Bless You and All That Crap


'm an Atheist so I don't normally invoke anything having to do with God or religion. That being said, God and religion are perpetually importuned upon me. This isn't because I have basic cable and thirty percent of the channels are of the GNC variety (God Network Channel). It's not because every sporting event is prefaced by a national anthem (usually invoking God), or a player who points toward the heavens after scoring or when players thank a higher power for their ability to jump over a scrum of men. All of it annoys me. But I can change the channel or turn the television off.

What does annoy the heck out of me, is when people throw their religion at me, almost unconsciously. People don't think about just how religious they are or how ubiquitous it is. As Bill Hicks once wrote:

  "It never occurs to Christians they might need God's word a little more than other people. Or, that they may be among the last one Earth to GET IT."

When I'm in a store and I sneeze, I swear that people with that Jonestown daze in their eyes, you know what I'm talking about, race up to me shouting: "Bless You." There seems to be a Presidential Fitness Award competition going on amongst the gentlemen next to me in European porn section of the store. It's like a gun duel in the Old West without live ammo, unfortunately.

It's as if I've awakened from the slumber of two thousand years, to quote Yeats, and I'm looking for the snooze button but can't find it. Has there been an upsurge in the usage of "Bless You" amongst other religious words? It's almost deux ex machina in its nature (if that's not an oxymoron). I didn't realize the world was full of priests. What year is it? Like 570 C.E.? Is there a bubonic plague?

I find it, at once, hilarious that people have co-opted a religiously significant phrase for the most pedestrian human activities. But on the other hand, it's scary that people are so easily co-opted. It's scary that after the Enlightenment and revolutions in science and medicine, that so many people still believe in using a phrase that Pope Gregory the Great used in 570 C.E. during an outbreak of the plague. At that time, without a scientific understanding of the world (though the Ancient Greeks made significant advances in science, math and philosophy, all things that Christianity moved to suppress. Thank you Islam for saving many Ancient Greek texts) sneezing was thought to be an early indicator of someone who had the plague. That's about as scientific as it got, and the remedy was to say "God Bless you." What is truly horrifying though, is that with all the advances in society, such a large percentage of people still hold the same fundamental beliefs that Pope Gregory did.

Most of the time, I'm the only person who doesn't say "Bless You." That's fine by me. I use the German word, Gesundheit, if I say anything at all. As per Merriam-Webster, Gesundheit means to wish someone good health. The assumption, for me, is that when someone sneezes they may have a cold. So to respond by referring to someone's health is appropriate. To bring God in, is to say the least, ridiculous. And don't get me started on Vitamin C.

To me, to use the phrase "Bless You" is more pernicious, and its pervasiveness just points to the fact that religion and religiosity is everywhere. According to Pew Research, 78.4% of Americans claims adherence to some form of religious affiliation. Only 1.6% claim to be Atheist. That means that 98.4% of people in the United States believe in a god or some form of spirituality. And I don't want to hear from Agnostics, because you either believe in the magic or you don't. You can't waffle on the question. It's like saying you only have herpes when you're symptomatic. If you're asymptomatic, you've still got it my friend. So I realize that I'm surrounded by an increasingly religious world. It's a world where childbirth is heralded as a miracle, a shot at the buzzer gets God a shout out and during exchanges with cashiers I'm told to have a "Blessed Day."
It's an ideology that implores you not to fight in this lifetime but instead, wait for the next.

And for everyone of you that makes claims to be anti this and anti that, and that you're a maverick and don't follow the trends or the rules, you're full of shit. Because if you really wanted to be against something and if you really wanted to make a statement that tells the world that you're bucking the system, then you wouldn't be one of the 98.4% of people in America, who believe, effectively, in the same thing. And remember, it's an ideology that implores you not to fight in this lifetime but instead, wait for the next. The parishioners kept giving and the preachers keep taking. As for me, the words of Mexican Revolutionary Emiliano Zapata hold true: I'd rather die on my feet than live on my knees. Gesundheit!

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