The BC/AD & BCE/CE “debate”

As you may have seen, there was a mini debate that flared up over the last few days in response to an article in the Fail on Sunday about the BBC dropping the use of BC/AD as a label added to years in favour of BCE/CE. There are some very good pieces on the web, and I have referenced these at the foot of this post.

This is something I’ve changed my mind over in the last few years, so I’ll pen down my initial objections and why I am now not really fussed over it.

My objections

I first came across the use of BCE/CE as an alternative to BC/AD about 10 years ago. I can’t tell whether this had anything to do with my leaving a christian school around that time or whether there was a noticeable upturn in the use of BCE/CE as an alternative. If anyone has any statistics (preferably with references) on the relative usage of the terms, then please do point me towards them. I think the debate could be much better framed with more facts and less rhetoric, though the same is true of pretty much every debate I can think of!

At the time, I was younger and a little bit of a fundamentalist. My immature gut reaction was to think that this was stripping Christ out of the language, much as in the same way many Christmas cards are dubbed “Seasons Greetings.” I do still think there is some element of the “out of sight, out of mind” brand of secularism within this, but I do think it really is too minor to get one’s knickers in a twist about.

I wouldn’t mind so much if the terms were replaced with something that actually had some meaning, some reference, that signified an important event. When talking about housing construction in the UK, we often use World War 2 as a demarcation point, with buildings referred to as pre-war or post-war. But Common Era and Before Common Era are devoid of any meaning. I think this may be behind the supposed objection by the Plain English Campaign. I say “supposed” because the Fail only includes one quote from their Press Officer and yet there is no statement on their website about it.

My acceptance

Ultimately, it’s not the end of the world. There is still a demarcation boundary between these two eras, and it would be a very dull mind indeed that doesn’t enquire into why the two are separated. What event was it that heralded such a turning point in how all of history is oriented? Yet there are admittedly problems with the BC/AD system. Not least, it is widely regarded that whoever did the sums on behalf of pope Gregory got them wrong, and that Jesus was probably born in around 6 B.C./B.C.E. There is then the question of whether this is actually an important date for christianity at all. The hinge point is not Jesus’ birth at all, but rather it around the Easter weekend which witnessed his death and resurrection. Of course, there is then debate about precisely when this was, with dates ranging from A.D. 27 to A.D. 41.

I am writing another blog post at the moment on one aspect of the interaction between religion and politics, but for now I will summarise my view that I don’t agree with any group (religious or secular) imposing their system of beliefs on another. Discussion and persuasion are far better means to achieve a goal than dictation. So while the more fundamentalist view may be that this is an imposition of secular values stamping all over their beliefs, you have to recognise that the use of the BC/AD system may be perceived to be the exact reverse.

My opinion is that it should be the goal of the church to preach the gospel. Let the world know the historical facts and our best understanding of the interpretation of their implications. People can then be free to choose whether to accept or reject them.

I don’t consider that this silliness over a dating system is a serious hindrance to that goal.

I was reminded of the introduction to 1 Timothy, when the author writes:

“instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God” (1 Tim 1:3b-4a, NASB)

And on that note, I shall allow it to distract me no further.

Other references

Leading the charge from the newspapers was (unsurprisingly) the Guardian. The case here is made from an FAQ section of the BBC website, though the Guardian links directly to the FAQs, which has no link from the BBC’s religion site.

Blundering in like the hapless modern-day Falstaff that he is, Boris Johnson has written a piece in the Torygraph.

The satirical blog, The Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley, has an excellent take on it.

Probably the best right-wing defence of the Mail’s piece comes from Heresy Corner.

The final, concise, word goes to Phil’s Treehouse.

Of course, there are plenty of others which I may have missed. This is just what I’ve found from a quick perusal of the web.

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3 responses to “The BC/AD & BCE/CE “debate”

  1. Satirical? We sweat our hearts out bringing spiritual insights to a post-modern world…My favourites are always those people that date things as "before the present time". That's what I call built-in obsolescence.And he's a very clever man, is Boris Johnson. He's also a good actor.

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