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"CE/BCE" or "AD/BC" dating notation

Introduction

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Groups in favor of CE/BCE:

The Ethic of Reciprocity (the Golden Rule) suggests that one should not intentionally cause unnecessary pain to other humans. We should treat others as we would wish to be treated. Since only one out of every three humans on earth is a Christian, some theologians and other authors feel that non-religious, neutral terms like CE and BCE would be less offensive to the non-Christian majority. Forcing a Hindu, for example, to use AD and BC might be seen by some as coercing them to acknowledge the supremacy of the Christian God and of the recognition of Jesus Christ as The Messiah.  (The term "Christ" is derived from the Greek word for Messiah.)

Consider an analogous situation: the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance. The most recent version of this pledge includes the phrase: "Under God." Imagine what a Wiccan (who believes in a God and a Goddess), or many Buddhists and strong Atheists (who do not believe in the existence of God) feel when having to recite those words. Consider how a Christian would feel if the pledge read "Under Buddha" or "Under Allah."

Although CE and BCE had been used mainly within theological writings in recent decades, the terms are gradually receiving greater usage in secular writing, the media, and in the culture generally.

A group and individual opposed to CE/BCE:

Many Christians, particularly from the conservative Protestant wing of that religion, are distressed at the new terms. Some feel that AD and BC have been in use for centuries and that this tradition should be respected. Others see the switch to CE and BCE as just one more example of secularism and non-Christian religions being given precedence over Christianity.

At its year 2000 convention at Orlando FL, the Southern Baptist Convention approved their Resolution 9: "On retaining the traditional method of calendar dating (B.C./A.D.)."  With reference to the popularity of the CE/BCE nomenclature, it stated, in part: 

bullet"...This practice is the result of the secularization, anti-supernaturalism, religious pluralism, and political correctness pervasive in our society." 3
bullet"The traditional method of dating is a reminder of the preeminence of Christ and His gospel in world history."

The resolution recommended that Southern Baptist "individuals, churches, entities, and institutions....retain the traditional method of dating and avoid this revisionism. 4

Ben Johnson of Hampden Academy in Maine suggested a number of reasons why he preferred AD and BC. Some are:

bulletThe term "common era" does not appear in Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary.
bulletBetter events to choose to represent a major change in human history would be:
bulletThe invention of agriculture, circa 10000 BCE
bulletThe invasion of Europe by Persia in 491 BCE
bulletThe birth date of Alexander the Great who conquered most of the known world in 356 BCE.
bulletAugustus becoming Emperor in 27 BCE.
bulletColumbus arrival in America in 1492 CE
bulletThe end of World War 1 in 1918
bulletThe end of World War 2 in 1945.
bulletThe date when Yuri Gagarin entered space in 1961 CE.
bulletThe labels AD and BC have lost their religious meaning; few even know what the abbreviations stand for.
bulletAll of the older history books use AD and BC.
bulletThe terms CE and BCE both contain the two letters "CE," making them more difficult to distinguish from each other.
bulletThere is currently a split between academics -- who generally use CE/BCE -- and the general public who currently use AD/BC. This split widens "...the rift between learning and the common man." 5

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Comments from visitors to this site:

We probably get more critical E-mails about the use of CE & BCE than about any other single topic, other than homosexuality, abortion in the Bible, and whether Roman Catholics, Mormons, and Jehovah's Witnesses are actually Christians.

Some statements against the use of CE and BCE, and possible rebuttals, are:
bullet We have used BC and AD for over a thousand years. Why change?
bulletThe world is becoming more integrated financially, politically, socially and religiously. A universal calendar notation is needed. Recall that for every Christian there are about two non-Christians worldwide. References to Christ and to the Judeo-Christian God offend many of the latter. A universal notation needs to be religiously neutral in order to be generally accepted. CE and BCE meet these requirements.
 
bulletWhy cannot non-Christians accept BC and AD?
bulletImagine how you would feel if the notation were BM and AM where "M" stood for Mithra -- a god-man from Persia on whom the religion of Mithraism was created. (Mithraism was the main competitor to Christianity at one time).  You would be offended, and distressed at having to acknowledge such a god-man every time that you wrote a date. Well, this is how many non-Christians feel about BC ("Before Christ") and AD ("Anno Domini" or "In the year of the Lord"). Consider Native Americans, many of whom associate Christ and Christianity with the genocide of their ancestors. Consider Jews, many of whom consider the Nazi Holocaust to have been founded on a foundation of centuries of Christian Anti-semitism.
 
