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.
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 now 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?
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