Hemingway’s advice to aspiring writers was characteristically brief: "All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know." I’d like to to follow this advice, but I have a lot of preparation to do first.
I don’t know many true things and so I don’t have a lot of material to work with. I know a lot of untrue things, and even more things that I treat as true without really thinking about it. For example, the other day my brother sneezed and I said "God bless you." In the silence that followed I had time to reflect on why I said this. I don’t particularly understand what God is, and I don’t have any idea why a blessing is so important after one sneezes. I seem to remember some myth about the soul being briefly in peril after a sneeze, and an offer of God’s blessing has some beneficial effect. Or so it was believed.
But I don’t believe that, and so I resolved not to say "God bless
you" whenever someone sneezes. But it seems impolite not to say
something. And that something will have to be a short unobtrusive
comment. I decided not to spend too much time agonizing over this, and
made snap decision to simply say "Bless you." It has religious
overtones, but so what? At least I’d be saying something in a
purposeful way instead of offering an automatic incantation.
A few minutes later, my brother sneezed again. "God bless you" I
said reflexively before I had time to think. Geez, how lame. I knew
that finding truth was elusive. Looks like dispensing with poor habits
of thought is hard too. But, that’s what I’ll have to do first if I
want to write true sentences. Don’t wait around because this could
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This makes me think of Sam Harris … How will we ever rid ourselves of the mythology and nonsensical beliefs that form the very fabric of our existence?
When one suffers some great misfortunate, illness, or loss, we “pray” for them … Which usually means we silently think thoughts of good intentions and better fortune to ourselves, with or without reference to some form of deity, who presumably must be able to read the minds of all people at all times … in which case, the prayer is likely redundant of our original thoughts of good intentions, which led us to say the prayer in the first instance.
How many generations must pass before we become a rational species?
There is a superstition that when you sneeze, the matter that goes out of your body is part of your soul. That’s where the blessing comes in. I was brought up in British-colonized New Zealand to say “Bless you”–no God involved. Here in California, it’s common for the African-American people I work with to reply “Bless you too” whenever someone says “Bless you” to them.
I don’t say anything because it seems so stupid. I have to admit, though, its kinda awkward. I’m sure people think it’s rude to say nothing.
gesundheit – good health. Makes more sense, wishing the person they get better of whatever’s causing them to sneeze. Polite. No existential dilemmas.
I grew up saying “bless you” when people sneezed–whether for regional or familial influence I’m not sure. When I reached the point where I could no longer say “bless you” honestly, I switched to “gesundheit.” It took a little getting used to, but it works.
“I say ‘God bless you’. I don’t say ‘Bless you’ because I’m not the Lord.” -Dane Cook