Friday, July 10, 2009
If I could indulge in some random history geek stuff for a moment, I've just been reflecting on the terms historians currently use to replace the old Christian dating system. Of course most people are familiar with the designations BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini, i.e. "in the year of our Lord"). However, in academic writing one is generally expected to use the alternate terms BCE (Before the Common Era) and CE (Common Era).

On the whole I'm in favor of these alternatives. As a Christian it seems disrespectful and unloving towards other, non-Christian folks to simply expect them to adopt our way of looking at things. If one does not accept Jesus as Lord, then it is a falsehood for them to refer to this as the year of "our" Lord, and expecting them to do so feels rather imperialistic and arrogant. However, the irony, in my opinion, is that the designation "Common Era" doesn't actually solve the problem. It's still imperialistic to refer to the past 2000 years as a "common era" for anyone who is not actually a Christian. It's not shared in common by Muslims, for instance, or Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Taoists, animists, etc.

Personally I think it would be more accurate and least offensive for CE and BCE to simply refer to "the Christian Era" and "Before the Christian Era". After all, everyone already knows what is being referred to, regardless of what you call it. And the term "Christian Era" simply names it for what it is without implying that non-Christians have to necessarily identify themselves within it if they don't want to (after all, many other cultures and religions - Islam, Hinduism, China, Judaism - have their own way of counting the years). It wouldn't require a confession of faith like AD does, nor would it mean falsely claiming that all people hold this system in "common", when in fact many have been forced to adopt it as a result of Western imperialism, or simply out of convenience/necessity.
posted by Mike Clawson at 5:20 PM | Permalink |


At 7/11/2009 07:51:00 AM, Anonymous Andrew

"It's still imperialistic to refer to the past 2000 years as a "common era" for anyone who is not actually a Christian."

Good grief, grow up and fight the battles worth fighintg. Imperialistic? Is it possible to read too much into something? It's this type of apathy that paints the EM as a bunch of cultured elitists who are repeatedly looking to be seen as "progressive" by cultural elites and academics.

All that to say, "Who cares?"

If you're position is true, then we might as well re-designate and denounce the entire calendar and role of Christianity's influence on western civilization for fear of being "insensitive." So, in the spirit of such nonsense, I must confess that hospitals, schools, pregnancy centers, homeless shelters, are just to "imperialistic." We should do away with those, because such institutions are just too offensive for the common good.


At 7/11/2009 11:16:00 AM, Blogger Mike Clawson

I'm not "fighting" any "battles" here Andrew. Just making an observation. As someone who is working on a PhD in history, this is a something that I have to consider on a regular basis.

As for motivations, I have no idea why you think you have the ability to speculate about mine, but I assure you it has nothing to do with "image" and everything to do with my Christian commitment to love the Other. I would rather be overly sensitive towards the concerns of non-Christians, then to not even think at all about how our language and terminology might come across to them. It's not about being "progressive" or "politically correct"; it's about love. And when it comes to that, I want to err on the side of too much rather than not enough.


At 7/13/2009 02:33:00 PM, Blogger Matthew Cavanaugh

brilliant insight, mike!


At 10/01/2009 12:55:00 AM, Anonymous Mike DeVries

Well said. Completely agree. [But you already knew that...]


Links to this post

Links to this post:

Create a Link