(surprisingly, I’m not as flawed as everyone else in this particular way)
I’m probably looking at you, a lot of people commit this heinous act; by doing this, you are applying a religious message to a natural bodily process. And not a process we can control that has religious and spiritual implications, like sexual intercourse, which creates new life, but a reflex that we can’t influence. Why should religion, and a religious command at that, be applied to something that has as much to do with theistic beliefs as the underside of a pebble?
The first issue is this religious one; I don’t want to say that faith-based systems of living are inherently or objectively wrong, I just think that religion is a human construct invented to help us explain how the world around us worked, before we had the technology to create other theories. Equally, religion is not a necessarily harmful influence – it gave our lives purpose, order and power structures, all of which are needed for a developed society to function – but I do not think that religion is derived from a genuinely omnipotent power.
Therefore, in barking ‘bless you’, at the nearest sod who’s misfortune it is to sneeze, you are applying a concept invented by humans, religion, to an event involving humans, sneezing; surely the point of ‘blessing’ someone is to invoke a higher power to protect or keep that person, so giving a blessing based on humanity makes no logical sense.
Furthermore, even if you do believe that religion represents a god or gods, what the Hell does that have to do with involuntary contractions of the nose? The term ‘bless’ appears most commonly in Christianity, a religion that is fundamentally based around acceptance of one’s mistakes, and being forgiven for them: in other words, reactions and responses to intentional actions, that we later see as wrong. However, sneezing is, biologically, involuntary: we feel something in our nose, and our muscles contract to expel it – there’s no independent thought involved that we can later look back on and analyse.
Another issue is the imperativeness of the phrase; ‘bless you’ sounds less like a request for a blessing from god,a nd more of a command. This is problematic on two levels: either you’re commanding god to bend to your whim and bless whoever you bloody well feel like, which makes a mockery of traditional roles of man and deity within religion and will probably result in some divine punishment or smiting further down the line; or you’re telling someone else to bless that person, essentially deifying yourself, giving yourself the power to not only choose who is blessed, but command those who will do the blessing.
Also, it’s kinda nonsensical to take such a brash tone with someone whose ‘crime’, if you will, wasn’t voluntary; that’s like sending someone to the ninth circle of Hell for being knocked over by someone else walking into them. That, and it’s kinda rude to be so forceful.
Perhaps the worst part of this crazy fad is the expectancy of it; among my family at least, who aren’t particularly religious, if my sister sneezes and I don’t immediately pray for Godly intervention into her nostrils, I get evil eyes, or, even worse, a demand of ‘Aren’t you going to say “bless you”?’. To which I basically paraphrase this post.
I’ve noticed this in public places, too; on the Tube, if one person sneezes, a total stranger will ‘bless’ them, and if they don’t, the British public will enter into a game of our national sport: muttering under your breath about the surrounding collapse of society, sparked by a missed opportunity to conform to societal nose-based expectations. Bonus points are awarded in this game for tutting.
The ‘bless you’ saga is just another example of an illogical event that is part of our culture: broken down as I have, there’s no reason to ask for omnipotent power after someone does an irrelevant thing that they didn’t mean to, but we do it, so there. Perhaps the world would be a better place without this pleasantry, perhaps it wouldn’t; certainly, it would make no meaningful difference. Regardless, I’ll continue to point out illogcalities (and nonwords) in our society, no matter how annoying it gets.