Wikipedia:Neutral point of view/BCE-CE Debate

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I want Wikipedia to accept a general policy that BC ("Before Christ") and AD ("Anno Domini", "In the year of the Lord") represent a Christian Point of View and should be used only when they are appropriate, that is, in the context of expressing or providing an account of a Christian point of view. In other contexts, I argue that they violate our NPOV policy and we should use BCE (Before the Common Era) and CE (Common Era) instead. Slrubenstein | Talk 22:13, 15 May 2005 (UTC)

  • This is my proposal. If you do not agree with it, please feel free to express your criticisms in the discussion sections, and to vote no. However, please do not edit the content of this proposal. If you have your own proposal to make, feel free to make your own proposal. Finally, if anyone I quote in the proposal feels I have misrepresented them, please let me know and explain how, so I can revise it.
  • If people think they can rephrase what I have written to make it more eloquent, by all means do so.
  • But PLEASE put any comments in one of the appropriate discussion sections, following the proposal, below

ANNOUNCEMENT: My primary purpose in presenting this proposal was not to take a poll, but to provoke discussion. Although there have been many comments (a few, especially among the “opposed” votes, quite thoughtful), I do not think there has really been much discussion, much dialogue. Many people state their views, without discussing them with people who have different views. One small example: although I and a few others have written comments and questions to people voting “no,” few if any of the people who oppose the proposal have asked questions of any of the sixty or so people who have voted “yes.” Moreover, it is a shame that most critics of the proposal direct their opposition to me, when so many other people support the proposal. Wikipedia is a community, a community needs to communicate, and the ideal form of communication is an open-minded discussion among people of opposing views.

I know that I am a polarizing figure for many people. Therefore, I will step out of this discussion for several days (Aside from maintenance chores). I hope that when I am gone, people on both sides of the issue will talk more to one another, asking questions and responding in ways that invite more discussion. Adios.Slrubenstein | Talk 15:12, 17 May 2005 (UTC)

Please place comments on the announcment/s at the bottom of the page, bellow the vote. Please make sure these adhere to Wikipedia:No Personal Attacks policy. For comments on the policy, see the Discussion sections bellow. Thanks. El_C 20:28, 17 May 2005 (UTC)

Origins of the Debate

There has, on the Talk:Jesus page, been a rather contentious debate. This debate is primarily between

  • those who claim that BC/AD are NPOV and BCE/CE are POV, and
  • those who believe that BC/AD are POV and BCE/CE are POV.
  • those who believe that it has nothing to do with NPOV

However, the discussion on the Talk:Jesus page has raised two other questions:

  • if one uses the Gregorian calendar, must one use BC/AD?
  • don’t BC/AD and BCE/CE just mean the same thing?

I will try to sort out my answers to these questions systematically. It is going to take a long time, but given the lengthy and vitriolic debate on the Talk:Jesus page, I want to be sure to address every important concern. I will refer to some users by name because they have been involved in the debate and have taken the time to articulate arguments against my position; I want to make it clear that I am responding to real and not hypothetical arguments.

Critics of BC/AD

Those who criticize BC/AD do so for one simple reason.

  • BC and AD represent a Christian point of view

Accordingly, they violate our Wikipedia:Neutral point of view policy (which, Jimbo has said, is non-negotiable):

We sometimes give an alternative formulation of the non-bias policy: assert facts, including facts about opinions — but don't assert opinions themselves. There is a difference between facts and values, or opinions. By "fact," we mean "a piece of information about which there is no serious dispute." In this sense, that a survey produced a certain published result is a fact. That Mars is a planet is a fact. That Socrates was a philosopher is a fact. No one seriously disputes any of these things. So we can feel free to assert as many of them as we can.
By value or opinion, on the other hand, we mean "a piece of information about which there is some dispute."

