Little do atheists realise when they say ‘Goodbye’ to their friends, that they are in reality saying “God be with ye!”—an old blessing and hope. Such can be seen in other languages, for example French, and Spanish, with adieu, adios—’to God’.
A recent report stated that “Take care!” was now the most popular valedictory (“Vale!” – ‘farewell!’) expression in the UK.
This has replaced “cheerio!” (and presumably its kindred expression, “Cheers!”), as the next most popular.
What are we to make of these expressions? Do they actually tell us anything?
In Roman times ‘Ave‘ (greetings!) and ‘Vale‘ (farewell!) were customary.
In such times, in a world of spirits and dominated by fate (the goddess of fate and justice was Nemesis, often associated with the arena), portents and omens, not to mention capricious gods, there was a great deal to be anxious about.
Wishing someone a “Fare ye well!” carried far more meaning. The world, and all that was in it, – was a nasty place. Do the expressions ‘Goodbye’ – theologically rich – and ‘Take care! – apparently innocuous – signify anything?
“God-be-with-ye!” is clearly rooted in a Christian world-view, although no doubt Jews and Muslims could perhaps happily utilise it.
But if God is the devil—as the poet Baudelaire (1821-67) asserted- and not love – then wanting God to be with people would be a curse, and not a blessing.
People are not alone in the world. A caring God is with them! Even if in Calvinist terms, such a blessing is rather meaningless (since God has predestined all that will happen anyway, including all the world’s atrocities), and for the superstitious more akin to magic (where it is the formula that achieves results), the intention is positive.
For others, the expression is merely a culturally-imbued reflex, nothing more.
Nonetheless, its very existence tells of deep traditional memories within a culture, of a personal God, who loves and cares for his creation, even if this isn’t something that has been thought through.
What then of “Take care!”? The intention is surely well meant, for the majority probably do wish well to those from whom they are temporarily departing. God is, however, no longer there.
This is a world in which the individual now reigns, without deity (except perhaps themselves), and is ‘in consequence forlorn’, as Sartre (1946) has put it.
People are responsible for their own fate now.
‘There is no reality except in action’, and people must ‘define themselves by their actions’.
Hence people are now responsible for their own care, as the new custom has it. No longer a blessing, although perhaps a hope, but maybe most of all it is advice and a warning. It is a call to individual and personal responsibility to take care of oneself.
Thus the therapists’ rooms are full, as are the lists of delegates at such contemporary encounter groups as are organised by (say) Est (aka the Forum, Landmark, etc).
Like Sisyphus, each person is a hero, or heroine, rolling their mighty stone up a hill, then rolling it down, only to repeat the process, ad infinitum – until their own death, and that of the that of universe – brings all to a final meaningless, but heroic end.
Which will you choose?