During a recent trip to the grocery store, the young male cashier who checked me out said something unusual as we completed our transaction. While nearly everyone else with whom I've interacted at this store says something like, "Thank you. Have a good day," this particular employee said, "Bless you." Given that I was at a grocery store and not in church, I found this odd. This person was a cashier and not an identifiable member of any recognized clergy. Did he really presume to have the power to bless me or to ask some sort of a god to do so?
It does not seem to matter how long I live in Mississippi; this sort of thing captures my attention each and every time it happens. I have not habituated to it or any of the other religion-infused statements often directed at me. Not only do I still notice them, but they often leave me in stunned silence wondering whether I heard the speaker correctly. In this particular area, my "culture shock" continues.
I was not wearing anything advocating atheism, science, or anything else suggesting I might need to be "saved," so I interpreted the man's "bless you" as being delivered with positive intent. I'm sure he meant it in a positive way. It was almost certainly Christianspeak for "thank you."
What sort of person says "bless you" to others in such a situation? This man did not strike me as the sort who might have been intentionally seeking to promote his religion like some who use the statement are doing. My guess is that he just doesn't know any better. He was probably raised to say this and does it reflexively. Unless he recently moved here from a different part of the country, the odds are good that he grew up in a place where there is no separation of one's religious beliefs from public life. Such a statement would strike him as perfectly normal and appropriate.
For this atheist, there is nothing quite like living in Mississippi to make me feel like an anthropologist discovering a fascinating new culture of some sort. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?