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B.C.A.D.C.E.B.C.E.

You may know there are two conventions for representing historical years: the traditional A.D. and B.C., and the chic new C.E. and B.C.E. (if you don’t know about that, Wikipedia will get you up to speed). People often ask me why I use one or the other, or what (as a historian) I think we should use. I always use B.C. and A.D. when I have a choice, and I believe we should only ever use that convention. The other should be stuffed in a barrel filled with concrete and tossed to the bottom of the sea. However, I don’t always have a choice. When I publish with Prometheus Books (and so far that means five chapters in two volumes, The Christian Delusion and The End of Christianity, and one whole volume out this April: Proving History, which I’ll blog about when it’s finally released), I have to adhere to their editorial conventions, which include a requirement to employ the newfangled convention (so their copy editors always convert the abbreviations, which led to an error in Delusion, where a C.E. date was given as B.C.E., on page 413, which I’m told was corrected on a later printing). So sometimes you’ll see me use one, and sometimes the other. That’s why.

But why do I think C.E. and B.C.E. are dumb? Really dumb, in fact. The newfangled convention has been promoted in an idiotic and patronizing attempt not to “offend” non-Christians who have to use the Christian calender (yes, it’s a Christian calendar, full stop). That’s the same non-Christians who (we’re to suppose) are still being regularly offended by having to call a day Saturday even though they don’t worship the God Saturn. Christians don’t get offended by naming a calendar day by a non-existent pagan god. So why should non-Christians get offended by naming a calendar year after a non-existent Christian god? Calling the sixth day of the week ‘Saturday’ (literally “Saturn’s Day”) does not entail embracing a Eurocentric worldview or belief in the God Saturn. It’s just using the English language. So, too, the labels B.C. and A.D.

The new convention is even stupider than that, of course, because it’s embarrassingly Orwellian. The traditional convention of B.C. (“Before Christ”) and A.D. (“Anno Domini” = “In the Year of the Lord”) is supposed to be improved by replacing it with the culturally neutral B.C.E. (“Before the Common Era”) and C.E. (“Common Era”). But both indicate the same exact division, made by the same exact religion, for the same exact reason, to honor the same exact god. Either way, it’s the same demarcation, which was the invention of Christians, and only makes sense as such. There is no other reason for starting “year 1″ where it does, other than what Christians mistakenly believed to be the birth of their Lord and its cosmic importance.

Yes, mistaken. There is no evidence that Jesus (even if he existed) was born in 1 A.D. (much less on Christmas), and in fact all the evidence we have is against that. The only evidence there is (if it can be trusted at all) entails he was born either no later than 4 B.C. or no earlier than 6 A.D. (a contradiction that further entails at least one of those dates must be wrong). For a summary of the evidence on this point see Richard Carrier, “Luke vs. Matthew on the Year of Christ’s Birth” (or read the full analysis which that only summarizes: “The Date of the Nativity in Luke” ). Personally, I think it’s more embarrassing for Christians if we keep the traditional terms, as that can only perpetually remind them of how fallible and silly they are. Whereas the new notation makes the rest of us look even sillier.

Anyway, point is, the only reason whatever for starting the calendar at year 1 in the B.C.E. / C.E. system is the wholly erroneous medieval belief that the god Jesus was born in that year. Changing the acronyms does nothing to conceal that fact and therefore serves no purpose, other than to please a pernicious form of liberalism that believes you can change what things are by renaming them. And like all stupid attempts to conceal what things really mean by renaming them, the  B.C.E. / C.E. notation is less intelligible (era common to whom?), less explicable (why does the ‘common era’ begin in the year it does, instead of some other year?), less practical (repeating the same two letters in each designator slows visual recognition), and less efficient (using five letters to do the work of four). It’s therefore just monumentally stupid.

As George Carlin aptly observed, our fear of facts always involves making our language more polysyllabic, confusing, and useless. As he put it, “American English is loaded with euphemisms. Because Americans have a lot of trouble dealing with reality. Americans have trouble facing the truth, so they invent the kind of a soft language to protect themselves from it, and it gets worse with every generation.” This is a classic example of that, although in this case foreigners are just as guilty of it, as if they want to hide from the fact that they were conquered by Christian imperialists and are now compelled by that accident of history to use their calendar instead of their own. Just deal with reality. It’s much better that way. Trust me.

The bottom line is, the original notation is more familiar, more honest, more factual, more meaningful, less confusing, and easier to use. There is no good reason to change it.

Comments

  1. Alverant says

    Yea but the reality is more polysyibilic. It’s harder to say BtABoJ (Before the Alleged Birth of Jesus) and AtABoJ (After the Alleged Birth of Jesus) even though it’s closer to the truth than BC/AD. I admit to liking BCE and CE because it needles christians. Small and petty, yes but they need reminders that not everyone is going to roll over for them.

  2. Jason Goertzen says

    Hear hear!

    As a quick aside–even if I were to accept the BCE/CE nonsense, I cannot understand why “common” was used instead of “current.”

    Current Era and Before the Current Era would make more sense–though it would still be a pointless change.

  3. says

    Sounds silly except for one very important oversight you make. AD means Anno Domini, In the Year of Our Lord. Ok, you said that, but you said it to emphasize that this is a Christian calendar. But it says “our Lord”. Christians use that to say there’s a reference to Jesus in the Constitution. That’s not so silly. If nothing else, the BCE/CE system would avoid the need to refer to Jesus as “Our Lord” and making a tacit profession of faith and subservience simply by referring to the year.

