26
May
09

What do you say when an atheist sneezes?

For some time now, I’ve wanted to write something about atheism – a blog, a column, a book, anything. The problem is, there is a lot out there already, on a variety of topics, using a variety of approaches.

Earlier today I was thinking about the title phrase, a joke I’ve heard people make before, and it led me to the idea to create a blog for believers about nonbelievers. Something that would answer a lot of the questions people ask about atheists, and hopefully put a lot of the misunderstandings to rest.

Yes, atheists are misunderstood, and misrepresented. At times we are demonized on the news, at the pulpit, and in statements from the (former) president or the VaticanSome have said that we are the last minority that most others find it acceptable to persecute.

Some believers regard this as appropriate treatment, and consider atheists like spoiled children, upset with not getting their way and constantly bemoaning their imagined victim status. If we would just believe as they do, they tell us, then things would get better.

Other believers can see beyond this, and are curious about who atheists are, why they do not believe, and how they manage to get through life without faith.

This blog is for them.

This is not about deconverting you. It’s not about insulting you or your beliefs. You can find other blogs that focus on those. This is about building an understanding between us.

I hope to accomplish this by tackling some of the questions people frequently ask about atheists – even the ones that they’re not expecting answers for – and the questions that they SHOULD be asking, as well.

A lot of my answers will be my own opinion. Atheists aren’t organized into a tidy group, despite what you may have heard. We tend to think for ourselves, and that usually means that we disagree with each other a lot.

I have a lot of questions lined up to answer in future posts, but I’d always like to find more. If you have a question or suggestion, feel free to send it to me at funandprophet@gmail.com, or mention it in comments. I’ll do what I can to get to it as soon as possible.

Since there’s no better time to start than the present, I think that I’ll answer the title of the blog first:

What do you say when an atheist sneezes?

You could take one of three different courses of action here:

- You could just say nothing. Most atheists wouldn’t mind this. After all, none of us (believer or not) have a special saying for those times when someone near us coughs, or hiccups, or passes gas, or vomits. This would be a good choice most of the time. It really doesn’t hurt anyone to say nothing after a sneeze. It’s not even rude, when you really think about it.

- If you’re feeling particularly helpful, you could say “Need a tissue?” This is usually what I say (but I only say it when I have some to offer). It sort of sounds like “Bless you,” and takes most people a moment to realize you’ve broken tradition with an offer of help. I like that.

- If you just can’t help yourself, you can always just come out with “God bless you,” like many of us have been raised to say. In most cases, it won’t mean anything to the atheist, and you won’t get a response. You might even get a “Thank you” from time to time.  Or you might ignite a conversation about old superstitions like saying “Bless you,” and how they may or may not have originated during the Black Plague, or from the mistaken belief that your heart stopped when you sneezed.  On a bad day, you may come across a nonbeliever with a bad attitude, who will give you a hard time about it.

This latter example is the reason why it’s probably better just to stay silent, or offer up a tissue.

- Laurence

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3 Responses to “What do you say when an atheist sneezes?”


  1. 1 Martijn
    December 30, 2009 at 7:20 pm

    I’ve always been amazed by the ferociousness of the discussions between theists and atheists in the United States. It is probably because in the Netherlands, or in the greater part of Europe for that matter, the discussion is virtually non-existent. Recently I read about a poll which said that about 80% of the American people would not want to have an atheist for president. I really think that the majority of the respective peoples cares if president Sarkozy, chancellor Merkel, prime minister Brown or even prime minister Balkenende (the Netherlands) does or does not believe in any deity. That being said, I think your objective of more understanding is admirable.

    About what to say when an atheist sneezes: you might want to borrow a word out of Dutch or German. When anyone sneezes back here the other one says: Gezondheid (or in German: Gesundheit), which literally means ‘health’.

    • 2 funandprophet
      December 31, 2009 at 6:31 am

      Martijn – I’ve often heard that about the Netherlands, and in many other parts of the world as well. I’m hoping that we’ll see that kind of acceptance someday, maybe during my daughters’ lifetimes, if not mine.

      And as for “Gesundheit,” I have to admit I didn’t know the real meaning of it. I like that a lot, and I’ll make a post about it soon! Thanks!

  2. 3 B-Chick
    August 23, 2010 at 3:58 am

    I’m friends with a pair of sisters (one Pagan, the other atheist) who both say “Godzilla” to acknowledge a sneeze.


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I am an atheist, a person who does not believe in the existence of any gods.

Many people don't know a lot about atheists, and have questions about them. In this blog, I do my best to answer them, to help build an understanding between atheists and theists.

Do you have a question? You can post it in the comments to any of my blog entries, and I will do my best to answer it in a new entry.


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