Raised without religion, and it shows

Replacing religious phrases with humanistic ones.

This comes up a lot.  For people who are not religious anymore, how can they express things like sympathy for someone who sneezes, but do so in a way that isn't religious.  And this is a problem because in America, the common thing to say when someone sneezes is bless you. Which is a religious phrase.  For humanists like me and other atheists, that’s a meaningless phrase. Kind of like calling your loved one a little onion, except religious.

I don’t have this problem, because I was raised without religion. No one in my family ever said, bless you when I sneezed, so I didn't learn to say it. When we sneezed, my dad would look horrified, move away from us and yell, “Don’t do that!”  As if anyone has the ability to not sneeze when your body needs to sneeze!  I always felt that while it was amusing, it wasn't very helpful either.

With my son, when he sneezes, I have to suppress the urge to yell, don’t do that because now I understand my dad’s response. It’s pretty gross when someone sneezes near or at you, like kids do with their parents.  They are spreading germs. So – don’t do that!  However, I have taught myself to say – Elbow! This is to remind my son that his next 2 sneezes, because sneezes come in threeses (#truism), should be directed towards his elbow so that he will not spread his horrid little germs to others, me included.

I realize my family’s approach to the whole, what do you say instead of bless you isn't very helpful. But when you think about it, there is nothing helpful you can say to someone who is sneezing.  You don’t know if it’s allergies or sickness. Perhaps it’s best to not say anything because  – I hope you feel better soon, in the meantime, please do your best to minimize the harm of germ spreading through sneezing as much as possible is a bit wordy and a little rude and again, not helpful.

Maybe my dad was on to something. By saying exactly that in an overtly humorous way – he made his point without being rude, sort of. My point is that if the best a 3rd generation freethinking family can do is yell, don’t do that!  We should probably stop worrying about whether people say bless you when someone else sneezes.

And yes, I do have to suppress the urge to yell, don’t do that, whenever a stranger sneezes near me. I was clearly raised without religion, and it shows. I actually envy the people whose instinct is to say bless you. They at least appear to be less selfish than our instinctual response really is.


  1. It took me two years of persistent reconditioning to cease saying, "bless you." Now I offer a tissue.

    1. Someone on twitter shared this resource - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Responses_to_sneezing Persia has a good response. Though I kind of like the rice and salt from vietnam as well, though my son says, it's not very helpful.


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