What are the arguments for “Common Era”?

Proponents of Common Era are usually academics, atheists, non-Christian religious people, or politically correct Christians. What are their justifications for dumping the original acronyms associated with Dionysius Exiguus‘ era in favor of the generic, euphemistically unsettling Common Era acronyms?

Ask them and you might get a wide, varying set of defenses. Here are our responses to each of them:

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Academic: We use BCE and CE because they are more historically accurate and culturally neutral; we know that if Jesus existed was really born about 5 years earlier than the epoch erroneously based on his birth suggests, and BCE/CE do not give implicit expression to Christian cultural terms.

AABCE’s response: BCE and CE are no more “historically accurate” than BC and AD are. Both sets of acronyms are based on a 6th-century attempt to date years from the birth of Jesus, thus having cultural, not scientific, significance. One set directly references this origin, while the other throws all reference out in a move that can hardly be seen as less than revisionist. “Christian Era” would have been fine, but “Common” makes no sense. Common to whom?

While it is true that a historical Jesus was more likely to have been born closer to 5 BC than to 1 BC or 1 AD, this is irrelevant. Does Wednesday actually “belong” to the deity Woden? No, but that’s what the name Wednesday suggests. If Jesus never existed, which is a real possibility, then he was never really born, so the epoch is based on an entirely mythical religious reference akin to an English-language day of the week.

As for BC and AD giving implicit expression to Christian-derived cultural terms, it is again no different than giving such expression to pagan terms seen in the weekdays and months, which are referenced far more often than BC and AD.

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Pro–BCE atheist: Hey, we’re all atheists here. Can’t we agree that Jesus was just some unimportant vocal Jew (if he even existed), and that basing the date system that the entire world uses on his birth is offensively Christian-centric? BCE and CE allow us to continue to use Exiguus’ system without having to reference the nonsensical mythology attached to it.

AABCE’s response: Whether or not it is “offensively Christian-centric” is irrelevant, because changing BC/AD to BCE/CE does nothing to change that. All euphemisms do is neutralize wording to make it seem less sectarian.

No self-respecting intellectual atheist would consider changing Tuesday to “Common Day 2″ because of a reference to the Norse god Tyr, would they? No, that’s ridiculous. We’re atheists, we aren’t supposed to be intimidated by mere mythological references. Studying and learning about Greek mythology can be fun and enlightening, so why should one approach Christian mythology any differently?

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Non–Christian religious person (Jew):  When people think of Jews, they immediately think of “those guys who reject Jesus as their savior”. There’s no way we’re going to use AD (Anno Domini—”in the year of our Lord“) to refer to Jesus, when we don’t believe he is the Lord.

AABCE’s response: This is the one defense of BCE and CE that we can understand: “it goes against my religion.” But being atheists, we think religion is complete bullshit! There’s no objective reason to believe Jesus is “the Lord”, but there’s also no objective reason to be superstitious about referencing it! Here at AABCE, we find it much more intellectually offensive to engage in euphemistic politically correct nonsense than to reference mythological deities.

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Politically correct Christian: I am a Christian, but I agree that BC and AD are oppressive terms, a remnant from a time when Christianity was oppressively converting pagans and burning non–Christians at the stake. BCE and CE are much more politically correct, because not everyone believes in Jesus!

AABCE’s response: How about focusing on the actual continued oppression by Christians of non–Christians? Like here in the United States, where atheists are ousted from their school communities because of their lack of belief, and shunned for refusing to engage in illegal school prayers! That’s real Christian oppression. AD and BC are not, they are cultural artifacts and an accurate representation of why it is currently the year 2011, not 2763 or some other year. Using “Common Era” unnecessarily distorts and eschews what our year is based on.

Most people think AD means “after death”, so the last thing we need to be doing is adding in new PC terms to confuse people even more. Especially when we’ll have to explain about AD and BC anyway, when someone asks “what the hell is ‘Common Era’?”.

BCE and CE are stupid, and you know it.

2 thoughts on “What are the arguments for “Common Era”?

  1. I think these are fine reasons not to simply change the name to BCE/CE. However, I think that reworking dating for use in an academic capacity completely would be better. Use some major event, preferably something not man-made, whose year of occurance is known. Call that year one. Proceed in a religion-free counting system, fully available to all.

  2. How about this argument:

    A secular government, in it’s secular schools can either chose to use an acronym that directly references the beliefs of one particular religion, or it can chose to use one that doesn’t directly reference a religion. Why on earth would it chose to reference a religion when faced with the option?

    Regardless, BCE/CE have been in common usage in academic writing for as long as I can remember, it would be more of a change to revert back to the out dated and less accurate system that you mentioned.

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