Jesus Calendar Dissed: BBC Drops BC-AD at Website

Which of the following dating terms does the BBC consider appropriate for historical reference?

  • Before Christ (BC)
  • “In the year of our Lord,” Anno Domini (AD)
  • Before the Common Era (BCE)
  • Common Era (CE)

Answer: all of them.

The first two are confessional terms associated with Christianity, obviously. They make Jesus’s birth the fulcrum around which distinct eras are, in an ultimate sense, contextualized. The second two terms are more contemporary academic designations. They accept the convention of Jesus’s (assumed) year of birth as a fulcrum in Western cultural history, but drop the confessional content. 

A spokesperson for the BBC recently put it this way:

Both AD and BC, and CE and BCE are widely accepted date systems and the decision on which term to use lies with individual production and editorial teams.

And the BBC has started using BCE-CE at its website. As a practical matter, given the BBC’s characteristically academic content, this means that BC and AD are a thing of the past. At least at the BBC. Almost no academic or academic publisher, after all, uses them anymore.

Will anybody use BC and AD fifty years from now? My guess is that only the most self-conscious of Christians and Gregorian calendar nostalgists are likely to.

I suppose you’ll know that the transition from BC-AD to BCE-CE is complete when it starts appearing in textbooks designed for US public schools. Perhaps the shift has already occurred and nobody noticed, but I doubt that very much. That transition will almost certainly result in a noisy dust-up between left and right. To get a feel for what’s coming on the culture war front, here’s a sample, at the Mail Online, of the outrage that James Delingpole mustered in response to the BBC’s new policy:

[Y]et another small part of our tradition, language and culture takes a step closer to extinction. We didn’t ask for it; we didn’t want it; yet still it’s happening because a tiny minority of politically correct busybodies have wormed their way into institutions such as the BBC and taken control.

But this whole debate, when it comes on in full force, is probably misplaced. Conservatives ought to embrace BCE-CE because it’s one more symptom indicating that the age of Common Dreams (CD) has long passed. It’s a sign that libertarianism is winning. Common dreams, after all, lead to common totalisms, and contemporary conservatives have made the strong point, at least in the United States, that they don’t want to conform to broad cultural sensibilities set by elites.

And you don’t get any more elite than Dionysius Exiguus. He was, after all, both a monk and member of the Roman Curia, and was the first to use AD. He did this as a refinement on the Roman Julian Calendar, which goes back before the birth of Christ. Pope Gregory XIII, who instituted the Gregorian Calendar, was also part of an elite fraternity (the Catholic popes).

So, end the elitism! Set a non-confessional term for interaction between groups, and let those groups then set their own terms for use within their own communities (as they determine).

If I had the deciding vote, the new calendar would be, not BCE-CE, but CD-ACD: the age of Common Dreams (CD) and the age After Common Dreams (ACD). My vote for the date of that division would be the birth of Nietzsche in 1844. Nietzsche was the first person to fully absorb the implications of Darwin’s Origin of Species, which are the following:

  • contingency;
  • nihilism; and
  • the end of the “given.”

This is also the year in which Charles Darwin told Joseph Dalton Hooker that admitting his belief in evolution by natural selection to others felt akin to “confessing a murder”—the murder, of course, being that of God.

But, really, the West has never known long eras of common dreams: Greek democracy and science succumbed to Roman Caesarism and Christian faith, and Christian faith never seemed able to arrive at a proper detente with either Judaism or Islam, which have always been “problems” for Christianity (though Judaism and Islam are part of our Western cultural heritage). Christianity itself fractured bitterly at the Protestant Reformation, and the Protestant Reformation gave way to the Enlightenment, which could not prevent its own schismatics from appearing on the scene: Nietzchean nihilists, eugenicists, communists, and postmodernists. The center, however we have ever defined it, has never held. 

So, the BBC is simply acknowledging the truth: we don’t live in the age of Common Dreams, and we needn’t pretend that we do. But the ill-informed and ahistorical circus acts (all based on misremembering the fractious nature of Western cultural history) must go on. So, as you might expect, a conservative British tabloid, no doubt a part of Rupert Murdoch’s holdings, has come to the defense of Pope Gregory (as if we’re all Catholics):

But, given the fiascos of past ages dominated by Common Dreams, it’s good to have a non-confessional calendar. Conservatives ought to see it as one less opportunity for systematic mischief.


Update: Kentucky’s state school board had a BCE-CE skirmish in 2006. See here.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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11 Responses to Jesus Calendar Dissed: BBC Drops BC-AD at Website

  1. Colin Hutton says:

    Why go for a date which is consequentially related (and then only arguably) to what will ultimately be recognised as the seminal event, the publication date of the “Origin” in 1859?

