God Bless You


Kat

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Well, I was outed at my new job the other day. I sneezed, someone said "Bless You," and my co-worker who knows that I am an Objectivist, blurted out, "Kathy doesn't like to be blessed."

Being at a new job, I didn't really appreciate that very much, and I usually say "Bless You" myself when someone sneezes. Now the guy in the next cube is trying to think of a politically correct way to respond to an atheist when they sneeze. I have told them I don't mind at all when people say "Bless You," I just don't care for "God Bless You" as I am not a religious person.

Thoughts?

Kat

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Children believe in gods. To children their parents are perfect benevolent beings from which all goodness springs. When parents abuse their children, children naturally asume that they did something wrong, that they deserved it somehow. It's not possible for a child to recognize that her parents are flawed, let along malevolent at times.

Religion among adults functions exactly the same way. For religious people, they're survival is at stake. I'm not gonna break through that. So I don't worry if people say "god bless you" to me. Homeless people say it to me a lot and I've been known to say it back to them. Not because I believe as they do, but because it is obviously a comfort to them. It says, "I'm not your enemy, I'm not here to fight you, you're okay in my book, etc."

On the other hand, when some born-again comes up to me and asks, "Do you accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Saviour?" I say, "You bet! I need all the friends I can get!" :lol: It really stumps'em!

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Children believe in gods. To children their parents are perfect benevolent beings from which all goodness springs. When parents abuse their children, children naturally asume that they did something wrong, that they deserved it somehow. It's not possible for a child to recognize that her parents are flawed, let along malevolent at times.

Kavin your above statement is too generalized, Children are much smarter than that! I know that!

On the other hand, when some born-again comes up to me and asks, "Do you accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Saviour?" I say, "You bet! I need all the friends I can get!" It really stumps'em!

This is great! thank you.

Ciro

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This reminds me, especially this time of year, of people who say "merry Christmas". I am a vehement objectivist, and a vehement atheist, but it just does not bother me. We are headed into the holidays, a time where we come together with those we love, and I just do not see the offense in a saying such as "merry christmas". I know that there are those out there today who would banish calling a decorated tree a 'christmas tree', and advocate instead the term "holiday tree". It makes no difference to me, the phrase "merry christmas", as well as "bless you", is a term of good wishes. So merry christmas to all of you.

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Why is it a requirement to say something every time someone sneezes, I wonder? There's nothing of the sort for coughing. I, personally, just ignore it when someone sneezes.

The difficulty now is figuring out what to say when someone belches, because I had made it into a habit of saying "bless you" (oh, blasphemy!) to my friends everytime they would eructate.

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God Bless America!--an Atheist's Perspective

by Roger E. Bissell

(9/27/01)

I don't think it's a "lose-lose" proposition to address the meaning of "God Bless America" from an atheist's standpoint. If you take the assignment on its own terms and don't turn it into a critique of religion, I think you can still accomplish a great deal.

Above all, though, I think what should be avoided is any kind of strained secularization of the term "bless," along the lines of "praise," as some have suggested. This is most emphatically not what is meant by the word in the phrase "God bless America." But what does it mean, if not "praise"?

First, it's obvious that word is meant to convey the sentiment contained in the song by Irving Berlin, so a good place to start is with the lyrics of that song -- and not just the lyrics of the chorus, but those in the verse that set it up:

While the storm clouds gather far across the sea, Let us swear allegiance to a land that's free, Let us all be grateful for a land so fair, As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.

God Bless America, land that I love. Stand beside her, and guide her Thru the night with a light from above. From the mountains, to the prairies, To the oceans, white with foam, God bless America, My home sweet home.

Clearly, the song is not asking God to praise America, nor is the song itself even singing the praises of America, except incidentally. The essence of the song is a call to national unity (pledging allegiance to the land of America) and a request (prayer) to God that He watch over America and guide us "through the night" (i.e., the dark period of war that lies ahead). It's my observation and impression that this is exactly how people mean it when they sing the song publicly, and when the President closes his speeches with the phrase. My Webster's New World Dictionary (3rd College Edition) gives a number of meanings for "bless," but the only one that seems to exactly fit the present context is #8: "to keep or protect from harm, evil, etc.; obsolete, except in prayers, exclamations, etc."

Given this interpretation of "God bless America," the best thing an atheist can do is to remind Christians that having uttered a prayer for God to protect them does not absolve them of further effort on their own behalf. "The Lord helps him who helps himself." Applying it to the present context: if you want God to protect you from the evil Bin Laden terrorists, you must work together with your fellow Americans as effectively as you can. Which means using your mind and body in rational, purposeful action aimed at self-defense, which allows the Lord to do it through you, rather than passively sitting around, waiting for the Lord to do it for you.

At this point, a good atheist would point out that the secular version of this is: "Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed." If you want to accomplish your goals, you have to acknowledge reality and what it requires of you, not idly wait for it to provide what you want. And if you, and your nation, are more consistent and more effective at doing what reality requires, not only militarily but also socially, economically, legally, etc., then you are doing what you must do in order to prevail against the evil forces in the world. The nature of the world, as it operates through your actions, will protect you from harm -- far better than if you block it from doing so by cowardice, sloth, etc.

It also wouldn't hurt to point out that "the light from above" is a metaphor for the illumination of what direction we should take in the coming conflict. Again, rather than passively waiting for the light to shine on us, we should exercise our own native abilities of wisdom, strength, and serenity to determine which way to go. If there were a God, that is what he would want us to do (helping us because we help ourselves). And if there is not a God, then there sure as heck isn't anyone else who's going to do it for us! In either case, we should engage in rational purposeful action aimed at self-defense.

So, how should an atheist interpret or respond to "God bless America"? Pretty much the same way that everyone else does, in essence: Let us "bless" America. Let us work together to protect America from harm or evil -- and fervently hope that our efforts are enough to do the job.

Now, there is nothing wrong with praising America, of course! Nor with praising whomever (and/or Whomever) you think is responsible for its being so praiseworthy.

But, again, "God Bless America" is not an expression of praise for America. Instead, it is roughly equivalent to "God Save the Queen [or King]". Or, "Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep." It's saying that what happens to America, or the Queen, or my soul is going to be (at least partly) out of my hands, and I hope for favorable divine intervention. Obviously, atheists don't count on any such thing! But for compactness, you can hardly beat it. If I were to fully express the sentiment in my terms, but to which theists could probably agree, I'd say something benedictive like:

May the cumulative effects of our adherence to proper moral and practical principles be sufficient to result in our country's being safe from (further) harm by those who would seek to hurt or destroy us, and let us continue to persevere along those lines, just to be on the safe side!

But I fear that most people, even if they would agree to the thought, would just say "huh" if they heard it expressed in that form.

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