I have been strangely silent on the subject of the now infamous "Don't be a dick" speech. It never struck me as anything new or particularly interesting. Friendly Atheist had been criticizing some of us long before Plait's speech for the same thing, and I feel like my many previous posts on the subject hold up reasonably well.
For some reason, I found myself thinking about the subject today, and it occurs to me that the whole thing may be far simpler than we have been making it. How about we put the entire debate in the context of a sneeze and see what happens?
You are hanging out at work with two co-workers you do not know very well. Neither knows you are an atheist, but at least one of them is aware that you do not go to church regularly. When the subject of religion comes up, you tend to move to a different topic or find yourself contributing little. You see, they are both practicing Christians.
While working on a project with the two of them one day, something happens that places you in an awkward position. Co-worker A sneezes. Before you can get your bearings, co-worker B "blesses" her. Whew! Crisis averted. But moments later, co-worker A sneezes again. Damn this allergy season! This time, co-worker B says nothing. Worse still, you can feel his eyes on you. Moment of truth, kid. What do you do?
You know full well what is expected of you in this situation. You are supposed to say "bless you." You are well aware that "bless you" is short for "God bless you." You may even know that this absurd custom originated with superstitions involving evil spirits and the like. You suspect that "Gesundheit" is not going to do it.
Some atheists would say "bless you" and not give it a second thought. They will say that it is about politeness norms and insist that saying it bothers them far less than the alternative of saying nothing at all. I am not here to condemn them, but I am not one of them. I have been in this situation countless times, and I say nothing...ever. I'm not going to play along with the delusion. I have no reason to believe that gods or various magic incantations are going to do a damn thing here, and I will not pretend otherwise.
The one time co-worker B had the nerve to accuse me of being rude, I calmly explained, "I'm sorry you feel that way, but I don't believe in magic." If this makes me a dick, I suppose I can live with that.