April 14, 2011

Secular Thursday: God Bless You

Last week I asked for help finding topics for my Thursday posts and Sadie asked what we teach our kids about religion, and how do we handle holidays?  It's a great question and I feel a little silly for not already posting more about it.  Sometimes it's hard for me to see the secular parts of our lives.  It's not that these things don't come up, but we were never religious and there has never been a "hole" to fill.  For a while I tried to teach Robotson about world religions, but he wasn't interested;  I let it go.  These days the learning around here comes up naturally as something piques someone's interest, and we take it from there.

But that's not really a very interesting or in depth answer.  Besides Sadie's question got me thinking a little more about how religion turns up in our lives on a daily basis.  So I'll try to pay more attention to those times and write from there.  Here's a little something that happened today in the van.

Someone sneezed.  Most people say "god bless you", though we've been saying "gesundheit" for a while now.  Funny Girl asked me what god bless you means.  I replied that it meant to wish someone good health.  That's closer to the definition of gesundheit, but she's only five.  I think it might be a little early to introduce plagues and needing to be blessed to avoid getting sick.  It's also probably not a good idea to mention evil spirits needing to be kept away or sneezing one's soul out for the devil to grab.  Sheesh.  It's supposed to be polite to respond to someone's sneeze.  Why it morphed into manners is just sort of weird and slightly annoying now that I think about it.  We don't bless people for coughing, having a runny nose, or running a fever.  It's a silly superstition and probably shouldn't be required etiquette.

Apparently responding to a sneeze is fairly common around the world.  In most cases you wish someone good health, a long life, or a blessing.  The Chinese handle it best in my opinion.  The sneezer says "Excuse me."  No response is required.  I know many atheists refuse to acknowledge sneezes.  Unfortunately it will probably be seen as impolite not to respond, so we'll stick with gesundheit.  As the kids get older though it might be interesting to go into a deeper discussion of why wish health or blessings after a sneeze, and to hear what they think.  

Thanks for the question Sadie.  I know I didn't really answer your question with this post, but I hope future posts will give a little more insight into that part of our life as it comes up.  I've already got a draft for next week :)

There are more Secular Thursday bloggers too!  Don't forget to check them out.


  1. We've always just said "bless you". The kids don't think twice about it and when they sneeze out in public even if someone tosses in the god part they say thank you and pretty much dismiss it. My friend's husband won't acknowledge sneezes. But will get rude if someone does say "god bless you" or even just "bless you". I've yet to hear any of the Japanese people we interact with say anything when they sneeze other than excuse me. I think there is a response you can give, but no one bothers.

  2. In public I say nothing. To friends I say, "Nothing happens when you die". It is stolen from a Dane Cook stand up bit. I sometimes say "You sneezed" with a follow up "Well, it's just as arbitrary as 'bless you'".

  3. Funny, I recently started thinking about this, maybe moving here to GA or the fact 90% of the people I know are non religious. I have taught the girls to say "God Bless You" or "GaBlesYou" without much thought. I know the origin of how God Bless you came to be but it's always been a standard well received response to a sneeze. As of late though I'm starting to see less God Bless Yous and I'm ok with that. My 9 year old recently asked me about gusundheit and seemed more interested in that version.

  4. For my little kids (babies, toddlers), I just repeat "achoo" at them. My 2 yr old thinks it's funny and goes into "achoo" fits lol. For my older kids, "cover your face" is the automatic response. Otherwise, sneezes are ignored.

  5. Jeff I look forward to sneezing around you. LOL I love that response though I'd never say it.

    We used to say god bless you out of habit, but I made a point of changing it. It seemed like a really unmindful thing for a nonbeliever to say and I wanted to cut it out. I also try to avoid oh my god, though I still say god dammit. I'm working on it...

    SamDIBO- Now that you mention it, I often say "Into your elbow" or just elbow after a sneeze if I've noticed they just sneezed all over.