I think it was in the 1980s sometime that I first encountered the designation “BCE.” The period I was studying was 3000 years ago and it was designated 1000 BCE. Clearly the new acronym was related to the familiar “BC” meaning “Before Christ,” but I wondered about when and why it had changed. Most people are now familiar with “Before Common Era” but it was brand new to most of us back then. I suspected it was part of an increasing purge of Christianity from the public square.
See it?[C. E. 1901]
Also substituted was the designation “CE” (Common Era) for “AD” which my students always guessed meant “After Death” of Jesus Christ, but it’s actually an acronym for the Latin “Anno Domini” meaning “Year of our Lord.” Academics denied anti-Christian bias had anything to do with the new dating nomenclature. They cited its use in the century-old Anarchist journal Lucifer The Light Bearer. They didn’t really think that would pacify Christians, did they? Jewish scholars used it too, they pointed out.
The textbook I used for the last decade of my teaching career used them and I suspect nearly all do now. Astute students would ask how the acronyms originated and I’d explain that there was a time when western culture held the most important event in all of history to be the life of Jesus Christ, so historians measured all of time by what happened before Christ and what happened after Him.
But that’s changing, or perhaps it would be more accurate to use past tense and say “that changed.” Is the change complete? Do we live in a post-Christian America? Is that particular battle in the wider culture war over now? Maybe we’re in a mopping-up operation as they say in military parlance. When the mopping up is finished, perhaps we’ll go back to using “AD” in the way my students understood it: “After Death of Christ.”
We Christians believe Jesus Christ to be the Son of God, part of a triune deity and therefore God Himself. Philosopher Frederich Neitzche first declared “God is Dead” not in 1891’s “Thus Spake Zarathustra” but in his 1882 collection: The Gay Science. That was back when “gay” still meant “happy.” In it, Neitzche wrote:
God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?
There’s so much in there: “Who will wipe his blood off us” evokes Hamlet. “What water is there to clean ourselves?” evokes Pontius Pilate and is ritualized in every Catholic mass said thousands of times every day for thousands of years. His question, “Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?” evokes President Obama’s declaration: "I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when...the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.” Is Obama pretending godlike powers? How about environmentalists who believe themselves capable of halting the extinction of any more species even after 99% of all species that ever existed have become so?
Simultaneous with the purging Christ from our calendar were related efforts to separate Christ from Christmas. They’ve continued to the point where few public schools call the cancellation of classes at the end of our calendar year “Christmas Vacation” anymore. Now it’s “winter break” or some such thing. Those who would purge the life of Christ from history would also purge Christ from everything. They’re careful to say “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas,” but the English word “holiday” derives from “holy day.” When that fact achieves critical mass in Progressive consciousness, will there be a movement to stop saying Happy Holidays and substitute “Happy Winter Solstice”? Might that be one of the “festivals of atonement” Neitzche predicted we would have to reinvent to assuage our conscience for killing God?
Getting back to measuring time, how long until we throw out the seven-day week? That comes from Jewish Scripture and the first book of the Christian bible after all. Then on to place names? Will Progressives force the city of Corpus Christi to change its name? It’s Latin for “Body of Christ” you know. How about San Francisco (St. Francis) and Los Angeles (City of Angels)?