Merry Commonmas!

IMG_2294For most of Modern History we’ve explicitly labeled our dates to the birth of Christ. We had two letters to designate years: if we talked about Homer we would say he was born around 8th – 9th century B.C.”  or about the Abyssinian Heresy we might read the date as “about A.D. 316.”

B.C. stood for “before Christ” and A.D. stood for “anno domini,” Latin for the “year of the Lord.”

Then at some time over the past ½ century some people became offended with what was represented by those symbols. They changed the designation to BCE and CE. According to Wikipedia this has become popularize in the West by publishers wishing to emphasize secularism and/or sensitivity to non-Christians.”  Strange, no one seems to want to be sensitive to the Christians.

BCE stands for before common era and CE for common era.

As best I can tell the term common era means nothing. I can’t figure out what was not common about the time before the birth of Christ which His birth changed and turned things into a common time. His birth was the landmark date that changed the way people in the West believed in God. It was the Christians who began to mark their calendar from that date. To suggest it had something to do with commonness is to pretend otherwise.

At the Worcester Museum a few years back there was an exhibit using the CE and BCE dates. I asked a man who was responsible for the exhibit what the letters stood for. He said “Christian Era” and “before the Christian Era.” His answer to why BC and AD were not used was that it just wasn’t done anymore.

Wikipedia gives us this as an explanation: “Former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan argued, “[T]he Christian calendar no longer belongs exclusively to Christians. People of all faiths have taken to using it simply as a matter of convenience. There is so much interaction between people of different faiths and cultures – different civilizations, if you like – that some shared way of reckoning time is a necessity. And so the Christian Era has become the Common Era.”” 

I find that a little bit of nonsense. Because other people start using something developed by the Christians it must lose its Christian connection. How about applying that to Christmas? There’s many non-Christians who celebrate that holiday. Following Kofi Annuan’s argument we should start calling it Commonmas. That would probably solve a lot of problems. We wouldn’t have to listen to some people talking about the war on Christmas or others talking about keeping Christ in Christmas. None, even the most sensitive, would be worried about taking Common out of Commonmas.

The Southern Baptist Convention hit the nail on the head when it called the use of CE/BCE “secularization, anti-supernaturalism, religious pluralism, and political correctness.”  It urged its members to “retain the traditional method of dating and avoid this revisionism.”

What I don’t really get about all this is why the reference to Christ is offensive. You’d think those that believe in Christ would find offense that so many are trying to write Him out of history. If people don’t want BC to stand for before Christ they can call it “back calendar” and call AD “after dates.” The initials did not have to change since people can use the original designations “for the shared way of reckoning time.”

Or, if we are really interested in Kofi Annan’s desire that we have a shared way of reckoning time why not have a new calendar. We’ll start it in 1945 with the founding of the United Nations. This year would be 70 U.N.; the Japanese would have bombed Pearl Harbor in 4 BUN.

Those Christians who are so willing change history for the sake of not offending anyone by denying the true origin of our calendar may soon find some take offense to them calling themselves Christians. They perhaps in order to please those sensitive souls they can call themselves Commonians. Those members of the Church of Christ so disposed not to hurt the feelings of others can become the Church of Common; and the Christian Scientists the Commonian Scientists.

As for me I’m going to stick with B.C. and A.D. since the calendar is dated from the time Christ arrived in the world. As for finding offense, I do. It is to those who want to deny that is the case. It is to those who expect me to believe that there has been a common era for 2015 years when if anything during most of those years there was little in common among most people. Our calendar is based on the date of Christ’s birth which we don’t change by changing the names.

Then there’s this other reason. The last time I was in Rome I bought some coins that I was told were issued under the reign of Julius Caesar who lived from 100  to 44 BC. These coins all have the date on them of “48 B.C.” I’d hate to have anyone challenge their authenticity.


  1. My argument is not about religion, its about technical modernity, and, its effects. When technically advanced Europeans colonized the pre-modern world they imposed their system of dating on cultures that already had ways to delineate time. By replacing those earlier systems, the Europeans forced all those peoples to accept the birth of Christ as a point of departure in the history of the world (kerygma). Why must non-Christian, non-European peoples recognize the birth of Christ as the seminal event in human history? The BC/AD dating system is colonialism on an intellectual level.

  2. Why should Christian kerygma take precedence over the apostolic moment in other cultures? The Islamic calendar is dated AH after the hijra. Is it your argument that because technical modernity first occurred in western culture, only western conceptions of time (dating systems) are valid? The notion of a “Before Christ” period of history, and, an Anno Domini period following it, is quite ethnocentric, and, completely prejudiced by the European temporal experience. Time is not a European invention. Using the expression “common era,” rather than, Anno Domini makes history inclusive for many cultures rather than just one

    • Khalid:

      The Christian calendar is what has been used in the West for centuries. If everyone used the Islamic calendar we’d use the Islamic initials. My argument is the calendar everyone uses is the Christian calendar – there’s no such thing as a common era. I don’t care what calendar everyone chooses to use but if the Christian one is used don’t pretend it isn’t related to the birth of Christ. Your suggesting doing away with the original designations makes it inclusive for others but the real effect is to exclude Christians from the calendar. You don’t make things inclusive by excluding someone.

  3. Maybe they were knock off coins!

    • Dave:

      I checked the coins again. I’m OK. They don’t say BC but BCE. I guess Caesar knew what he was talking about.

  4. The Wiki entry gave the reasons:

    The expression “Common Era” can be found as early as 1708 in English, and traced back to Latin usage among European Christians to 1615, as vulgaris aerae, and to 1635 in English as Vulgar Era. At those times, the expressions were all used interchangeably with “Christian Era”, with “vulgar” meaning “ordinary, common, or not regal” rather than “crudely indecent”.

    Use of the CE abbreviation was introduced by Jewish academics in the mid-19th century. Since the later 20th century, use of CE and BCE has been popularized in academic and scientific publications and more generally by publishers wishing to emphasize secularism and/or sensitivity to non-Christians.

    Mustn’t hurt anyone’s feelings by mentioning Jesus.