Did you just sneeze?
Oh. Well, what am I supposed to say? "Bless you"?
That's downright absurd. I sit writing this in the year 2007 and I am fairly certain that your soul is not trying to escape your body. In fact, I don't even believe in god.
Regardless, I don't see how my blessing offered unto you is going to help with your hay-fever.
I sit in an office for a good nine hours every day, and we have an open floor plan. That's right, no cubicles, no privacy whatsoever. It's inevitable that in any of my nine hour sittings, I'll hear no less than ten sneezes.
Of course, no one in my office is rude, so I also hear "bless you" no less than thirty times. Yes, thirty. In my estimation, every sneeze finds about three people kind enough to bless it. Approximately.
Is it any wonder to you that I became a bit wary of the phrase "bless you"?
Try this little exercise: Say the word "article" to yourself over and over again. The word will lose all meaning. I found that my brain ends up dividing it into the phrase "ar tickle", which obviously makes no sense at all.
So it is with the words "bless you". They lost all meaning and began seeming senseless to me. I began to wonder how so many people could utter such gibberish thirty times a day.
Long ago, I decided that I am not a religious person. I'm a scientific person. I don't believe the two have to be mutually exclusive, mind you! I know "honest-to-god" scientists that believe in a higher power. I, however, believe that a scientific analysis of the world is our best shot at figuring it out. I believe that when you die you simply cease to think. I believe that consciousness is just some gnarly computation going on in our brain (to paraphrase Rudy Rucker).
Maybe it's just that I'm extremist, and so saying "bless you" to me after I sneeze is as absurd as saying, oh, "leather belt". It has no contextual meaning at all anymore. (In fact, why say anything at all? Just let me sneeze and get on with my life!)
But even if you believe in a higher power, I pose the following question to you: What do you think has a fairer chance of remedying your friend's allergies? Your blessing, or the inventions of modern medicine (born of scientific methods, of course)?
I think the answer is obvious; you may disagree.
In the past month, I have not uttered the words "bless you". When someone sneezes, I instead say, "science". Why? It's shorthand for the phrase "science cure you".
So next time that snotty co-worker of yours is having a sneezing fit, offer them "science". They may find a trip to the drugstore more practical than a visit to the local church.