Christian Era and Before Christian Era – Wait, is that right?

The great thing about taking a break from a blog series is that I get to rant about all the things that have caught my attention during the publication of the blog series in question.

In this case, when I heard that Australian school textbooks are to drop BC and AD from the curriculum, in favour of BCE and CE (Before Common Era and Common Era), I surprised myself by taking a few days to mull it over before making up my mind on the issue (Okay, I’ll admit it. I didn’t surprise myself, I’m just that great).

Needless to say, my facebook feed was awash with the news that day, with my Christian friends expressing everything from mild concern to plain outrage, and some of my more militant atheist friends expressing their glee at such a social victory.

That such polarisation has occurred over this issue is a telling point. There is more at stake here than what is the most efficient way of classifying our dating system.

Before we go much further, let me make something very clear. If there’s a more efficient way of dating our calendars, I want to know about it.

But the way in which this news has been received seems to indicate that two very simple words are in play: ‘Knee’ and ‘Jerk’.

Rather than try and offend both sides of the field just right now (and let’s face it, is there any other way to properly offend?), I’d like to have a look at just what is being proposed here and what reasons have been given.

Rabbi James KennardMount Scopus Memorial College had this to say on the matter:

“But since Australia is proud to be a multicultural and secular country, it is quite wrong for students across the country to be expected to use AD, anno domini [or] the year of our lord, or BC, before Christ, when it might be very far removed from their own belief system,”

Wait, what? While I’m aware that my own belief system is probably a little biased, I’m pretty sure that most of my atheist friends believe that 1AD is the best approximation of when Jesus (Who was later called ‘Lord’ or ‘The Christ’) was born.

Of course, they don’t actually believe he was Christ (Or in God in general, for that matter), but they still believe that’s when he was born. So which people believe that Jesus wasn’t born around 1AD? Are we making sure we don’t offend the fringe historical scholarship now? Since when was that a priority? I’m fairly certain that one of the important points of being in scholarship is accepting that there’s always going to be a few people out there who think you’re wrong.

So perhaps we should put that notion to rest.

But are there any other reasons for the change?

The second reason I cam across (and would you believe, I cannot find the quote anymore on any news site?) was that this new system was simpler than the current one.

My question is, simpler how? What is the defining point that marks the start of the common era? And what exactly about first century palestine (say, 1 to 99AD) was common? Perhaps the middle ages were more ‘common’?

But... but how did they know?

No matter what label you put on it, our entire dating system is based around the estimated birth of this guy named Jesus who pretty much upset the entire course of human history with his ideas about how people should treat each other (there’s that little business about him being God, too, but hey, let’s keep this good for all sides of the debate, yeah?). To put another set of labels on top of that actually seems to be complicating the issue, not making it simpler.

The more I hear Archbishop Peter Jensens words of this move as “An intellectually absurd attempt to write Christ out of human history”, the less it makes me vomit in my mouth a little. Over the top, sure, but the dude has a point.

So far all the reasons given for this changeover has proven to be a little vacuous. Don’t get me wrong, if there are any more reasons for the change, let’s hear them, but otherwise, if it ain’t broke…

But enough of my grousing. I, for one, welcome our new textbook overlords.