    And by saying “common era”, we are being MORE factual. BC/AD is based on an arbitrary, unhistorical conjecture about when a figure of questionable historicity was born. As you yourself say, BC/AD incorrect on its face. They picked the wrong year, or more accurately, there’s no correct year to pick. Alternatively, we have “common era”. Why is it common? Because it’s commonly used. Basically the entire world except undeveloped Africa and Muslim countries. So it’s common.

    How to explain it? Again, “it’s common”. If someone wants more info, it’s not really hard to say “the head of the Catholic Church picked a date out of their Bible to restart the flawed Julian calendar, and that calendar become the norm as western civilization flourished. Now it’s just what we use.” Not so hard.

    And the day reference is a non-sequitur. Naming something after a god is different than professing lordship and pegging it to the wrong year.

    The only good reason not to make a wholesale change is that it’s too much hassle. But it’s not hassle at all for an individual to pick a dating system that is at least more accurate.

    • says

      Jason Torpy: Sounds silly except for one very important oversight you make. AD means Anno Domini, In the Year of Our Lord. Ok, you said that, but you said it to emphasize that this is a Christian calendar. But it says “our Lord”. Christians use that to say there’s a reference to Jesus in the Constitution. That’s not so silly. If nothing else, the BCE/CE system would avoid the need to refer to Jesus as “Our Lord” and making a tacit profession of faith and subservience simply by referring to the year.

      Except that by this perverse logic, if the Constitution had mentioned Saturday, then it would be instituting the worship and reverence of Saturn and establishing this nation as a faithful Saturnian country. Since that is dumb, so is this.

      Likewise, since we can’t go back in time and tell the Founders to write “C.E.” on the parchment, the whole idea that changing to C.E. would “rebut” this perverse argument also doesn’t work, either, now does it?

      Frankly, this is the stupidest reason to convert to C.E. I have yet heard. For shame. :-)

      As to where we are now, see my comment on this above.

      And by saying “common era”, we are being MORE factual. BC/AD is based on an arbitrary, unhistorical conjecture about when a figure of questionable historicity was born. As you yourself say, BC/AD incorrect on its face. They picked the wrong year, or more accurately, there’s no correct year to pick. Alternatively, we have “common era”. Why is it common? Because it’s commonly used. Basically the entire world except undeveloped Africa and Muslim countries. So it’s common.

      Only because Christians invented the calendar to peg the date of their lord then conquered everyone and forced them to use a calendar which is now so ingrained it’s impractical to change. Calling it “common” simply does nothing to change that fact. All it does is create more confusion and inefficiency (for all the reasons I noted above, C.E. and B.C.E. cause innumerable reading and transcription errors, even by professional proofreaders, because it repeats the same two letters; and it inefficiently uses five letters to do the work of four; etc.) and lamely attempt to conceal the stupid religious origins of the system itself.

      It’s exactly identical to trying to rename the days of the week because the names of gods annoy you.

      Naming something after a god is different than professing lordship and pegging it to the wrong year.

      Lord is simply a synonym of god. Professing lordship is the same exact thing as professing godhood. Pegging the wrong year is still the fact of it no matter what acronym you use; and is no different than pegging the wrong day for Saturn (being that he doesn’t exist and doesn’t actually do anything special on that day after all).

  4. Brad says

    Read your article “Luke vs. Matthew on the Year of Christ’s Birth” (btw, your link needs fixed). Very interesting, and a pretty clear contradiction. I’d be interested to hear if you have an opinion on what are the “top 5″ most troublesome errors/contradictions/inaccuracies in the Bible.

    I’ve never liked the B.C.E./C.E., mostly because it seemed really contrived, while not really changing anything.

  5. says

    I’m with you up until the less confusing part, why doe we do the first half in English (the language GOD speaks in:) and the latter in Latin (Which actually existed at the time we did the whole bc/ad crossover.) Shouldn’t it at least be the other way around?

    • says

      Lou Doench: I’m with you up until the less confusing part, why doe we do the first half in English (the language GOD speaks in:) and the latter in Latin (Which actually existed at the time we did the whole bc/ad crossover.) Shouldn’t it at least be the other way around?
      :-)

      To continue with the joke: actually, tradition held that years would have A.D. precede and B.C. follow the number, and indeed some academic journals still insist on this, i.e. it’s A.D. 2012, not 2012 A.D., and 137 B.C., not B.C. 137. So the Latin does precede in time after all! ;-)

  6. says

    Okay, but there is an idea going around that says we should start the calendar at the beginning of the Holocene epoch. Which is somewhere truly close to the beginning of our genus. The time when our common ancestry had split into their own species. Which would then make this year 12012H.E. It makes more sense to me. And I’m not afraid of change.

  7. says

    Almost every day of the week and I think about half of the months are named after some pagan god. If we didn’t want to offend the people who didn’t believe in these gods, we would have to rename the majority of our calendar.

  8. says

    I generally oppose both. Because really the ISO 8601 standard is better. Dates are represented by numbers. Dates in the BC should be negative numbers except for 1 BC which becomes year zero. All the BCs have a subtraction of 1 before the sign change.

    The BC AD nonsense sucks because it’s really just a sign. We understand it for everything else, and the Gregorian calendar lacks a year zero which is a problematic issue when us humans are good enough at math now to view it as a proper number line.

    Julius Caesar was killed in the year -43.
    According to disagreeing Gospel accounts Jesus was born either before -3 or after 6. Which is a difference of 9 years. (A fact that using 4 BC rather than -3 would confuse people on).