That BC/AD represents a Christian point of view, this is simply undeniable. BC stands for “before Christ,” with the presumption that Jesus is Christ. AD stands for Anno Domini, in the year of our Lord, with the presumption that Jesus is Lord. That Jesus is Christ is not a fact no matter how many people believe so; it is an opinion, however deeply felt. That Jesus is Lord is not a fact no matter how many people believe so. On the contrary, that Jesus is Christ and that Jesus is Lord is, undeniably, incontrovertably, "a piece of information about which there is some dispute." Even if four billion people believed Jesus is Christ, to assert this as a fact would violate NPOV. Many people do not believe Jesus is Christ or Lord. Many people do not believe the Messiah has yet come. Many people believe there is no Messiah at all. Many people believe there is no Lord. These are four points of view, each of which is different from the one expressed in BC and AD.

Defense of BC/AD, and Responses

Those who defend BC/AD claim it is NPOV for one or more of four reasons:

  • Wikipedia’s Style Guide states that BC/AD and BCE/CE are equally acceptable.
  • most people use it
  • its meaning has changed over the centuries
  • people who claim it is offensive are disingenuous

Argument 1: Style

As to the first argument, that BC/AD is permitted by our Manual of Style: this was introduced by Rangerdude, who said, "As you have been shown many times, Wikipedia's NPOV policy says absolutely nothing barring the use of BC/AD and Wikipedia's Style Manual explicitly condones it as one of two acceptable dating systems." Fine: the style manual explicitly allows both BC/AD and BCE/CE. This only means that the style manual will not help us resolve this debate. Rangerdude thinks he is saying that AD is permissible, but he is simultaneously saying that CE is permissible as well! This is no argument, since, on style grounds, at least, the policy is agnostic, or neutral. In fact, this manual is irrelevant to this issue, since as a matter of style it sees both systems as acceptable.

More importantly, those of us who reject BC/AD are not doing so on the grounds that it violates our style manual (which is not a “policy”), but rather on the grounds that it violates our NPOV policy. These are simply two different issues. Moreover, NPOV trumps style. According to the Wikipedia: Manual of Style

Clear, informative and unbiased writing is always more important than presentation and formatting. Writers are not required to follow all or any of these rules.

According to Wikipedia: Neutral point of view, however,

NPOV is "absolute and non-negotiable."

In short, the argument on the basis of style must be rejected out of hand.

Argument 2: Popularity

As to the second argument, that most people use and are familiar with BC/AD: This is an argument made by Jguk, who wrote "It is NPOV because we use it merely because it is the most common formulation" and later wrote “NPOV means that, for reporting purposes, we accept the societal norms that we are in. We use the most common terms as understood and used by our audience,” and by Silversmith who provided a long list of books that use BC/AD.

First, we must make it clear that there was a poll on the Jesus page. 28 people favor BCE/CE, and 16 people favor BC/AD. That is 63.63% in favor of BCE/CE and 36.36% opposed — in any election this would be a landslide for BCE/CE.

But more importantly, how wide-spread a practice is simply has nothing to do with NPOV. If this is Jguk’s and Silversmith’s interpretation of our NPOV policy, they are wrong. Quantity and popularity have nothing to do with neutrality. This is clearly stated in our Wikipedia: Neutral point of view policy:

First, and most importantly, consider what it means to say that unbiased writing presents conflicting views without asserting them. Unbiased writing does not present only the most popular view; it does not assert the most popular view is correct after presenting all views

- That many books use a POV term does not make that POV term NPOV. NPOV is not a popularity contest. It should surprise no one that a google search shows that the vast majority of people use AD/BC, since the vast majority of sites on the web are from Christian or Christianized societies. We know most Westerners use BC and AD, but they do not do so because it is “neutral.” They do so because the West is largely a Christian culture, by which I mean that many practices that have their origin in Christianity are taken for granted, regardless of what people believe (this is one meaning of "culture," a historically and locally specific set of habits). The only thing that Silversmith’s list of books, or the number of Goggle hists, is evidence of is that many people have this POV; but it is still a POV and not NPOV. Most people in the antebellum South (and probably the North too) thought Blacks were inferior. That most people thought this doesn't mean that it is an objective fact, indeed it is still a point of view, a highly biased one. So the number of books that use BC/AD, and the number of Google hits for BC/AD, are irrelevant. They do not count as evidence in a discussion of NPOV. This argument must be dismissed out of hand.

