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Justification of the use of "CE"
& "BCE" to identify dates. Trends

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Justification for the use of CE/BCE:

According to David Barrett et al, editors of the "World Christian Encyclopedia: A comparative survey of churches and religions - AD 30 to 2200," there are 19 major world religions which are subdivided into a total of 270 large religious groups, and many smaller ones. 1 The vast majority do not recognize Yeshua of Nazareth as either God or Messiah. "AD" stands for "Anno Domine" or the Year of the Lord. "BC" stands for "Jesus Christ;" "Christ" means Messiah in Greek. Expecting followers of other religions to imply this status for Yeshua can create ill feeling.

We receive many Emails each week from visitors to our web site. One of the most common topics deals with the CE/BCE notation. The number of those in favor of a religiously neutral notation is approximately equal to the number of Emails from those who want to retain AD/BC. The former Emailers are generally secular, non-Christian, or liberal Christian; the latter are almost all conservative Protestants.

In the U.S., many Christians -- particularly conservative Protestants -- feel under attack by secularists and followers of non-Christian religions. Simultaneously, many secularists and non-Christians feel under attack from conservative Protestants. This conflict becomes particularly serious during Christmas time.

Answer.com comments:

"The intensity with which some Christians protest any switch from BC/AD to BCE/CE indicates that, despite any claims to the contrary, BC/AD has not become "removed from its religious connotations." 2

The Rev. John W,. Riggs of Eden Theological Seminary wrote:

"As Christians and others have become increasing aware that Christianity is not the only Western tradition, it has made sense to many to switch the designation of dates from A.D. to C.E., and thus also from B.C. ("Before Christ") to B.C.E. ("Before the Common Era")."

"Does this mean that we are no longer Christian when we use the terms B.C.E. and C.E.? Not at all."

"For Christians, it is still Jesus Christ through whom God comes to us with healing redemption. It merely means that we ought not force this confession on others, if even implicitly." 3

Fred Espenak, writing for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) wrote:

"The Christian bias in Exiguus' dating terminology may be perceived as chauvinistic or insensitive to other religious belief systems. Fortunately, there is an alternative which preserves the year numbering established by Exiguus and now an unavoidable legacy of the historical record. The religiously neutral abbreviation BCE (for 'Before Common Era') can be substituted for 'BC.' Similarly, the abbreviation 'CE' (for 'Common Era') can replace the nonsecular term 'AD'."

"These modern terms are to be preferred because they do not impose a particular theology on the reader or writer. Futhermore, [sic] both 'CE' and 'BCE' are used as suffixes as opposed to the proper prefix and suffix usage, respectively, of 'AD' and 'BC'. This has distinct advantages for computer generated lists and tables. This web site will strive to use the dating conventions of 'CE' and 'BCE' in place of 'AD' and 'BC' whenever the terminology is required." 4

D. Glenn Arthur, Jr, writing on his own web site, stated:

"... 'CE' is a more considerate way of labelling dates in the Gregorian calendar without rubbing non-Christian's noses in the fact that so much of the world is using a calendar based on the alleged birth-year of the man we Christians believe to be the Messiah. (Note that there are other calendars in use -- the Gregorian calendar is not universal. So there are plenty of people with their own perfectly good calendars who have to keep track of dates in our calendar so they can do international business, or just to communicate with the folks in their own neighbourhood if they live in a country that uses the Gregorian calendar.)

It's also more accurate for Christians, since today's best guesses as to when Jesus of Nazareth was born differ by four to six years from the best guesses the folks who invented our calendar had. So it is highly unlikely that Jesus was born in the year 1 CE. Which means that if one insists on calling that year AD 1, one is probably off by about five years. Personally, being a bit of a traditionalist, I'll probably continue using AD on personal correspondence with other Christians or folks who I know won't care and on certain published (or web-published or posted) stuff intended primarily for a Christian audience or intended to present an intensely personal and religious topic. Even though I know it's off by four to six years. I'm going to try to consistently use CE the rest of the time (when I bother to use either), and if I slip up I expect to be called on it so I can fix it. ..."

"Is this 'Politically Correct'? Well, it's polite and it's more accurate. I don't think anybody wants to go around changing all the dates on medieval tax records to pretend our ancestors used religiously-neutral language, or anything like that. It's just more considerate towards non-Christians, and it means that Christians discussing the actual date of the birth of Jesus don't have to say silly things like'Christ was probably born around 4 years Before Christ.' Instead we can say, '"... around the year 4 BCE, possibly as early as 6 BCE'."

"So never mind the "political correctness" angle -- just look at it in terms of politeness, consideration, and accuracy." 5

Two other factors:

There are another two points to consider:

bullet"BC" is an acronym for both "Before Christ" and "British Columbia" -- Canada's most western province.
bullet"CE" is an acronym for "Common Era." It also refers to a CE Mark that is used on low voltage electrical equipment that meets certain standards.

Both ambiguities can generate confusion.

Trends:

"Wikipedia" states that the new notation is used by "Many non-Christians or secular persons." However, we suspect that the majority of users are actually Christians who want to use a religiously neutral notation that does not offend or distress persons of any religion. 6

The use of the BCE and CE notation appears to be growing at the expense of BC and AD:

bulletIt is now widely used by non-Christian scholars.
bulletIt is used by Jehovah's Witnesses, the Abbreviations Dictionary, 7 and by some other Christians, who interpret "CE" as "Christian Era."
bulletIt is in wide use throughout academia, and in school text books.
bulletIt is used by the College Board in its history texts, by the National Geographic Society, the United States Naval Observatory, Smithsonian Institution, etc. History Channel uses both notations.

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. David B. Barrett, et al., "World Christian Encyclopedia : A Comparative Survey of Churches and Religions in the Modern World," Oxford University Press, (2001). Read reviews or order this book

  2. "Common Era," Answers.com, at: http://www.answers.com/
  3. The Rev. John W. Riggs, "Whatever happened to B.C. and A.D., and why?," United Church News, 2003-JAN/FEB, at: http://www.ucc.org/

  4. Fred Espenak, "Year dating conventions," NASA, at: http://sunearth.gsfc.nasa.gov/

  5. D. Glenn Arthur, Jr., "The 'Common Era' (i.e. nowadays)," (2001) at: http://www.dglenn.org/

  6. "Common Era," Wikipedia, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  7. R.S. Wachal, "Abbreviations Dictionary: A Practical Compilation of Today's Acronyms and Abbreviations," Houghton Mifflin, (1999). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store

Copyright © 1999 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2009-APR-20
Author: B.A. Robinson

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