    • santitafarella says:


      Well, that’s certainly another possibility (1859). But I think it’s Nietzsche who took us all the way to the end of the intellectual line without flinching, and so is inescapable. All of human life after Nietzsche is a choice to look into the abyss or not.


  2. concerned christian says:

    Santi, BC & BCE always turn me off. I read many articles and books that use these terms, some of them are written by devout Christians who try to use the elitist terminology, and I believe that this is a small Orwellian joke. Renaming things to fit the new norms has been one of the traditions of Communist and Nationalist movements, and now the elitist West joins the madness. There are other calendars, each one reflects a certain religion or culture; there are a Muslim calender, a Coptic Calendar, a Chinese Calender, .. and the list go on. So maybe to treat everyone equally we should start using terms such as CEATCHr (Common Era According to Christians), CEATCo (Common Era According to Copts), CEATM (Common Era According to Muslims), CEATCHi (Common Era According to Chinese), and CEATD to please Colin. Do you see the absurdity of this idea?

    • santitafarella says:


      It was a Christian fussing with Rome’s Julian calendar that got us AD in the first place. The Julian calendar precedes Jesus’s birth by 50 years. But your point is taken. The left kills the symbolic father (God) wherever it can and the right kills off the symbolic mother (nature) wherever it can (through blowing-off environmental concerns, etc). It’s obviously a political move, and a power move, not just a concern with diversity.

      But, oddly enough, any end to common dreams preserves the individual soul—it makes it where people have greater existential control to order their lives exactly as they see fit. So, at least at that level, conservatives ought not be too alarmed about this. They can use BC-AD as they so determine without expecting non-Christians to come along for their ride.

      And a lot of this has to do with the fact that Jesus has waited so long to return (if his claim that he would return is true). In an internationally connected world where no more than 1 in 3 are Christian and where China is on the rise, one can hardly blame academics for looking for some sort of international touchstone for the calendar that is not confessional. China, by the way, has adopted the Western calendar, but uses the BCE-CE designation.


      • Colin Hutton says:

        Well, if China has adopted the Western calendar and in the BCE-CE format, that settles the matter, at least for the next couple of centuries –

      • concerned christian says:

        I checked out your references to the Chinese calendars and found this reference
        “Gregorian calendar was taken to China by Jesuit missionaries in 1582, the very year that it was first used by Europeans. Not until 1912, after the general public adopted the Gregorian calendar, did the yin-yang li lose its primary importance.” in
        But I would like to find a reference indicating that the Chinese actually use CE and BCE not AD and BC, can you find such a reference?

  3. concerned christian says:

    See I even got confused and used BC when I meant CE. You can see that this will be an alphabetical-soup nightmare and many reporters will be totally confused. Maybe every one should just use the numbers and let the listeners figure it out for themselves if it is AD/CE or BC(E).

  4. Iain McMahon says:

    You’ve gotta respect a newspaper that has the balls to criticise the BBC on academic merit while mentioning a sale at Tesco and a “sexy conspiracy”. 😀

    • santitafarella says:


      I suppose there was a time when stimulation would not have been taken for granted as being morally neutral.

      We do not live in such a time.


  5. Paradigm says:

    More like these charades illustrate the failure of multiculturalism. If there were good relations no one would bother with this at all. People would just accept it as a convention which for historical reasons has a Christian origin. And changing names wont fix bad since the conflicts stem from our tribal human nature along with socio-economic differences between different ethnic and religious groups.

    And it is our tribalism that makes us dream common dreams. Only in the multicultural society it takes the form of nostalgia, the retro trend that has grown stronger for many years now. I suspect the end of the common dream is the end of cultural innovation. Blues, rock, punk and grunge were all created within ethnic, social and geographical boundaries. These boundaries are now being blurred and as a result, no distinct cultural features mark our time. We are just regurgitating the old common dreams. And that’s serious.

  6. raphaelzaratustro says:

    That’s right it’s all about marketing. And manipulating public’s feelings so they work harder, shut their mouths by fears, buy more toys and eat more unnecessary food recycling their own.

    And Jesus is going to come back anyway. If not first by Him, by the Devil and it’s android holograms. It would be too tempting not to do this.

    Does it sound so unreal? Santi, don’t you believe or reason that God should exist?

    The omnipotent + omniknowing + omnipresent…

    What motivates you in first place to be so well informed of what media gives you to consume?

    Do you want to be a politician?

    How much time do you spend reading per day?

    Do you have access to government’s statistics?


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