Argument 3: Change in Meaning

As to the third argument, that its meaning has changed over time. This is a position taken by Alanyst, Jguk, and Trodel. I happen to have serious doubts about this; Jguk and Trodel have said other things that lead me to question either their honesty or at least their consistency. However, I will first take them seriously before explaining why I think they are inconsistent.

Your marginal toning down to "inconsistent" (while still calling them dishonest and insincere), here and several other places, is too little, too late. You had already set the tone for discussion in your original proposal, by your original wording. Do the right thing and call off the vote and abandon your proposal now. Gene Nygaard 15:22, 17 May 2005 (UTC)

This argument actually hinges on, or takes the form of, two arguments. One is really just a version of the “it’s neutral because it is popular.” This was argued by Alanyst, who wrote “It's so widely used that it no longer identifies the religious POV of the author who uses it. Hence its usage is NPOV, even if its historical meaning is not.” I have already explained why the “widely used” argument is irrelevant. But Alanyst is also suggesting that many people today do not know what BC and AD stand for. This is the argument of Trodel, who points out that in his office, “Most knew it was latin (or roman) had something to do with Jesus but had no clue as to what it meant.” Alanyst provides as an example “Thursday,” which is named after the Norse god Thor. As Alanyst correctly points out, no one thinks that “Thursday” has any religious meaning anymore; no one believes it is pushing a POV; no one is offended by it.

Is Meaning Only What is Intended?

There are really two different questions. The first one is, is POV a matter of intent? Must the author or speaker intend to communicate this point of view? Alanyst and others have insisted that although they use BC and AD, they are either not Christians or are not doing this to impose a Christian POV. But our NPOV policy is not about the author’s intentions. It does not say that an author cannot present his or her own point of view as if it were fact. That may be the most egregious and common violation of NPOV, but really, that is just an example. NPOV is not about specifically "the author's" point of view. It is a policy against presenting any point of view as fact. I could write an article in which I present the Nazi point of view as fact. Or, if this is too extreme, the point of view of vegetarians as fact. It doesn't matter that I am neither a Nazi nor a vegetarian, I would still be violating the NPOV policy. This is not about the author's point of view. It is about privileging any point of view!

Another way of looking at this is, must the POV be conscious. Again, our Wikipedia: Neutral point of view policy makes it clear that this is not the case.

Bias need not be conscious. For example, beginners in a field often fail to realize that what sounds like common sense is actually biased in favor of one particular view. (So we not infrequently need an expert in order to render the article entirely unbiased.) To take another example, writers can, without intent, propagate "geographical" bias, by for example describing a dispute as it is conducted in one country without knowing that the dispute is framed differently elsewhere.

Now, I do not claim that the unconscious bias here is strictly geographical in the sense given in the example above. But you can think of it as a geographic bias in the sense of a “Western” bias. You can also think of it as an unconscious religious bias. At the very least, it is an unconscious cultural bias.

This raises two questions: first, if it is unconscious, how do we know there is a bias? Second, where does this unconscious bias come from?

How Does One Know if There is an Unconscious Bias?

The reason we know that there is a bias, even though many people are unconscious of it — indeed, the only way we can know there is a bias when many people are unconscious of it – is when other people are conscious of it. So let’s see if other people perceive a bias:

See [1] for this:

[1] B.C. stands for "before Christ" and AD, stands for "Anno Domini": "in the year of the Lord." Both are references to Jesus. Because Jews do not believe in the divinity of Jesus, they use the abbreviations BCE, for "Before the Common Era" (that is, before the year 1), and CE, for "Common Era" (that is, after the year 1).

See [2] for this:

When religious Jews refer to the Christian calendar, they write the date as such, 1999 CE, which stands for the Common Era. Similarly, BCE stands for "before the Common Era." This way of indicating that one is using the common calendar differentiates the dates from BC which is "before Christ," and AC which is "after Christ"or AD, "Anno Domini."

See [3] for this:

Q. Why do Jews use BCE and CE rather than BC and AD?
A. The BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini, Year of our Lord) method of dating is clearly a Christian system. Jews, not recognizing Jesus as Messiah but cogniscent of the need to have a dating method that is in synch with the rest of the world's identify the period we call AD as the "Common Era" (CE), and the period before as "Before the Common Era" (BCE).

