Before Common Calendar

Before Common Calendar October 8, 2017

Doug Chaplin writes:

For me, the biggest objection to replacing BC/AD with BCE/CE is that it is fundamentally dishonest. For better or worse, we have a global dating system because the world was pretty much conquered by Christian imperialist powers who could enforce European Christendom norms on the rest of the globe. Calling the time since the approximate date of Jesus’ birth “Common Era” as though this is a matter of mutual agreement, and nothing to do with a particular history of faith and conquest, is simply untrue.

In functional terms, the Christian system is no better or worse than the Muslim, Jewish or any other. We could even all decide to add 753 to all our dates and go back to the mythical AUC (from the foundation of the city – ab urbe condita) of the Roman Empire. However, we are where we are because of a very specific Christian history that indelibly stamped its mark on the globe.

Yes, it can be replaced, but replacing it with a somewhat fraudulent name, while keeping the same dating system seems to me to be simply an act of intellectual dishonesty. It is a refusal to acknowledge the imperialist and religious history which has brought us to this point.

There is no common dating system based on anything other than historical contingency, and surely it is better honestly to acknowledge the specific stories and circumstances which have shaped the world in which we live, like it or lump it, than to gloss the often bloody reality with this seemingly objective and thinly consensual patina of neutrality.

Click through to read the rest. One of the few things that has led me to view the use of BCE/CE a bit less negatively is the fact that (as Doug mentions in his post) it allows one to avoid the oddity of having to say that Jesus was born approximately six years Before Christ…

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  • “Click through to read the rest” doesn’t do anything, as far as I can tell.

  • I agree with Chaplin. I never did see the point of changing from BC/AD to BCE/CE.

    It’s not as if we are moving away from a Christian calendar, to avoid offending non-Christians. Because it is still a Christian calendar. At least the old name benefits from being part of tradition.

    • Lark62

      It is the calendar. It is the one we use. Just like Wednesday is the designation given to the day that falls after Tuesday and before Thursday, the year designation is what it is. But just as I don’t pretend that Woden was real, neither do I pretend that Jesus was real. 2017 is just the number we use to refer to this year. But it is not the “year of our Lord” because a good number of us don’t believe that nonsense. Common Era works just fine.

  • John MacDonald

    This seems somewhat analogous to the movement in the southern states to remove the confederate flags, symbols, and statues from public property. After all, what message would it convey to a Muslim child in a multicultural classroom to be told a particular historical event occurred at such and such a time Anno Domini?

    • The Mouse Avenger

      I can see where you’re coming from, but I don’t think your analogy with the Confederate statues & stuff is very appropriate (for a number of reasons).

  • Erp

    BCE and CE also and with earlier examples in the OED stood for “Before Christian Era” and “Christian Era”.

    • David Evans

      The online Oxford dictionary defines BCE as Before Common Era. So does every other dictionary I can find.

      • Erp

        Look under ‘Christian Era’

        • David Evans

          I did. I can find nothing to indicate that BCE stands for “Before Christian Era” or that CE stands for “Christian Era”

          • Erp

            But you do find that Christian Era and Before the Christian Era were phrases in use. And that the definition for C.E. is “Common Era; occasionally, Christian Era”. One could of course do a google book search in old books. For example “was known in the Orient, and especially in India, two thousand years before the Christian era, and that Zoroaster,—about 680 B. C. E. —taught the same doctrine in the Zend-books,” (A Guide for Rational Inquiries Into the Biblical Writings, Isidor Kalisch, trans. by M. Meyer, 1857, Bloch & Company, page 110)

          • David Evans

            Of course you find those phrases in use. I am talking specifically about the abbreviations BCE and CE. I am saying that in common use they represent Before Common Era and Common Era, That, after all, is the point of using them.

          • Erp

            And I have the OED stating that CE sometimes stands for “Christian Era” and an 1857 book that uses B.C.E. for Before the Christian Era. I don’t disagree that the usual sense nowadays is Common Era. The other form just makes it amusing when Christians complain about the use of CE and BCE as being anti-Christian.

