45: Common Era or The Year of Our Lord?

26 March 2012

I’ve been asked to explain (and justify) why I use (and favour) the CE (Common Era) and BCE (Before Common Era) dating system, rather than the more traditional AD (Anno Domini, or ‘In the Year of Our Lord’) and BC (‘Before Christ’) system.

First, it’s convenient to date events from a point in the past. The only truly non-arbitrary starting point is the beginning of time (which we don’t know with enough precision and would lead to inconveniently long numbers). We therefore need a red line.

It makes good historical sense to call 1 CE (or AD) the beginning of a ‘Common Era’. It fell during a period when Eurasia was reaching a new level of internal coherence, with the Han and Roman empires representing then-unprecedented political constructs and pan-European trade beginning to flourish. That era division also has the inestimable advantage of already being in use in most of the world’s regions (including: China, Japan, India, Europe, North America and South America).

Nevertheless, while the AD/BC era division point makes good long-term sense, the entire associated Christian nomenclature does not. I’ve written a book arguing (among other things) that extant religious forms are ephemeral and that we need to assess our civilisation over longer timeframes. It would therefore be hypocritical to buy into a dating system which expects people to refer to Jesus Christ as ‘Our Lord’ forever.

The main argument for keeping AD/BC seems to be that such Christian allusions constitute a culturally interesting meme. I urge traditionalists to take solace in the fact that by adopting CE/BCE, our current calendar can not only remain relevant into the distant future, its era division will remain one derived by a sixth-century Balkan monk, popularised by an eight-century English scholar and based on the life of a first-century Middle Eastern holy man/prophet/divine incarnation, whose profound affect on the world will remain embedded in human world systems for some considerable time to come.


The more closely we examine the drift of biological evolution and, especially, the drift human history, the more there seems to be a point to it all. – Robert Wright

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3 Responses to “45: Common Era or The Year of Our Lord?”

  1. Mark Snare Says:

    You say potatoe, I say complex carbohydrate..

  2. Peter Baker Says:

    Actually, I say ‘potato’.

  3. Colin Wilson Says:

    It may amuse you to check out all the different dating systems at http://calendar.zoznam.sk/
    I particularly like the French Revolutionary calendar, where the 13th month is called Sansculottides, the month of not wearing pants!

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