See [4] for

Jews also do not use Christian terms when referring to the Western Calendar. The Western, or Christian, Calendar has B.C. or AD after a year in some cases. Since the Christian Calendar is centered on the birth of Jesus, Christianity's central figure, BC means "Before Christ" and AD means Anno Domini, which is Latin for "In the year of our Lord." Jewish people, on the other hand, uses the terms CE (Common Era) and BCE ( Before the Common Era). The Common Era is, of course, the time at which Jews and Christians began to have a shared history.

See [5] for:

BCE, “Before the Common Era,” is a theologically neutral equivalent to BC, “Before Christ;” just as CE, “Common Era,” is a neutral equivalent to A.D. (anno domini), “the year of our Lord.”

See [6] for

Most Jewish historical and religious books use the designations BCE (Before the Common Era) and CE (Common Era) to indicate respectively the period before the birth of Jesus and the period after his birth. The explanation is simple. The authors do not wish to imply that they accept Jesus as the Christ and therefore dislike the designation BC (Before Christ); they do not wish to imply that they accept Jesus as Lord and therefore dislike the designation AD (Anno Domini - in the year of the Lord). The traditional Jewish calendar is often inadequate. Therefore the conventional calendar is accepted for practical purposes, with the designations BCE and CE

See [7] for

Q. In an earlier version of this issue, you used the abbreviations CE and BCE What do they mean?
A. CE stands for the "common era" that Judaism and Christianity share. BCE means "before the common era." Jews adopted the terms as alternatives to the widely used terms BC (before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini, or Year of the Lord), which both assume that Christ's birth is the central event of history. Since this publication is directed to Catholics, BC and AD are preferred.

See [8] for

The term BC stands for "Before Christ" and AD stands for Anno Domini, Latin for the "Year of Our Lord". Because non-Christians do not consider Jesus to be their "Lord", scholars developed the non-religious term "the Common Era", abbreviated CE. BCE stands for "Before the Common Era."

I think these passages reveal three important things: first, there is no problem using BC and AD when addressing a Christian audience. Second, Jews are offended by BC and AD and use BCE and CE as a "non-denominational" way to use the Gregorian calendar. Third, many Christians respect this. I want to remind you that BCE/CE is used by Jews but is not a Jewish dating system. The Jewish "POV" is that this is the year 5765. Most Jews are offended by saying this is the year AD 2005. But most Jews are content with saying it is 2005 CE as a compromise. As one of the sources above explains, "The Common Era is, of course, the time at which Jews and Christians began to have a shared history."

Why are People Unconscious of Their Bias?

Now to the second question. If so many people really do perceive this bias, why is it that so many people are unconscious of the bias. I can only speculate, but I think my hypothesis makes sense.

Sociologists have studied relations of domination for a very long time, and have discovered that the dominant position is often "unmarked" -- for example, if Whites are talking about a White musician they will just say "x, the pianist" but many times if the musician is Black they will say "x the Black pianist." They may think that they do not hate Blacks, they may not think they are discriminating against Blacks, but it is nevertheless evidence of the inequality between Whites and Blacks. Slaveowners thought their slaves were happy; rich people think poor people could be rich if they just weren't so lazy. These are not strictly analogous to the case at hand, but that isn't why I bring these examples up. My point is that people who are in a privileged position seldom admit it and often do not even see it.

People who are not in a privileged position, however, are acutely sensitive to these power dynamics (which is why you hear a lot of Whites telling Blacks they are "too sensitive" or "have an attitude problem" but seldom the other way around). My point: the very claim that AD and BC are NPOV, which I do believe some people sincerely believe, is actually just more evidence of how POV they are. The worst kind of POV is the unacknowledged kind, because the effect of claiming that your POV is NPOV is either to compel everyone else to accept your POV unquestioningly, or to enable you to tell anyone who says "No, they are not neutral, and you are trying to impose your view of the world on me" that they are being ridiculous — in other words, to tell people you disagree with to shut up, or to enable you simply not to listen to them. Don't listen to all the people whom you offend, if it makes you happy. But don't kid yourself that these terms are NPOV, claiming so is just the newest scam to get people who are different from you to be like you. I can respect you, but don't think you can compel me to be like you