    • says

      Tatarize: You are talking about the astronomer’s calendar. It isn’t any more practical than going metric, unfortunately (see my comment above). It would have been a great idea if we’d thought of it at the start, but like the QWERTY keyboard and foots and yards, that ship has sailed.

  9. David Whitehouse says

    I’ve heard your previous groans on this issue and have been waiting patiently for your explanation as I’ve never liked the new terms myself. Let me be the first to say, well done my good Richard!! Especially liked the pertinent Carlin reference.

    If only we could get folks to realize this is as idiotic as renaming netflix to qwikster and get them to go back.

    For my own part, I will continue using the old terms (I don’t get published so not too hard). Just used them today on facebook (forgive my indulgence by including it):

    ‎1000 years in the future at a museum..
    Guide: And here we have some artifacts from a man-made Creationist Theme Park from 2012..
    Guest: 2012? That’s 2012 B.C. right?
    Guide: Sadly, it’s 2012 A.D.

  10. F says

    Carlin also made the point that, “either it flams, or it doesn’t”.

    You make a very good practical point about visual recognition, sir.

  11. Janney says

    Damn. Somewhere I got the idea that the CE update inserted a zero into the number line. I thought all the BCE dates were BC dates minus one. In retrospect I think I made all that up in my head, back in high school or something. Now I’ve got the creeps.

  12. Gordon says

    I feel it is dishonest of me to refer to a year as being the “year of our lord” even if I do it in a dead language.

  13. misanthroputz says

    Whatever anecdotes may be worth on this issue…in my experience, having lived the majority of my life as a goy amongst Liberal and Conservative Jews (i.e. non-orthodox), I have always found using “AD/BC” really rankled their hides far more than among my atheist/agnostic/non-believer comrades.

    …and (at least outside academia) I think this issue was entirely a non-issue *UNTIL* the Uppity Conservative Christian Crackpots (UCCC) — the same one’s who complain about using “xmas” and “xian” shorthands, and who think the “war on Xmas” is a real problem — started making a stink about BCE/CE being preferred by filthy atheist liberals.

    Unfortunately, this evil group agrees with you (albeit for entirely different reasons) and…well…it’s just really HARD to side with a group that is so intellectually bankrupt as the UCCC on any issue (even when reason warrants it) without feeling like I am committing a crime against humanity.

    • says

      misanthroputz: …it’s just really HARD to side with a group that is so intellectually bankrupt as the UCCC on any issue (even when reason warrants it) without feeling like I am committing a crime against humanity.

      But if you then go with the wrong choice just to spite them you look petty and dishonest, as if the truth or rationality no longer matters, which plays right into their storyline that liberals just want to gainsay conservatives even when it’s irrational and indefensible. It thus confirms their picture that liberals are emotional and irrational and don’t care about facts or practicality (or even cooperation or compromise or acceptance of reality).

      By contrast, if you side with them on this, they get flustered because that violates their storyline and makes you look more reasonable than them, and then you can reframe the issue as being about the stupidity of the system they are defending because Jesus wasn’t born in 1 A.D. anyway, and no more exists anymore than Saturn does.

  14. geocatherder says

    You’re dealing with tiny units of time. Geologists use ka and Ma to refer to thousands and millions of years ago, respectively. Your Before Christ/Before Current Era and such are irrelevant; for us the current epoch started some 10,000 years ago, and the current era started 65 million years ago.

  15. qbsmd says

    I thought the change was motivated largely by Jews and Muslims who felt that saying “in the year of our lord”, even as a Latin abbreviation, was blasphemous, and therefore needed something else to call A.D.

  16. Edwin says

    I disagree. I don’t even believe “Our Lord” existed, why would I want to say “in the year of Our Lord”? I wouldn’t. CE and BCE are just fine for me.

    • says

      Edwin: I don’t even believe “Our Lord” existed, why would I want to say “in the year of Our Lord”? I wouldn’t.

      But you’re not. That’s the point. It’s just a couple of letters, A.D. That you obsess over what it refers to in medieval Latin is precisely why this is stupid. Get over it. You don’t obsess over constantly invoking and honoring Saturn every time you say Saturday.

  17. Valerie C says

    What date would you suggest we start such a calender at? 1772BCE when the first legal code (that we know of – Hammurabi) was established? 3100BCE when the first writings were approximated? The date humanity first stepped foot on another planetary body? I agree with you that religions should not be the anchorpoints of calendars, but I’m curious where you would put it instead?

    • says

      Valerie C: I’m curious where you would put it instead?

      First, I wouldn’t (it’s impractical to change something already locked in and ubiquitous). That’s part of my point. But second, if for some reason I would, then the UN charter would be my choice (see my comment about all that a few entries above).

  18. Charles Sullivan says

    I stood my ground once with Prometheus when the editor (a nice person) wanted to change BC to BCE. The problem was that my line involved an historical paraphrase of an AD figure making reference to BC times. I argued that this character would not call it BCE, so neither would I.

    The old BC / AD system works fine. Plus, you get to explain why you use it.

    • says

      Tim F.: Hi Richard, the “Luke vs Matthew…” link is a bit broken. Love the blog.

      Thanks! Fixed.

      (I have noticed this is a recurring problem–sometimes WordPress deletes the http in a web link I put in at the editing stage for some reason, breaking the link. I’ll have to keep my eye on that.)

