Am I a recalcitrant pagan if I use CE rather than AD?

As someone with a background in history at a secular university as well as a Christian seminary I have lived between two worlds. I noticed a recent article on the use of CE (e.g., Common Era) versus AD (i.e., Anno Domini, Latin for “in the year of our Lord”) in regard to describing the dates of historical events. Scot McKnight also mentioned this issue on his popular blog and I was asked this same question by the parent of a teenager after her son was instructed to use BCE/CE in all of his papers at a local public school.

In my undergraduate training it was clear that I was to strive for objectivity. Though I am a Christian and cannot divorce my personal faith and worldview from my historical inquiry, it would be inappropriate to advocate a particular faith position in my writing. I must attempt to understand my biases and, to the best of my ability, allow the evidence to lead me to appropriate conclusions. Though the legacy of Christianity is still implicit in the BCE/CE dating system (what do you think we are counting from?), it is less overt in its advocacy of Christianity. It is no more accurate to say 40 CE than 40 AD. However, CE claims no reference to faith and, therefore, is more appropriate for a pluralistic environment.

There is nothing Biblical about counting from the point of Jesus’ inaccurately dated birth. We don’t even want to get started on trying to date from the point of creation (settle down you young-earthers).

Any thoughts?

8 thoughts on “Am I a recalcitrant pagan if I use CE rather than AD?”

  1. Seems to me to be an honest statement of a problem carrying a lot more baggage than a person would imagine without being there. About all I can say is survival demands compromise. When in Rome is a phrase that came out of acquired experience and wisdom of a fundamental sort.

    1. If the early Christians had done in Rome what the Romans were doing then many would not have died in the colisseum and they wouldn’t have had to live underground in the catacombs. Would Christianity have survived if its followers had chosen to live like the Romans. Perhaps in marriage survival means compromise but in negotiating with terrorists are they ever satisfied with compromise? Furthermore even the secular proponents of BCE/CE have had to suspend their intellectual credulity since what is a “common era” and who we have it in common with lacks any sort of intellectual precision or substance. What should we do when they wish to change the number of the year too as it is perhaps even more “religious” due to that which it refers? Should we compromise and split the difference and say its 1006?

      1. I am not by the way categorizing proponents of the BC/CE conversion as terrorists. My bad for not being clearer. I was just attempting to draw the extremes in negotiation situations where “compromise” might work and might not work. The secular proponents of the BCE/CE conversion are somewhere between my two posited positions.

    1. Sometimes the words you use can prevent someone from hearing the more important concept you are trying to explain. Insider language can actually be an impediment to the gospel!

  2. On the face of it there is nothing wrong using CE rather than AD but if there was nothing in it the secularists and humanists would not be interested in it. I think it reflects there desire to get religion out of everything.

  3. If you follow the objectivity and non-advocacy position to it’s logical conclusion at some point the years themselves will have to go too. It is a problem for the secularist who advocates saying 2011 CE since what now is implicit only needs a bang drummer to point out that the referent point of Christ’s birth is too religious. The French Revolutionary crowd for some 14 years if memory serves me correctly changed the names of the months of the year as well as the date. They dated everything from the start of their revolution. A truly secular position will not stop with the removal of AD and BC. The only question is when will that take place.

  4. Mark Turner :
    Sometimes the words you use can prevent someone from hearing the more important concept you are trying to explain. Insider language can actually be an impediment to the gospel!

    Sure, couldn’t you also say that even in it’s smallest form, the usage of BC & AD is confirming the presence of Christ in world culture. As BC & AD are the more widely used choices, couldn’t you use that as a conversation starter regarding the wide-spread and 1500 year perpetuating momentum of acknowledgement of Christ’s (approximate) birthday?

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