Revisiting CE and BCE

| | Comments (7)

It's odd the way things come in cycles and this week I've had my attention focused on this issue twice. The first time was with Sr. Malone's book (reviewed below). The second was as I was writing a reflection of this scripture from St. John:

"He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not.
He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. " (John 1: 10-11)

Of this passage I wrote:

. . . historians have started to use a dating system that dates everything B.C.E. (Before Common Era) and C.E. (Common Era) because the Latin phrase "Anno Domini" or A.D., the Year of the Lord, is "not sufficiently inclusive." What could be more inclusive than salvation for all who believe in Him? What could possibly be more inclusive that honoring Him who created all.

(The text above reflects the edits suggested by the editor and accepted by me.)

What I originally wrote may vanish because it is probably not well-conducive to serene reflection; however the editor of the column wrote to me and here, in a slightly altered version, is what I replied:

My point was, of course to emphasize the phrase "And the world knew Him not." That's the world we live in today perhpas even more so than the world of Jesus. At that time, the transmittal of news was limited to caravan and personal communication--it was at leasat understandable. In today's world it is more like an enforced amnesia--more like "We knew Him, but we're trying our best to forget Him."

I should emphasize that I do not wish not to criticize those who find themselves in academia and for the sake of academic survival must accept the system imposed upon them. What I want to point out is that it is not a "value-neutral" inclusive act. That is--it is not as though this action has no ramifications. There is great harm done when Jesus Christ is excised from historical memory by academic fiat in the name of some illusory "inclusiveness." If the dating system still dates from the traditional A.D. (even if the calculation was originally wrong) then we are still saying (no matter what the letters we use) that the history of the world was so altered by this event that we begin our dating there. Were we really to try to place a value-neutral date for beginning our chronology, it would have to be something like the date of the Shang scapulomancy fragments (earliest written language), or perhpas if all were amenable the establishment of the Sumerian civilization. And, perhaps, if academia is to have its way, we will see that proposition in the near future. If so, I suspect that it will be confined to the rarified atmosphere of the ivory tower. I would suggest that the usages BC and BCE also be confined by popular demand to the post-modernist Christ-amnesiac academic establishment. Those of us outside it should make every effort to remember Jesus even in so small a thing as two letters after a date.

Bookmark and Share


I would suggest that the usages BC and BCE also be confined by popular demand to the post-modernist Christ-amnesiac academic establishment. Those of us outside it should make every effort to remember Jesus even in so small a thing as two letters after a date.

I'm outside the academic community, but I would hope that what I write would be read by non-christians as well as people who believe that Jesus was the Christ.

We're not all christian. Jews, for example, DO have their own calendars, and they DO use those dates when communicating with each other. They do not count the days from the birth of a man whom they do not consider the Christ, but from events in their own religious history. When they communicate outside their own community, they use BCE and CE.

If I want to communicate with them, I try to use BCE and CE as well. I am not familiar enough to feel comfortable using their dates, but I do not want to make them uncomfortable by using Latin abbreviations that refer to a Christ in whose name their people may have been mistreated. It just strikes me as being insensitive to their distress.

Dear Talmida,

You've said this before and I respect your opinion, but I disagree with you. Whatever you label the dates, they still stem from the same time and I don't frankly see how it is going to alleviate anyone's "distress." Moreover, I am rather tired of entirely altering everything about our culture to accommodate those who may be distressed. What about those who are distressed by removing reference to their Lord?

I think I am saying that when you choose to use BCE and CE, you have discommoded and made uncomfortable a significant population of people--is their distress not worthy of consideration?

The knife cuts both ways--and at the very least AD and BC does have a certain chronological continuity in it.

As I have said, I respect your viewpoint, but if I did not know you, your choice would have me opt-out of reading your work--I have done so many times because I oppose censorship--and this just strikes me as another example of it. This is simply the gut reaction I have when I see this usage. However, knowing you (or being acquainted with you) and appreciating your motives, I am more likely to be accomodating to what you choose.

But I do have another question. Assuming I don't know the source--why would I be interested in reading something by someone who so slights what is so central to my own life? Why would I want to read once again the plaints of the disgruntled? Am I, and nearly 2,000,000,000 people (all told) to be so lightly dismissed in our own considerations? What incentive do I have as a Christian to read the work of one who is troubled by a Christian system of dates?

If we are to be considerate of others, shouldn't those others include the majority as well as the minority? Shouldn't those for whom Christ is a central reality be as respected as those for whom He is not? I believe this system is merely a way of removing Jesus from consideration without ever really doing so. We cover Him up and hammer the nails in yet again.


Steven small a thing as two letters after a date.

Or before a date, as the case may be.

We cover Him up and hammer the nails in yet again.
I'm so sorry you feel this way, Steven. Perhaps the next time you see CE you might interpret it to mean Christian Era, and pray that the author meant as much when she wrote it.

my understanding is that "CE" is intended to stand for for "Common Era", not "Christian Era." At least that's how I've heard users read it out.

"CE" and "BCE" are just circumlocutions for "AD" and "BC". Everyone knows what one means when he uses them. All it does is call attention to what is being ignored.

Mark 8:38

Dear Peony,

You are correct. However, and I say what follows without any sense of irony, I think what Talmida is trying to suggest, is that I might a bit more generous-spirited in how I view the matter. And in one sense, she's absolutely correct. If what is done is done out of a spirit of charity, as would be the case on her part, then one should accept it in a spirit of charity.

Unfortunately, I feel as you have expressed, and I cannot help that feeling. Talmida's way may be at once more charitable and more effective, but I have not yet grown there. I still feel a sense of slight, of something taken away, of an attempt to drive God out of yet another corner of our civilization.

But as Talmida points out, there may be a great many motives for using this system, some of which have nothing to do with trying to displace God, regardless of my viewpoint. So I would do well to embrace in charity what is offered in charity, and given time enough and grace, perhaps I will. For the moment though, to quote a reknowned reformer, "Here I stand, I can do no other." God willing, that will change in time. Otherwise, I will be loyal to my instinctive response.

Thank you so much for your comment.



The drive to make language "neutral" where God is concerned is ultimately futile: "Thought and language are metaphysical, and [Stanley] Jaki loves to quote E.A. Burtt's assertion that 'the only way to avoid metaphysics is to say nothing'." -M.D. Aeschliman in review of A Mind's Matter: An Intellectual Autobiography by Stanley L. Jaki

We give ourselves away in our choice of words.



About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on December 29, 2004 8:03 AM.

Let All Creation Praise Him! was the previous entry in this blog.

On Reading Different Genres is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

My Blogroll