I want to be clear that I am not suggesting that a member of a minority or dominated group cannot make POV claims — they do so all the time. Nor am I claiming that a member of a majority group can never make NPOV claims — again, they do so all the time. The fact that there are Christian Whites who use BCE and CE is simple proof that they can make NPOV claims. The fact that a Christian contributing to this article might write "According to the New Testament, Jesus was resurrected ..." as opposed to the POV "Three days later, Jesus was resurrected" is another perfectly good example of a Christian making an NPOV claim.

I am claiming only two things: (1)that members of a dominant group often do not recognize that some things they say or do are not universally shared but rather reflect their particular point of view. Note my use of the word "often." "Often" does not mean "always." But I do believe this is a fact. (2) that members of minority or subordinate groups are usually in a position to perceive and recognize unconscious bias on the part of members of a majority or dominant group.

How is a member of a majority or dominant group to respond? Simple: listen, with an open mind, to people different from you, and understand that they may legitimately see something in your words or deeds that you do not see. This does not mean that any and all complaints by members of a minority or dominated group are true by any means. It only means that you concede that you may be wrong and they may be right.

How do you find out? Through a conversation, of course. And for a couple of days I and several other people, including non-Jews, have given reasons for our objections to BC/AD.

As to the question, why is it that BC/AD express an unconscious bias when "Thursday" does not? Because there aren't many worshipers of Thor these days, and because if worshipers of Thor went around the world converting people to Thor-worship or killing them, it was a very very long time ago. But it was not at all long ago that Christians killed non-Christians, and quite recently that Christians went around the world trying to convert non-Christians; indeed, it still happens today. You can't compare AD with Thursday because the contexts are so different.

Why Are People Offended by the Claim of Unconscious Bias?

Now, a number of people seem to be really offended by my hypothesis — Alanyst and ClemMcGann directly, and indirectly Jguk, who said “You are manufacturing "offence" where you know there is none,” Trodel, who wrote “this debate is a group purposefully feigning offense in order to make a change to convention for whatever reason,” and Sam Spade who thought my taking offense is “bizarre.” This leads us to the fourth claim, that people who take offense are being disingenuous..

This statement is itself offensive. You can ask all your friends, co-workers, and neighbors what AD means and they can all say "I dunno." All that means is that you do not happen to know people who do. You can ask all your friends, co-workers, and neighbors whether they care what AD means and they can all say "not me." All that means is that you do not happen to know any people who care. But for you to leap from the fact that you don't know anyone who cares to the conclusion that those people who care are faking it is patronizing and insulting.

The real question is not "Are those who take offence at BC/AD faking it," the real question is, "Why does it offend some people so, when they learn that other people are offended by BC/AD?"

I think this is the real question because some people, like Jguk, simultaneously insist that BC and AD are just letters, so why should anyone care — and yet, when someone proposes other letters, BCE and CE, which are also “just letters,” he flips out. Either BC/AD are arbitrary, or they actually stand for something. If you believe they are arbitrary, then it should not matter to you at all what letters we use, and BCE and CE should be equally acceptable. But some keep arguing! Why do they care, if they are just letters? Obviously, they care very much. Obviously, they care that some people do not want to use BC and AD. Obviously, making other people use AD and BC is important to them. Obviously, AD and BC are not just arbitrary letters, obviously they do represent something.

Critics argue that they represent “Before Christ” and “Anno Domini” (in the year of our Lord), and above I pointed out that even if many do not know what they stand for, other do, and recognize their POV. This should not surprise anyone — I am sure that almost every editor at Wikipedia has written something that violated NPOV policy, and they didn't know why, and needed someone to tell them. As I said, I think Jguk and Trodel are inconsistent when they claim that they are not using these terms to express a Christian point of view. In a moment, I will explain why. But since many people may sincerely not believe they are expressing a Christian POV, I want to explain why I think BCE/CE nevertheless upsets them.