  19. cbleslie says

    How about we just start at “10,000′ish”BC and make that zero, and move on from there. That way we can all feel like we live in the fucking future, and just be fucking happy with our cellphones that we bitch about not working; when in actuality, they are working you just need to give it a fucking second before you loose your shit about not being able to see your best friend’s cat doing something cute on facebook.

  20. Jonathon says

    Sorry, but I disagree. Using CE (common era) and BCE (before the common era) strip the dating system of religious connotations and reflect the division in the dating of years that is common to the West and has been extended to the rest of the world.

    It wouldn’t matter a bit to me if BC/AD were used to denote the birth of Christ or Krishna. Using CE/BCE is a better alternative and should be used.

    • says

      Sorry, but I disagree. Using CE (common era) and BCE (before the common era) strip the dating system of religious connotations

      January = named after the god Janus
      February = from the Latin term februum, which means purification, via the purification ritual Februa. Retconned, so to say, into a god of purification named Februus
      March = named after the god Mars
      May = named after the god Maia
      June = named after the god Juno
      July = named after (the god) Julius Caesar
      August = named after (the god) Augustus Caesar

      Sunday = the sun god’s day
      Tuesday = the god Tyr’s day
      Wednesday = Wooten’s (Odin’s) day
      Thursday = Thor’s day
      Friday = Frigg’s day
      Saturday = Saturn’s day

      You will have to do a lot more than just getting rid of BC/AD to get rid of the religious connotations in the calendar.

  21. says

    When you show that BCE/CE are little more than euphamisms, I must agree that they are worthless. They don’t go far enough like the metric system did in making year demarcations more meaningful or useful.

    However, it is quite funny to see super-Christians get hopping mad over the use of BCE/CE instead of BC/AD. (Come to think of it, has anyone ever mistaken you for a passionate Christian over your objection to BCE/CE?)

  22. says

    I’m all for the creation of an entirely new calendar. Humanity has achieved so much in the past two thousand years; surely we can come up with something better to base our calendar on than the birthday of a deified zombie who probably never existed anyway?

    Here are a few ideas:

    - First flight of a manned aircraft.

    - First manned spaceflight.

    - First moon landing.

    - First practical use of atomic energy.

    - First successful fusion reaction in a laboratory.

    - First man-made object to exit the solar system.

    - Galileo’s confirmation of the heliocentric model.

    Any one of those events would make a wonderful zero-year for a new calendar. We wouldn’t have to change the structure of the year, the months, or the week. It isn’t as though it would be the first time in human history we’ve shifted to a new calendar retroactively; the one we’re using now came about the same way.

    • says

      danielmchugh: Any one of those events would make a wonderful zero-year for a new calendar.

      Or better: the world’s first January 1 under the UN charter.

      People don’t think about it much, but not only is that a date that is important and shared by all nations (and thus privileging none), it’s one of the most remarkable things ever to happen in human history (literally inconceivable in any prior century of civilization), and has changed the course of history, in a very permanent way.

      But then you’d have to convert all dates from one system to the other. And that’s as impractical as trying to switch to the metric system or a non-QWERTY keyboard. Better to just be pragmatic and stick with Saturn’s Day and Christ’s Birthyear. IMO.

  23. says

    For me, at least, using things like C.E. and B.C.E. isn’t about obscuring the fact that our entire calendar system is based around the mythology of one religion. It is to draw attention to that fact, because of that one moment when the vast majority of people have to actually parse what the acronyms mean and realize that, wow, that is kind of weird that we base our calendar off the mythical birth-date of a god. By no means is there anything *wrong* with using BC and AD.

    I’m not sure the comparison between people using C.E. and B.C.E. (whether for my reason or the one you outline) and people who are fine with Saturday (or Tuesday or Wednesday or Thursday or Friday for that matter) is correct. There’s a major difference — practically no one believes in Saturn as a God anymore, or in any of the Old Norse pantheon — but our culture, much like our calendar, does revolve around Jesus Christ (in one way or another). So I don’t think it is unreasonable or contradictory to, say, use C.E. and not object to Saturday.

  24. Pierce R. Butler says

    The newfangled convention was invented in an idiotic and patronizing attempt not to “offend” non-Christians …

    My impression has always been that it was devised for (if not by) Jewish scholars who were unhappy at being obligated to concede the “lordship” (domini-ation) of a (to them) false messiah.

    I don’t like that either.

    (My Wikilink above points out an earlier label for the same framework is “Vulgar Era”, which does have a certain appeal…)

  25. bad Jim says

    Someone else came up with the idea of using only CE, with 0 and negative numbers for the BCE period to simplify date calculations.

    • says

      bad Jim: Someone else came up with the idea of using only CE, with 0 and negative numbers for the BCE period to simplify date calculations.

      There is no year 0 in the CE/BCE system. It’s exactly the same as AD/BC. You are thinking of the astronomer’s calendar, where there is no letter acronym at all, just a number with a + or – (called Astronomical Year Numbering). The problem with it is that it screws up conversion (it doesn’t align with BC or BCE dates and thus creates confusion when reading already-published scholarship), no one knows about it (except astronomers and astronomy enthusiasts), it doesn’t call itself out as a year (just giving a number with a + or – can sometimes mean anything), and it’s still the same Christian calendar centered on the assumed birth year of a god.

  26. BinJabreel says

    You know something? I think I like this.

    I’ve always had an iffy feeling about the whole “B.C.E.” thing, since it’s still the same year, but have never had the idea under it pinned down so well.

  27. Jim says

    I think getting the word christ out of the dating system is very useful. I like bce and ce, and in no manner see it as orwellian–seems to me a rather self indulgent complaint.

