Is it 2009 A.D. or C.E.? Depends on who you ask
Political correctness reveals itself in myriad ways in our daily lives, showing up like the neighbor who knocks on your door to gently remind you of the noise ordinance the morning after the party you hosted. It’s hard to see how we’d be able to peacefully accommodate so many minority groups inside our borders without it, and the general principle of it isn’t so hard to swallow. But I’ll go on record here to detail at least one way it hasn’t been particularly helpful.
The use of the historical abbreviations C.E. and B.C.E. has come up with more frequency in academic textbooks and in the mainstream, phasing out the current B.C. and A.D. for identifying dates. The case for doing so remains simple: B.C. and A.D. carry a particular religious meaning where C.E. and B.C.E. (Common Era/Before the Common Era) do not.
Let’s talk about how B.C. and A.D. are specifically religious. We all know B.C. stands for “Before Christ,” a direct reference to the emergence of Jesus. A.D. doesn’t mean “After Death” as some still believe, but rather “Anno Domini,” or “The Year of the Lord” in Latin (although most scholars today agree that the exact birth year is slightly off).
It is important to note that using the titles “Christ” and “Lord” in reference to Jesus are explicit religious associations, rejected by non-Christians especially.
The B.C. and A.D. designations have been in place for almost 15 hundred years, attributed to Roman historian Dionysius Exiguus. The replacements, C.E. and B.C.E., have emerged in modern times for those who have developed a distaste for overt Christian influence.
I’ll have to disclose here that I’m a practicing Christian. That being said, I’m the last to want to offend secularists needlessly, and there are a slew of Christianist ideals I can’t get behind (school prayer, creationism, erecting a shrine to the Ten Commandments in every courthouse, etc.). I don’t feel that losing A.D. from our textbooks with further erode our culture into a freelovin’, anti-faith, humanist utopia. However, I do feel that C.E. is an inadequate substitute for our system of dating.
For starters, stripping the actual title “Anno Domini” of its religiosity doesn’t change the fact that our one decisive historical hinge, the separation of that which came before and that which came after, has solely to do with the arrival of Jesus. In that case, “Anno Domini” wins for specificity (and also for being Latin, therefore, cooler).
“Common Era” does nothing to change this. I suppose swapping this event with another in history (say for instance, Columbus’s voyage in 1492) could be messy and confusing for some time, and tradition is always easier to uphold. But if we’re going to call the birth of Jesus significant for its influence on our world, religious or not, we might as well go whole hog.
Pragmatically, C.E./B.C.E. doesn’t work as well in spoken conversation. They’re similar enough to be confused for one another if the speaker does not enunciate properly. I could see where this could be an issue if you’re trying to keep good notes in accordance with your history professor’s lectures, and the difference between C.E. and B.C.E. are within about a hundred years. It’s hard to confuse B.C. versus A.D. similarly.
And I have to ask, does repeating the abbreviations of a Latin phrase really step on anyone’s toes? Is anyone truly offended by its use? Much of how we identify dates, such as the month and the day of the week, carry names with very pagan origins. I don’t know how using them has infringed on my right to recognize Odin as a myth. So I do wonder why Christian influences are somehow more controversial than others.
The conservative Christian reaction has been considerably overblown. Many religious groups, such as the Southern Baptists, have denounced it as evidence of “secularization, anti-supernaturalism, religious pluralism, and political correctness”. Conservapedia, the right-wing response to Wikipedia, owes its very existence to Andrew Schafly, who started the website in reaction to students using C.E., as Wikipedia does. I can’t sympathize much with these camps, who seem more interested in waging a symbolic battle and taking umbrage for umbrage’s sake.
I’m not completely opposed to the idea of phasing out “Anno Domini” and “Before Christ,” and I’m sure at some point I’ll have to adopt C.E. if it continues to build prominence, for fear of coming off as a complete dinosaur. At this point, I’m happy to keep the debate open-ended.