BC or BCE? …that is the question

Why do secular historians insist on using language which places Jesus Christ at the centre of time?

I seem to find myself writing about time in this blog quite a bit. The calendar which is used in most parts of the world sets the current year as 2010. Many people would describe this as 2010 AD. The descriptors of the year as BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini = the year of the Lord) are ubiquitous in the English speaking world (although even many educated people wrongly interpret AD as “After Death”). Few people question this accepted form of setting the date, but it is worth questioning, and also worth considering alternatives.

The BC/AD descriptors imply that all of time revolves around a year 1 AD (there is no year Zero) which coincides with the coming of Jesus Christ into the world. Readers will immediately see that there are at least two problems with this. Firstly, people who are not Christians may well question why the year of Jesus’ birth should be treated with such importance. Secondly, it is almost universally acknowledged today that the early medieval calculations of the year of Christ’s birth are inaccurate, and that a range of 4-6 BC according to the current method of dating would be more accurate.

No-one has seriously suggested that we should turn back the calendar by four or more years, although some Christians do defend the use of BC/AD on religious grounds. But surely the date should be something which should be determined on secular, not religious grounds. Even many Christians (and I write as one) would argue this.

The alternative is to use BCE (Before Common Era) for dates before year 1, and CE (Common Era) for the year 1 and later. The number assigned to each year does not change. This numbering system has been used by some scientists, and by non-Christian English-speaking historians in Europe for at least 200 years, and during the latter part of the twentieth century gained wide acceptance in the fields of comparative religion and theology.

The irony is that the descriptors BCE and CE are now almost universally used by scholars of religion, and by many Christian theologians and historians. But with only a very few exceptions secular historians and teachers persist in using BC and AD in their writing.

When teaching in a Catholic school I used the BCE/CE descriptors for dates, and most students understood this immediately as there other teachers mostly did the same. Now that I am teaching in the secular environment of a Government school I find that neither students nor my fellow teachers understand what I am talking about when I use BCE and CE. So I explain it to them. But the irony of doing this does not escape me.

For more information see this article on wikipedia.org

Also click on the image below for another article which argues that Christian should adopt the BCE/CE system

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One Response to BC or BCE? …that is the question

  1. Pingback: 2010 in review | Adventures in Education

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