    I would prefer dating to either our origins, approx. 150 years ago, or dating to the approximate time of agriculture or to the approximate time of writing. For those uncomfortable with ce and bce, I suggest using your energies to get a new system.

  28. Woody Tanaka says

    On using the world’s first January 1 under the UN charter:

    “People don’t think about it much, but not only is that a date that is important and shared by all nations (and thus privileging none…”

    I don’t think this is true. There were many nations which were under the yoke of colonialism on that January 1, so that date would not have meaning to them. Further, the Palestinian nation is seeking entry to the UN, but has been blocked from doing so by Israel, US and others. So it is not shared by all nations.

    • says

      Woody Tanaka: There were many nations which were under the yoke of colonialism on that January 1, so that date would not have meaning to them.

      As they are now in the UN, yes, it would. Indeed, the creation of the UN was the first real step towards the end of colonialism.

      The fact that Palestine wants to be in the UN, and most people recognize that it should be, is precisely what proves the universal importance of the UN. Even the Palestinians recognize this! Hence that example proves my point.

      (And in fact, that anyone opposes it is likewise a tacit admission of the UN’s global importance; if it wasn’t important, no one would care.)

  29. misanthroputz says

    Richard Carrier: But if you then go with the wrong choice just to spite them you look petty and dishonest…

    Yes, yes, very true, and I assure you that if push comes to shove, I would soil my otherwise lily white ethics and side with evil in cases where evil is on the more reasonable side of things — but you forget the time honored third choice: ignore the issue altogether and hope that it’s frivolous enough that my need to actually ever pick a side never comes up! And…well….(not to discourage you. but…) this topic just might qualify as the “poster child” of topics one might consider to be just that frivolous. Sorry, but I think my apathy (which I might add is more American than either liberal or conservative) has over taken me here.

    Although, I will promise you that I shall vote for any ballot measure, or write my congress people in support of any bill, that you might someday successfully bring before a legislative body to officially declare AD/BC the official American historical designation for dates. Fair enough?

  30. P Smith says

    BC and AD are as religious as is the word “god”. Using either is an accession to religion, and both are unacceptable. Why the blogger would give in to one is unfathomable.

    “Common Era” is as valid a term as “Common Law”. Or would you rather be ruled by religious laws?

    .

  31. says

    I agree with you 100%, Richard. Did you know that Jehovah’s Witnesses use B.C.E./C.E. in the Watchtower? Silly. It’s all just… silly.

    Calling the sixth day of the week ‘Saturday’

    Seventh! :-)

  32. P Smith says

    danielmchugh (#26) says: “I’m all for the creation of an entirely new calendar. [...] Here are a few ideas:”

    Myself, I’m partial to making 1440CE into the starting year, the year Gutenberg completed his printing press.

    I’d also make January through May 31 days, the rest thirty, with December 31 in leap years, and the first day of the year is the winter solstice.

    .

  33. P Smith says

    Richard Carrier says: “There is no year 0 in the CE/BCE system.”

    Of course not. Zero is merely a place, a point on a line.

    The place on a number line from 0 < x <= 1 is the first value greater than zero, not zero itself. The place on a number line from -1 >= x > 0 is the last value less than zero. Zero itself doesn’t exist.

    The same could be said about years, 1BCE is the last before zero and 1CE is the first after.

  34. says

    I personally use the following conventions:

    Positive years are CE or AD.

    Negative years are BCE or BC.

    Years qualified by “AQ” are “Age of Aquarius”, and are simply the Gregorian year minus 2000. (For instance, this would be the year 12 AQ.) The disadvantage of this is that, despite looking cool, not many other people know what it means.

  35. progjohn says

    Bugger, I’m screwed. Which bunch of narrow minded bigots should I annoy, fundamentalist xians or orthodox jews? Whichever I choose I’m making the other lot happy.

    I have to say that despite a distaste for using BC/AD I have to go for the simple logic that if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

    By the way, what’s this stuff about converting to metric? Here in the uk we have converted both weights & measures and our currency, fairly painlessly and to our long term benefit. I’m sure the mighty usa could drag itself into the 20th century if it really tried.

  36. Azuma Hazuki says

    As Brad says in post #5, I too would be interested in seeing the top 5 worst contradictions :) My own list (bearing in mind this is written by someone with no formal theology training…) is as follows:

    #1: Mat. 16:28 – “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (cognate to Mk. 9:1!)

    #2: Mat. 10:23 – “I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.”

    #3: Mat. 24:34 – “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” (cognate to Mk. 13:30, see also Lk. 25)

    #4: This may be cheating a bit, but let’s say ALL the contradictions in Luke and Matthew. And despite Heddle’s eructations, no, there is no way to reconcile them.

    #5: All the contradictions between ALL the Gospels as to what happened before and during the Crucifixion.

    To me all this proves three things: first, most Christians never crack a Bible; second, most theologians are dishonest and prefer to obscure and bafflegab their way around this (Bill Craig, I’m lookin’ at YOU); third, all of this stuff was written after the fact.

    Would like to see the list from a man who knows, though :)

    • says

      Bible contradictions: I tend to have little interest in those. Dealing with the harmonization and weaseling so as to lock down a demonstration of contradiction is too tiring and I don’t really learn anything by it. It’s just a dance with a lunatic.

      I’m more keen on historical errors, but even those can be time consuming (like my work on the nativity date contradiction), and I don’t have time for that anymore unless I’m being paid (as I was for the Markan ending article: Mark 16:9-20 as Forgery or Fabrication).