          • David Evans


  • Marcia Culligan

    What’s getting missed here is the meaning of AD. For many people, Jesus is not our/their lord. The move away from BC/AD is as much a reflection of that as anything else.

    • John MacDonald

      That’s what I was trying to stress in my comment too.

    • Doug

      And it’s a fair enough point – but then again, what does it do for a Muslim child to be told dating from Jesus is the common norm, while dating from the Hijra is a weird minority religious thing?

      • Marcia Culligan

        I would argue that dating from Jesus is not a common norm. It’s a common practice rooted in a paradigm centred (largely) on Western/European assumptions about the global primacy of Christianity in the world. I consider it a sign of respect for non-Christian views and paradigms that BCE/CE (no matter the issues associated with this alternative scheme) has been adopted with (relatively) little push-back for many decades.

        • Doug

          I think you may be missing my point – BCE / CE is dating from Jesus, but in disguise to pretend it is a sign of respect for non-Christian views while relying on the hegemony established by Christian imperialism

          • Lark62

            But BCE / CE is not dating from the birth of a semi mythological palestinian preacher. BCE / CE is dating from what a specific 6th century christian incorrectly thought was the date of birth of a semi-mythological palestinian preacher. He was incorrect.

            So the choices are to 1. Continue with this error completely. 2. Continue with part of his error – which year to designate year 1, but discontinue the error of pretending that date has any actual meaning or 3. Discontinue both the error that the date has meaning, and discontinue use of the meaningless date as year 1. This third is totally impractical, for the the chaos of switching the year designations and the near impossibility of getting world wide agreement on an alternative. .

            Option 2 is the only sane option.

            Just as year 1 is just a year with no great significance, Monday no longer honors the moon, Tuesday no longer honors the scandinavian god Tiw (son of Odin), Wednesday no longer honors Woden/Odin, Thursday no longer honors Thor, Friday no longer honors Freya, Saturday no longer honors Saturn, and Sunday no longer honors the sun. By your logic, we should also change the names of every day of the week, plus January (Janus), March (Mars), May (Maia), June (Juno), July (Julius Caesar) and August (Augustus Caesar).

          • The Mouse Avenger

            But Jesus DID exist, you…you…dolt!

        • David Evans

          There is no natural Year 1 on which to base a calendar. The options were to keep the Christian Year 1, renaming it to avoid the explicitly Christian reference, or to pick another year which will itself be bound to a particular culture. This choice avoids rewriting huge numbers of dates and giving everyone one more conversion to remember.

  • Phil Ledgerwood

    There’s no great way to handle this, right? I mean, where should the “CE” start? Paul? Constantine?

  • Nick G

    As someone says below, CE can be taken to abbreviate “Christian Era”, and BCE “Before (the) Christian Era” – i.e. the era deriving from Christian traditions. Which avoids the dishonesty Chaplin complains about, while also removing the presumption that everyone regards Jesus as the Messiah, and their Lord. I have, of course, no objection at all to Christians continuing to use “BC” and “AD” if they wish.

  • The Bofa on the Sofa

    I always thought that the calendar should be set to day 0 as Aug 6, 1945. That is a line of demarcation that is undeniable to anyone. The world changed that day.

    • I don’t really mind when ‘day 0’ is. Just…if we colonise Mars or something, please let’s have a “year zero” so we don’t have to have the “Millenium starts in 00/01” argument again

  • Jessica Harmon

    This reminds me of the “Human Era” video from Kurzgesagt, where they want to re-zero the calendar to the start of human civilization 12k years ago:

  • It is a refusal to acknowledge the imperialist and religious history which has brought us to this point.

    And does the fact that we hide that Monday is moon day, Wednesday Wodin’s (Odin’s) Day, May is dedicated to the god Mars, August is Caesar Augustus’s month, and so on a refusal to acknowledge something important? When we say “August” not only without a thought of Caesar Augustus but without even knowledge of it, are we ignoring vital historical facts that must be kept front and center?

    BC/BCE simply diminishes an irrelevance. We don’t live in a theocracy. If you want to get excited about our years being an inept attempt at dating a particular person, that’s fine, but (again) it’s an irrelevance.