Indeed, given how offended people such as Alanyst, Clem McGann, Jguk, and Trodel get, I must consider that something else is going on — that BC and AD represent something other than “Before Christ” and “Anno Domini” that really, really do matter to Alanyst, Clem McGann, Jguk, and Trodel (by the way, I recognize I may be being unfair to Alanyst. I sometimes think this view I am about to present does not apply to him). What do these letters represent? Simply put: the supremacy of their point of view, and the comfort that comes from believing that the rest of the world thinks like them. Maybe it just has something to do with the fact that some people are scared by the fact that they may have an unconscious bias. But I suspect that some people simply feel threatened by difference. I suspect that when a group of people are used to dominating the world — and to be clear, it need not be political and economic domination, it can be cultural domination, it can be the assumption that whatever you take for granted, everyone else takes for granted as well – it deeply disturbs them to realize that they no longer dominate it.

Well, too bad. You have to accept the fact that not everyone in the world thinks like you. Not everyone in this world thinks like your friends, neighbors, and co-workers. You are claiming that "If you disagree with me, you are faking it" is pure and simple arrogance. There are people who know, and who care. They are not faking it. Please re-read the NPOV policy. You are acting as if the fact that your beliefs are common, no other view is legitimate. This is the opposite of our Wikipedia: Neutral point of view policy. That policy states,

"First, and most importantly, consider what it means to say that unbiased writing presents conflicting views without asserting them. Unbiased writing does not present only the most popular view; it does not assert the most popular view is correct after presenting all views; it does not assert that some sort of intermediate view among the different views is the correct one."

The very spirit of the NPOV policy is that no one view is supreme, and no one can take comfort in the belief that everyone shares their point of view.

As I explained above, the claim that if something is common it is NPOV is false and has nothing to do with our NPOV policy. It just doesn't matter how many people use BC/AD or not. You simply do not understand our Wikipedia: Neutral point of view. It states,

First, and most importantly, consider what it means to say that unbiased writing presents conflicting views without asserting them. Unbiased writing does not present only the most popular view; it does not assert the most popular view is correct after presenting all views; it does not assert that some sort of intermediate view among the different views is the correct one.

You can argue all you want. But it is a fact that BC stands for "before Christ" and that represents a point of view. As such it violates our NPOV policy. You can scream at the top of your voice that many people do not know what the letters mean, so it doesn't matter. But it is a fact that many people do know what these letters mean, and that is enough to raise NPOV issues. You are so intent in forcing me to accept your beliefs (even the belief that "Christ" is something everyone should take for granted and just use, pretending the word means nothing). You just can't stand the fact that I refuse to cave in to your pressure, your pressure that I take for granted what most White Anglo Saxon Protestants take for granted. Too bad. The very fact that I and many others will not bow to your will is itself proof that your beliefs are not universal, not natural. They are your beliefs, not mine, and stop acting like everyone thinks the way you do. This is the antithesis of our NPOV policy.

This is not a matter of being “politically correct” in the vulgar sense of the term. It is on the contrary an aspiration to live up to the best aspects of European civilization rather than its worst — to actively reject the legacy of the genocide of Native Americans by Europeans, the unbelievable inhumanity of the Belgian Congo, of the British occupation of India, Kenya, and other parts of the world, but to embrace the ideals of the American Declaration of Independence; of the French Rights of Man; of England's slow but steady decision to treat people equally before the law. There is nothing ridiculous about the principle that no one group's views should be imposed on another. I willingly accept the Gregorian calendar as a convenience, but do not force your beliefs that Jesus is Christ and Lord on me. That is unacceptable. Similarly, Wikipedia should be a place where no one group's views are foisted on another. This is what NPOV is all about.