      But if you just wanted my top five list (NT only), they’d be:

      #1 Matthew’s vs. Mark’s empty tomb narrative (I use it often as paradigmatic; I’ve commented on it before)

      #2 Matthew vs. Luke on what year Jesus was born

      #3 John vs. the Synoptics on what year Jesus was crucified

      #4 Lazarus exists and is the reason Jesus is killed (John 11-12) vs. no one has ever heard of Lazarus or his incredible resurrection

      #5 Jesus’ cry on the cross (none of the Gospels can agree, even as to the correct gist)

  37. says

    I’m not convinced. I like CE and BCE. It secularises the calendar, while not being too confusing (i.e. by changing Year 1 or setting a Year 0). Having a non-religious dating system (now divorced from its erroneous Christian root) is a good thing for historical scholarship. It says we scholars, we evidence-based historians no longer see history in terms of God’s Plan or the Messiah’s Incarnation.

    And no, I don’t think comparisons to the names of the days of the week or the months are valid. Saturn and Woden are dead gods, worshipped only by a few neo-Pagans. They are, for all intents and purposes, characters in stories. No one is trying to foist their belief in Juno on scholars and scientists and into classrooms. I can look on the idea of Janus as a patron god of January as kind of neat and fitting as he’s the gatekeeper of the new year. No one is trying to claim that Janus’ Providence has guided our history. No one will be confused and assume that because I say such-and-such event happened on a Sunday that I’m viewing the world from the perspective of an adherent of Sol Invictus.

    • says

      Ibis3: [CE/BCE] secularises the calendar…

      No, it doesn’t. It’s still a calendar based on a god’s birthday. Changing the words does not change the fact. That’s why it’s pointless.

      Especially if, as you imply, your aim is to somehow manage a “fuck you” to the Christians by taking away their totem. Do you really think that will work? It’s not like somehow everyone will magically forget it’s a Christian calendar calibrated to the Christian belief as to when their god was born. Changing the words does not have that magical power. Everyone knows it’s a Christian calendar, and will always know that. No matter what letters you use.

      So thinking like you do is kind of silly. Indeed, it makes you look like you are so obsessed with a hatred of Christians that you think you can change reality by changing what it’s called. Sorry, but that’s just not rational.

  38. says

    @Richard, I have to disagree here. Much of adoption has to do with the amount of new information one needs to know and how much of your current understanding isn’t as useful. When I think it’s 60 degrees F out, so I’d better take a jacket. That makes sense in my head. When I think it’s 40 degrees C out so I need the AC to work, that doesn’t really fit in my head. Converting to metric across the board requires that I somehow convert all the distances into my head into something else and relearn it all. That’s not going to fly.

    The differences between ISO/AY is converting “B.C.” to “-”. That’s in many ways easier than B.C. or B.C.E. I already know quite well how negative numbers work. We use number lines all the time. We teach dates as number lines. It’s more obvious than letters that mean something or other. You need to learn nothing new to use it, and you get to forget things you didn’t care about like the lack of a year zero and that BC numbers count up in the past. I’ve seen more than a few people get those silly things wrong. There were headlines in 2004 that the world was 6000 years old, going from Ussher’s 4004 date. But, if you realize that Ussher’s date is -4003 then it’s clear that the universe would be 6009 years old (assuming Ussher were right). Rather than the mistaken 6000, and the also wrong 6010.

    You don’t have to learn anything new. We typically take dates as being AD unless something suggests they are BC dates and we could instantly realize what a negative means here. I get to forget a lot of stuff, and don’t need to learn anything new. If you changed my keyboard, I would no longer know how to type. If you switched me to metric I wouldn’t know how much distance per gallon my car gets or how far away the beach is from me, or how far away Chicago is from LA.

    You can just switch over to saying the -8th century or March -43, and nobody is confused. In many ways it simplifies things greatly even out of the gate. That’s why BCE is stupid, it gives you nothing and adds the extra nothing of tagging on an E for no apparent reason.

    The ship hasn’t sailed on Astronomical Year or ISO standards, there is a pretty direct shift. For the vast majority of dates absolutely nothing would change at all. Most dates are AD and you’d just drop saying AD. And any date in the BCs is just given as a negative number.

    While I couldn’t tell you off the top of my head how many kilograms are in 20 pounds, or meters in a mile, nobody would be confused for even a moment if I said Julius Caesar was killed in the year -43. There’s no conversion at all because we already know how number lines work.

    When you switch to a simpler system without losing any information, there’s really nothing frictive about implementing that system. Nobody would be confused by you using such dates even if nearly nobody else is, there’s no critical mass needed, nothing new needing to be learned.

    At the very least the analogy to switching over to metric or away from QWERTY is unjust. There’s a clear adoption pathway.

    • says

      Tartarize: nobody would be confused for even a moment if I said Julius Caesar was killed in the year -43.

      As an experienced teacher, I can tell you that’s not true. I’ve had students look at an article on ancient eclipses and ask me what the numbers meant and how to convert them to “real” dates. It’s unfamiliar and requires thinking when normally your brain processes the information automatically.

      The bottom line is, trying to “fix” the world so it runs all super perfectly like you want is a Platonic fool’s errand. It’s easier to just use established conventions, because everyone knows them, they are in all existing literature (going back hundreds of years), and there is no learning curve, no math to do, no cost whatsoever. It’s culturally built-in. And it works fine as-is. So why change it? There just is no good reason. You’re still picking a zero point that is the birth of a nonexistent god. So what is accomplished? Nothing, really.

