‘God Bless You?’ ‘No thank you!’
Published: Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, October 23, 2012 17:10
Funny story. This poor staff writer was wandering the halls of this great institution. Suddenly, a convulsive explosion of air from my lungs sprang through my nose and mouth.
It was most likely caused by foreign particles irritating the nasal mucosa.
Simple translation - I sneezed.
Someone I never met, without hesitation, said the three words that inspired this piece, “God bless you.”
A week later, I had that same convulsive explosion of air in a close friend’s car. Needless to say, the three words were sure to follow.
There was absolutely no reaction.
Did he hear the sneeze? Yes.
Is he inconsiderate? Not to my knowledge.
Could his strong Islamic faith have had an influence? Quite possibly.
When the topic of religion comes into discussion, there is always a bit of uneasiness. It has become almost a forbidden topic in general conversation. Writing an article on religion definitely pushes the limit.
“Religion is personal,” Deborah Owen, a Humanities Professor and Religion 104 instructor, said.
“For some, because it’s so personal, it becomes a way of expressing one’s self. When others are not like the person you are, it can cause controversy.”
Former director of the Champaign-Urbana Jewish Federation Lee Melhado had a similar view.
“There are some religions that think they are the only ones that are right and that everyone else is wrong,” Melhado said. “There’s an element of not only being right and wrong, but good and bad.”
Before the letters to the editor pour in, this is in no way a promotion or slander of any religion.
It simply raises a question. Have religious principles been forced upon us?
Two points to that question. First, the “us” is in reference to the American people. Second, the argument of this writer favors the yes column.
The expectation from my close personal friend was the aforementioned response I got from the stranger.
Why? Because people have been trained to respond and expect that 11 letter phrase every single time a sneeze occurs.
It just so happens that the first word of that phrase is the key figure in most religions in some shape, form or fashion.
Of course it has been shortened throughout the years to just ‘Bless you’ but the understanding is still there.
No one knows exactly where the phrase initiated but it has many legends and myths.
One such myth states that a person’s soul could be thrown from their body when they sneeze. The sneeze opened the body to invasion by the devil and evil spirits.
The phrase “God Bless You” was coined as a counteractive measure.
Pretty heavy stuff.
There are two sides to every story however.
“It is an automatic kind of a cultural thing,” Owen said.
Melhado shared these sentiments about the phrase.
“That comes from a more modern understanding that disease is related to sneezing,” Melhado said. “It’s not a spiritual thing. It’s a physical health thing. It’s almost a way of saying I care about you.”
Those are fair points, but history provides additional support to argue this subliminal religious messaging.
Though highly debated, the Declaration of Independence gives hints of a religious foundation. A slight hint is the mention and capitalization of the word “Creator” among other words.
Who could forget the infamous slave trade practices? Christianity was forced onto the slaves and has had a ripple effect on the African American people to this very day.
The Pledge of Allegiance was altered in 1954. It added the two words “Under God.”
Then there is the almighty dollar bill. On the back it reads “In God We Trust.”
The weight that those examples hold is all in the interpretation of the reader.
They appear to be strong details that support the stance of religious principles being force fed to the population.
Melhado provides her perspective.
“There’s a long multi-century pattern of religious discrimination and persecution and many religions have tried to abolish all other religions in the past,” Melhado said.
That strength and passion in one’s religion in the past was powerful enough go beyond forcing the religion. People wanted to be the only religion.
Is this still true today?
Some, like this staff writer, would say on the whole, the answer is yes. It is just done subliminally for the most part.
Melhado says not really.
“I don’t feel like religion is forced on me by the culture,” Melhado said. “I feel like it is forced on by certain segments of the culture. There is an underlying acknowledgement that religion is important.”
Counterarguments are given for the other examples mentioned as well.
Just to be fair, Melhado outlined the fact that in addition to the phrase “In God We Trust” on the back of the dollar bill are Jewish symbols that were implemented as a commemorative gesture.
However, as a constant spender of that one dollar bill and unofficial ad expert, placement is everything.
The positioning of the Jewish symbols as opposed to the placement of the “In God We Trust” phrase is in favor of the latter.
As far as the addition to the Pledge of Allegiance, Owen made a great point.
“It’s a part of that fervor that was sort of happening at the time in that post WWII mentality of America,” Owen said.
That post WWII mentality was the evolution of the second Red Scare. America was frightened to death of Communist spies or Communist principles being practiced on American soil.
The alteration to the Pledge of Allegiance was a part of the reassuring process that America was safe and would take any action against communist activity.