bullet"...your writers seem to think it is either trendy to adopt it or foist it on the rest of us, or too gutless to stand up against it." 6
bulletFrom what we have learned, many theologians in recent decades used the notation because they wanted to follow the Golden Rule and to avoid distressing the non-Christians of the world. Our web site adopted it for the same reason. A very large percentage -- almost a majority -- of our visitors are non-Christians. Using CE in place of AD actually takes a lot of "guts." We continually receive vicious, hate-filled Emails about our use of this notation, in addition to many Emails that are simply critical.
 
bulletSpend your precious time on other areas of learning that need immediate attention.
bulletSince the topic of our web site is religious tolerance, and the main purpose of the web site is to reduce inter-religious hatred and friction, it seems to us that anything that we can do to reduce religious anger and conflict is worthwhile. Typing "CE/BCE" doesn't really take much more time than typing "AD/BC". The difference is only one letter. It is worth the investment of our time.
 
bulletIf we are going to switch to BCE and CE, should we not be consistent and remove references to Pagan Gods and astronomical bodies from the names of the day of the week (Moon day, Tiw's day, Woden's day, Thor's day, Frig's Day, Saturn's day, Sun day)?
bulletThat certainly would be consistent. The names of the days of the week are based on Pagan names. In olden times, Quakers "did not use names for days of the week or months of the year since most of these names were derived from the names of pagan gods. A date such as August 19, 1748 will never be found. Rather it would be written as '19th da 6th mo 1748.' Sometimes this will be written as '6mo 19da 1748.' " 7,8

It would also be consistent to modify the names of the months, many of which are based on ancient Roman Paganism:
bulletJanus, a two-headed Roman God,
bulletFebrua, a Roman Pagan festival
bulletMars, a Roman God of war and fertility
bulletAprilis, the Roman Goddess of love
bulletMaia, the Roman Goddess of the springtime
bulletJuno, the Roman Great Mother Goddess
bulletJulius Caesar, a Roman dictator
bulletAugustus Caesar, a Roman emperor.

September to December are based on the Roman numbers seven to ten.

Fortunately, very few people are aware of the etymology of the days of the week and months of the year. Thus, it does not create much offense. However, "Before Christ" and "In the year of the [Christian] Lord" is obviously based on a single religion.

This web site uses the date format 2009-JUL-01, to avoid confusion. 6/1/09 means the 6th day of the first month to some people, and the first day of the sixth month to others. Occasionally we get hate Emails from visitors who accuse us of being a front group for the Church of Scientology, because L. Ron Hubbard, its founder, used the same notation. We are not Scientologists. The format that we used was independently "invented" by our coordinator decades ago because it simplified sorting in his computer programs. It is an elegant notation because it accommodates time as well as date, as in 2009-JUL-01 12:59.

Wikipedia conducted a lengthy debate on whether the BCE/CE notation would better satisfy Wikipedia's neutral point of view (NPOV) policy. They concluded that there was no possibility of a consensus. 10

Our decision:

We use the terms CE and BCE throughout this web site because they are less hurtful to non-Christians. We feel that this outweighs any of the objections to their use of which we are aware. We want to communicate ideas while being civil and considerate to people of all religious traditions. This is compatible with the purpose of this web site, which is to promote religious tolerance. We want to reduce discrimination, oppression and unnecessary pain caused to people on the basis of their religion. Some people call this being "politically correct" because it is sensitive to the feelings of others. That is their right. But we feel that the use of CE and BCE is the decent and considerate thing to do.

The United States, where the vast majority visitors to our web site live, is generally regarded as the most religiously diverse country on Earth. Southern Ontario in Canada, where our main office is located, is generally regarded as the most religiously diverse region of any country on Earth. Using a religiously neutral method of identifying dates is thus of particular importance to us.

References:

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

  1. 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
  2. "Anno Domini," Wikipedia, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  3. The term "pluralism" is ambiguous. It is sometimes used to refer to religious diversity. Other times, it refers to the belief that all religions are true.
  4. The text of Resolution 9 is online at: http://www.sbcannualmeeting.org/
  5. Ben Johnson, "BC versus BCE, AD versus CE," undated, was at: http://www.ha.sad22.us/ The essay appears to be offline. This essay is offline
  6. "Letters: Tell us what you think," Cl@ssMate, at: http://ink.news.com.au/ This is also offline.
  7. " 'Quaker' dates," at: http://www.illuminatrix.com/
  8. The early Quakers, and others in the American Colonies and England considered August to be the 6th month. This is because they used the Julian calendar until 1752. Their year began on March 25th. Thus, March was the first month and February was the twelfth month.
  9. "The 'Common Era' - a secular term for year definition," BBC.co.uk, 2004-NOV-19, at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/
  10. "Wikipedia: Neutral point of view/BCE-CE Debate," at: http://en.wikipedia.org/

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

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