      It’s better to just accept that nothing in the world, especially in linguistic and cultural conventions, is ever going to be “perfect.” We might think we can hugely improve the ridiculous spelling conventions of the English language, for example (see cut spelling), but it’s just not that easy, and in fact is a waste of time, since really, humans learn the existing conventions just as easily, because the entire cultural system is geared that way (TV, books, magazines, street signs, you are immersed in the actual convention from the moment you open your eyes and start trying to figure out what all the squiggly things are), and in fact trying to change it would require teaching both systems (since you still have to read all previous literature, and stuff in other countries, and so on), which costs double. Yes, cut spelling would have been awesome. But there is no adoption pathway that makes sense. Yes, the date convention thing is not as monumental, but scale is not the issue, the problem is still the same: it’s easier to stick with convention, and it works fine; that way we don’t have to teach two systems, and we don’t have to somehow convince everyone to use the new system (which to accomplish would entail a massive cost in itself).

      Really, the only thing that can be going on here is you have a psychological problem with religious shit. Get over that, and you won’t care anymore. Like the rest of us.

  39. piero says

    In Spanish we use AC (“Antes de Cristo”, before Christ) and DC (“Después de Cristo”, after Christ). So to Spanish speakers AC/DC acquires a very different meaning. When I think of the band, I mentally translate its name to CA/CC (Corriente Alterna/Corriente Continua). Just a bit of trivia for your enjoyment.

  40. Old Nick says

    I say let’s make a clean break. What is the oldest agrarian/urban society we can find. Let’s say that’s 20 000 years ago. Let’s add another 30 000 in case we find earlier ones. That makes this year 52 012. The oldest Old Testament stories would be c. 48000. Jesus’ birth c. 50 000. No A.D./B.C/C.E./B.C.E. to worry about ever again.

  41. says

    From the Wikipedia article:

    “Some Jewish academics were already using the CE and BCE abbreviations by the mid-19th century, such as in 1856, when Rabbi and historian, Morris Jacob Raphall used the abbreviation in his book, Post-Biblical History of The Jews.[56] As early as 1825, a different abbreviation, VE, had already been in use among Jews to denote years on the Western calendar.[57]”

    When you say “Really dumb, in fact. The newfangled convention was invented in an idiotic and patronizing attempt not to “offend” non-Christians who have to use the Christian calender (yes, it’s a Christian calendar, full stop).”, your “patronizing” implies that it wasn’t invented by the people who were feeling offended.

    Furthermore, I don’t think you have sufficient evidence to conclude that the feelings of offense were whomped up for no good reason.

    I’m doing you the courtesy of assuming that your reasons are what you say they are (a desire for logical neatness, a wish not to change a custom which seems harmless to you) rather than something like a simple desire to be annoying.

  42. Timothy (TRiG) says

    But but but.

    AD/BC could be either the Gregorian or the Julian calendar.
    CE/BCE is guaranteed to be the Gregorian calendar.

    So it removes an ambiguity. Is that not useful?

    TRiG.

    • says

      Timothy: AD/BC could be either the Gregorian or the Julian calendar.

      No, it’s only Gregorian now (and has been for almost the entire history of printing). No one is going to be confused by this.

  43. geocatherder says

    Why not start the calendar 10,000 years ago, at the beginning of the Holocene? Pick a nice round number — 10,000 years before the year 2000, for example — and stick with it.

  44. MBendzela says

    I was indifferent to this issue until I read this piece. It is so much ado about nothing that I’m going to double down on my efforts to use BCE/CE.

    “Before Christ” is stupid when you don’t believe there even was a “christ.”

    “Anno Domini” is dumbassedly unnecessary Latin. So first it’s English, then it’s Latin, and it’s all based on a non-existent birth date of an imaginary deity.

    Thankfully, BCE/CE is catching on, and no amount of complaining will change that. It’s called cultural evolution.

  45. says

    BC and AD are as religious as is the word “god”.

    The word ‘god’ is not always religious in usage.

    And renaming AD with CE is merely a name change as Richard has already, tirelessly and clearly pointed out (not that I need convincing). I suppose you never take ‘holidays’? And I suppose that you never tell a chef that his cake is ‘divine’?

    “Common Era” is as valid a term as “Common Law”. Or would you rather be ruled by religious laws?

    Wait. Are you having us on?

    And no, I don’t think comparisons to the names of the days of the week or the months are valid. Saturn and Woden are dead gods, worshipped only by a few neo-Pagans.

    This sounds like a rationalization to me.

  46. crissakentavr says

    I think there’s a big difference between a religion which is currently trying to convert everyone and make them use their laws by authority and the name of a few Roman and Norse gods who have numbers of adherents in the rounding errors and no longer have dedicated temples.

    Let alone armies and countries.

    • says

      crissakentavr: I think there’s a big difference between a religion which is currently trying to convert everyone and make them use their laws by authority and the name of a few Roman and Norse gods who have numbers of adherents in the rounding errors and no longer have dedicated temples.

      And as I’ve said repeatedly here, that difference is irrelevant. It’s more telling that you think it’s relevant. This is why I conclude people like you are reacting for psychological reasons, not rational ones.

  47. monad says

    For the record, AD does not mean “year of our lord”. It means “year of the lord” or “year of a lord”. Anything more is what people want to read into it.

    Personally, I like that it’s in Latin, because then the notation could then be adopted in other European languages like SI is. None of BC, CE, or BCE is likely to be a multilingual standard.

