‘Common Era’ is Neutral, Secular and Fearfully Inhuman.

Posted on September 28, 2011


From a Guest Blogger:

After the erection of The Times pay wall I have been confined to the websites of The Telegraph and The Guardian for my broadsheet news. These two papers appear at times to be simply the right- and left-wing pages of a single pan-political publication – and very much so on Monday. Boris Johnson, firing off in The Telegraph against the BBC’s move to change from the AD/BC dating system to the more neutral CE/BCE approach was swiftly contradicted by Polly Curtis of The Guardian. While Curtis might be in some respects technically correct Johnson’s sally is by far the more entertaining.

The terms CE (Common Era) and BCE (Before Common Era) are also technically more correct than Anno Domini and Before Christ. Even orthodox believers of the Christian faith might dispute the actual year of Christ’s birth.

As a result, discussion about whether we ought to use AD or CE can only be about whether the putative birth-date of Christ is important enough for us to number our years from it. One does not, of course, have to be a believer in the Christian religion to take appreciate that the birth of Christ is an important event in history and one that is worth measuring our years from. However, the terms CE and BCE do not replace Christ’s birth with anything but a bland substitute which is in any event based on the very same birth-date! For advocates of this infinitely more anodyne and soulless system our dates say little about us than that we all happen to be alive at the same time and in need of a common system for dating so as to speed up passport applications and the like. It is Secularism (with an upper-case S) at its best (or worst): neutral, indifferent and utterly inhuman. Indeed, CE is an admission that there is no event in history that its advocates want to refererence even for something as fundamental as a time-line of other major events.

This is, I suspect, rooted in a fear of humanity that forces the devotees of Common Era away from history and towards a sanitised and inhuman statement of ‘the bleeding obvious’ in such a way as to eradicate all value. It is the politics of the valueless. The French Revolution might suit their needs were it not so bloody. The liberation of slaves in the nineteenth Century might do, but that was unfortunately engineered primarily by an evangelical Christian. Others might favour the excommunication of Martin Luther, but they are faced with his objectionable anti-semitism and sexism. The truth is that there are no events in human history that a truly neutral Secularism can set up as good or pure enough to be the key point of reference for human chronology. Those that conveniently divide up large eras are, for the ardent Secularist, just too divisive. They are too pregnant with values of various kinds, such that they must be expunged from our collective terminology.

Her Majesty the Queen. Graciously (and Uncontroversially) Reigning.

It is true that the BBC is not actually requiring its journalists to abandon AD/BC utterly, though the fact that three of the BBC’s major broadcasts and publications have made the switch is certainly indicative of a fairly widespread approval of the change. We cannot, in fact, embrace neutrality even to avoid history that some people might hold as unpalatable. Europe has for some 1,500 years at least measured her dates from a supposed year of birth of Jesus Christ who brought the Christianity that has been central to the Europan experience. No one should be offended or surprised by this. It should be relatively uncontroversial. Indeed, to abandon AD and BC is to retreat into a fantasy world. If we must give up what seems natural, why not settle for the fifty-ninth year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain and Northern Ireland? She at least has been able to avoid controversy of seemingly every kind in her long and gracious reign.