Karl Keating brings up an interesting point in his most recent E-Letter:
All in all, “The History of Time” is an informative if, for the calendar-impaired, often a confusing book. Near the end the author brings up something he mentions otherwise only in his preface. It is something that bothers me and perhaps bothers you: the use of C.E. in place of A.D. and of B.C.E. in place of B.C.
In more and more publications we’re seeing the traditional terms A.D. (Anno Domini = Year of the Lord) and B.C. (Before Christ) being dropped in favor of C.E. (Common Era) and B.C.E. (Before the Common Era).
Here is what Holford-Strevens notes about the system used to refer to the time line:
“The Christian era is too well established to be challenged for its religious origin; in China, indeed, where Christianity has never been more than a minority religion, it was made official by the anti-religious Communists. However, the name has come under attack; … amongst English-speakers the term ‘Common Era’, already standard in Jewish usage … has become widespread in American academic writing.”
And not just in academic writing. I’m seeing C.E. and B.C.E. used more and more widely. But to continue:
“Even some Christians have accepted it, whether in an anti-proselytizing spirit or because there are no grounds for believing the era’s epoch to be the true date of the event that it commemorates.”
Let me recapitulate.
A.D. and B.C. are being dropped by some Christians, for two reasons. Some are concerned that by insisting on the traditional usage, they might be perceived as proselytizing, and they think everyone should use a “neutral” designation for years. This strikes me as misplaced courtesy.
If the Incarnation really happened, then it was the most momentous event of all time, far more important than any emperor’s reign, the establishment of any polity, or the occurrence of any battle. Ontologically, nothing else could come close to the Incarnation in importance for the human race. Such an event would be a worthy–in fact, the most worthy–demarcation of human history: Before Incarnation, After Incarnation.
This would be true whether or not most people living today believed it to have occurred. Even if Christians were an infinitesimal minority of the world’s population, rather than a quarter or so of it, the Incarnation would be the most important event that ever happened. To say so publicly is not proselytizing.
I am disappointed when I see it among non-Christians, but not surprised given then increasing antagonism of secular culture towards Christianity, and all forms of religion. Even if you don’t buy the Incarnation, it’s still a calendar system that revolves around a man: Jesus Christ. And that counting system is based off the timing his birth (however imperfectly, as Keating discusses in a part of his letter not excerpted above). To remove the reference to Christ from that system is to deny the history, and very basis, of that system.
One of my pet peeves, though, is when I see Christian writers abandon the “BC/AD” designation for “BCE/CE”. The two times I’ve seen Christian writers do it were in situations where proselytizing wasn’t even an issue. One was in a book we used my first year as a member of my parish’s RCIA team. I read the assignment for the first week and saw the author referencing years “BCE” or “CE.” I immediately put the book down and never read from it again. This author was writing to people interested in becoming Catholic, or just learning more about the Faith and he couldn’t even acknowledge the centrality of the Incarnation to them. How does that set an example of devotion to Our Lord? Fortunately, that book was quickly set aside during the first few weeks of RCIA class and not used again this year. The other time was at a training session by a deacon on how to be an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion. So, not only was everyone in the room a Catholic, but they were chosen by their pastor as especially faithful. Sadly enough, the training went downhill from there as the instructor spent more time about martin Luther and the falsity of devotion to the saints than he did about the Eucharist being the Real Presence of Jesus Christ. (Regardless of the lack of merit to his claims, what do they have to do with the Eucharist?) I soon shut off my brain and stopped paying attention as he seemed to be the very definition of a Roman Protestant.
Use of “CE/BCE” by a Christian writer is a sure giveaway of non-orthodox views and that writer can be safely ignored.