or unconsciously agreed the when an additional person sneezed, we had actually to respond with some bark the well-meaning reassurance.

Its origin is in reality attributed to Pope Gregory the great during the age of the bubonic plague. Or, friend know, 6 or 7 centuries ago, when all the normal actions we follow today were very first developed.

Even weirder is that, eventually, the was no only usual to respond to people’s sneezes, that was taken into consideration rude no to. So culture has, at the very least partially, been built on the id that ignoring an additional person’s bodily functions is tantamount to an insult. And, as I don’t want to it is in “that guy who no say anything as soon as other people sneeze” (that male is a jerk), ns have identified that not saying anything simply isn’t an option.

So what come say? “God bless you” is a hollow phrase as it is, however from an avowed atheist and also humanist, the pretty egregious.

Actually, English-speaking countries are among the only ones that seem to emphasis on spiritual superstitions in your sneezesponses (sneeze responses—you’re welcome, Oxford English Dictionary). In other cultures, the focus is frequently where the logically have to be: on the who health. The German gesundheit, an interpretation “health,” is the most familiar instance to English speakers. However the idea exist in Greek (steen eyia sue), Hungarian (egészségedre), Italian (salute), Latvian (uz veselību), Spanish (salud), and also many other languages. Why us English speakers room still saddled v such a skyward-glancing, azer sneezesponse is anyone’s guess.

My an individual favorite is the common practice in Scandinavian nations (though this can be the Norwegian in me talking), i m sorry is come say prosit, meaning “to your benefit.” it’s an old-timey toast you will do it use as soon as drinking, which end time evolved into a back-slapping solemn event of boisterous sneeziness.

In reality, China has probably the ideal custom, i beg your pardon is that the sneezer is the one to excuse themselves. This renders a lot an ext sense; us excuse ourselves as soon as burping, farting, coughing, and also hiccupping also though, together anyone who’s guzzled your root beer too easily will phone call you, a hiccup right is an ext uncontrollable and much funnier than any type of sneeze could ever be. Sneezes room a authorize of something sick and also dirty, an explode of germs that you burst onto other human being with little or no warning. At the very least a hiccup has some comedic value.

If I can make a hard and fast decree for all of culture that we stop blessing civilization for sneezing and instead cheer them on for burping or hiccupping, I’d tide my scepter (I’d surely have actually a scepter in this scenario), and also make it so. Together it is, society values are entrenched. Because that those of us on the outskirts, we confounded rebels seeking come live just on the edge of society’s laws, who desire to it is in polite yet avoid invoking one unseen deity, convert to a more health-centric sneezesponse might be the just option.

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Such to be my within monologue when driving, right up till the suggest that ns sneezed again and made my mam jump therefore high the she hit her head ~ above the roof of the car. I won’t tell friend what she stated to me, but it definitely had naught to do with wishing me good health, benefit, or blessings.