    Also BCE is an extra letter, which isn’t much, but tells me the people who came up with it only really cared about making it look secular and not good. Is it so much trouble to come up with a nicer alternative?

  48. victortanner says

    Interestingly, Scientologists have their own dating system: BD (before Dianetics) and AD (after Dianetics), the dividing date being 1952 AD/CE.

  49. lc says

    Excuse me, new? Like you just discovered the convention? It existed before I was born – And that was way back in the previous century. And according to the Wiki, it can be traced back at least to the 1700s… even before the creation of the metric system. (I guess that’s why we should only use the Eng. system of measurement. Metric’s too new.)

    You might be better off complaining about the switch from Wade-Giles to Pinyin in the West in the early 1980s. Now that is a “new” convention and one worth complaining about. :(

    • says

      John W. Loftus [re: Robert R. Cargill: disagrees]

      Notice how his argument is almost all victim politics, and devoid of any practical reasons. Christians should give it up in order show us all how swell they are? That is nearly the lamest reason to use the new terms as I’ve ever heard. Then he argues that we should change because Jesus wasn’t born in the year one. But then why are we still using that as year one? Uh…because Christians think Jesus was born in the year one. So how does changing the label fix that? He’s trying to change what things are by renaming them, which is irrational. That’s like saying “Saturday isn’t really Saturn’s day so we should call it something else.” Which is just monumentally dumb.

  50. says

    You make a compelling argument. I also grew up on George Carlin, and he instilled a sense of consistency in me. I can’t help but apply my opinion on “in god we trust” on the currency and “under god” in the pledge of allegiance. My offense to these things are that it forces me to identify as a believer in god, (I don’t trust in god, and I certainly don’t think we’re a nation under god), and it violates the first amendment, as it is a federally endorsed religious claim. Both of these offenses also apply to the current calender system. It does force me to identify as someone who believes that Jesus was lord, that he was born in such-and-such year, or that he was born period, and it is a federally endorsed religious claim, which violates the first amendment.

    So what is the difference? Or, is it irrational to be offended by the currency and pledge? I agree with your point, but I’m having a hard time making peace between these two different stances. Are they incompatible?

    • says

      Jesse: I can’t help but apply my opinion on “in god we trust” on the currency and “under god” in the pledge of allegiance. … what is the difference?

      Those are actual statements of belief in God. “In the year of the Lord” and “Before Christ” are not statements of belief in Christ but statements of belief in the fact that Christians assign the birth of their god to the year 1. You can affirm that as true without affirming you serve “under” Christ or that you “trust” in Christ. Again, saying “Saturday” does not affirm belief in Saturn or that you accept that as being in fact Saturn’s day. It simply acknowledges that that’s what people call it.

  51. tfkreference says

    I’m late to this thread, but want to ask if monad is right? How does “Anno Domini” directly translate into English?

    My limited knowledge of Latin comes from studying Italian, and I can’t think of anyone I know who studied Latin and isn’t a devout Catholic or a Protestant minister (and thus biased in their opinions).

    • says

      tfkreference: [Is monad right?] How does “Anno Domini” directly translate into English?

      He’s right. It simply means “in the year of the lord.” The word “our” is not present.

  52. David Hart says

    May I propose a compromise? We continue to use BC and AD (if nothing else, I’m irked by the untidiness of ‘BC’ and ‘BCE’ being so similar to each other), but we retrofit them as secular acronyms.
    BC can stand for ‘Before the Count’, or maybe ‘Backwards Counting’ while AD I’m not quite sure of. Any suggestions?

    • says

      David Hart: May I propose a compromise? We continue to use BC and AD (if nothing else, I’m irked by the untidiness of ‘BC’ and ‘BCE’ being so similar to each other), but we retrofit them as secular acronyms. BC can stand for ‘Before the Count’, or maybe ‘Backwards Counting’ while AD I’m not quite sure of. Any suggestions?

      But that’s precisely what’s wrong with CE and BCE: changing what the words mean does not change reality. And it’s reality that remains: the reason year 1 is at that year is that Christians thought Jesus was born in that year. Period. You can’t change what things are by changing what they are called. “Why do we start counting there?” “Christians.” “Oh.” End of conversation.

      So why do we need to change the meaning of AD and BC? We don’t even need them to “mean” anything at all. They are just symbols that designate a demarcation. Likewise, “Why do we call Saturday Saturday?” “Saturn worshippers.” “Oh.” End of conversation. That’s the fact of it. So…are we going to deal with reality, or obsess over hiding or denying it? To quote Hamlet, “That is the question!”

  53. Patrick says

    You’re my new hero. I hate BCE/CE and the pretentious elitism that comes along with it, especially in academia.

    It’s nothing more than a Jewish superstitious euphemism for BC/AD, which is no less religiously-motivated than BC/AD themselves, except at least the latter are acknowledging the reality of the calendar and are part of the historical context. The Quakers renamed the days of the week to remove the pagan god references, but we don’t use those “neutral” days of the week in academia because they’re more “modern”, do we?

    The worst part is, if we were to rename the days of the week they would lose their pagan connotations entirely, but renaming BC/AD to BCE/CE doesn’t remove the Christian implication, it just disguises it, as you’ve said.

    You might be interested in a website I created a few months ago about this:

    http://atheistsagainstbce.wordpress.com/2011/06/19/whycommonera/

    Also, follow me as the user “09112001″ on reddit, where I am always getting into arguments about BC/AD vs. BCE/CE. Maybe you can back me up sometimes.

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