When I say that we all have gaps in our knowledge, of course that’s meant to make my knowledge deficits sound no worse than yours. But sometimes I wonder.
A few weeks ago, I beheld the term C.E. (coupled with a four-digit calendar year) for the first time. Oh, I’d seen it before, and had easily inferred from the context that it meant the same as A.D., but I suddenly realized I didn’t know what the two letters stood for. So I Googled it.
Common era. Also, B.C.E.: Before Common Era. Right.
They did strike me as fine inventions on one level: I can appreciate that they offer neutral alternatives to what I and probably billions of other people have been taught in school over the generations: the quintessentially Christian terminology of B.C. (Before Christ) and A.D. (Anno Domini = the Year of the Lord).
But both sets of terms still take as their zero point the birth of the (possibly fictional) Christian savior, so I couldn’t quite see how we’d booked real progress in disassociating ourselves from normative Christianity.
And neither, it turns out, can this guy.
British atheist Lindybeige (real name, as best as I can tell, Nikolas Lloyd) just came up with a pretty funny riff on the subject. He’s a user of A.D. and B.C. himself and has never been bothered by those abbreviations. But to those who are, he proposes that they change, in their minds, what the letters stand for.
Just think of B.C. as Backwards Chronology, he says (because you’re counting backwards from zero; the year 44 B.C. comes before the year 43 B.C.); A.D. can now mean Ascending Dates, for self-evident reasons.
You won’t have to change any of the old textbooks.
Except, quips Lindybeige, that the easily offended will probably miss the chance to demonstrate their politically correct pedantry over those who use B.C. and A.D.
Lindybeige has a slightly manic but alluring presentation style (traces of John Cleese), and he seems fond of the kind of low-budget art direction that recalls (just a bit) the early work of Cleese’s Python colleague Terry Gilliam. Those comparisons notwithstanding, the man is an original worth following.