Now, I have suggested that Jguk and Trodel are disingenuous, or at least inconsistent, when they claim that they use BC and AD without any Christian meaning. Out of one side of their mouths they insist that BC/AD are NPOV. Out of the other side of their mouths, Jguk says "It is a deliberate attempt to whitewash Christianity out of the picture," which makes it clear that BC/AD do express the Christian POV and are thus POV; and Trodel says that using BCE/CE tells the world that "there is a concerted effort to deny the importance of Jesus in history" which again makes it clear that BC/AD do express the Christian POV and are thus POV. Okay, at least now Jguk and Trodel admit that BC and AD are Christian terms representing a Christian view. But why does using BCE and CE "whitewash Christianity out of the picture?" Why does using BCE and CE "deny the importance of history?" The words "Common Era" do not in any way imply that Christianity does not exist. Indeed, if we use BCE and CE on this article, which very much explains events central to Christianity, I do not see how using these three little letters undoes the work of the whole article. Let us be brutally frank. The only think that the terms BCE and CE suggest concerning Christianity is this: not everyone believes that Jesus is Christ and Lord." Jguk and others have written ad nauseum about how I am so easy to offend, and take offense at everything (and anyone who knows my work here knows this is not true). But now I see that they are projecting. Look, it does not offend me that some people believe that Jesus is Christ and Lord. But it offends Jguk and Trodel that some people do not believe that Jesus is Christ and Lord. How hypersensitive can one get? You two must face facts: most human beings do not accept Jesus as Christ and Lord. You are welcome to your beliefs, but most people do not share them. If you find this offensive, too bad, you just are going to have to get used to it. As I have said before, the end point of Jguk and Trodel's logic is this: anyone who does not share their faith, or their beliefs, is offensive. And this, folks, is the most offensive thing of all. Like the term "Common Era," Wikipedia's NPOV policy is all about recognizing that people do not all think alike. It is almost terrifying, that Jguk and Trodel wish this weren't so.

Tomer has (or had, I am not sure whether he has changed his mind or not) similarly revealed the Christian bias among people who claim that BC and AD today havenothing to do with Christianity. He writes, “‘Common Era’ is just plain stupid. Common? To whom? It's just a circumlocution based in a desire to either obliterate any mention or note of jesus in the dating system used in christendom over the past millennium and a half, or to simply avoid having to say his name everytime you state a date.” But what does Tomer mean when he says "christendom?" Does he mean the world consisting only of all Christians? If so, he is wrong, because many non Christians agree by convention to call this year 2005. Or by "christendom" does he mean all people who use the Gregorian calendar? If this is what he means, he is really insulting me and violating NPOV. I am not a Christian and although I call this year 2005 it insults me, and it is inaccurate, to call me a member of Christendom. If he believes that "Christendom" — the rule of Christianity – should rule Wikipeida, he has no business here at all. How dare he exclude all non-Christians (or demand that non-Christians accept Christian practices)? What does "Common Era" mean? It means an an era common to many people of many faiths, including Christianity but yes believe it or not including non-Christians too, and refusing to privilege a Christian POV. Why would anyone think this is stupid?

BCE/CE as NPOV Alternatives

As an alternative to BC/AD, people offer BCE/CE, "Before the Common Era," and "Common Era." They do so mainly for three reasons:

  • First, the BCE/CE system claims that the Gregorian calendar is common to many different groups. This is a fact.
  • Second, it implies that many people do not accept Jesus as Christ or Lord. This too is a fact.
  • Third, it does not reflect the POV of any faith. BCE and CE do not represent a Jewish point of view. They do not represent a Hindu point of view. They do not represent a Muslim point of view. All they say is that there is a calendar, originally devoloped by Christians, but which Jews, Muslims, and Hindus have accepted as a matter of convention, but not as a matter of faith. It is NPOV because it represents no view.

Criticisms of BCE/CE, and Responses

Those who criticize BCE/CE have four arguments, each of which are easily dispensed with.

  • BCE/CE is some new, revisionist, “PC” system devised by elitist scholars.
  • BCE/CE simply represent another point of view
  • BCE/CE does not change the fact that we use the Gregorian calendar, which is just as POV.
  • BCE/CE mean the same thing as BC/AD — they are just letters.

Argument 1: Revisionism

As to the first argument, that BCE/CE is revisionist, this was expressed by Baas who wrote "Keep BC/AD. Wikipedia is not a forum for revisionist history." But NPOV and POV have nothing to do with revisionist history. To state that many people do not believe that Jesus was Christ or our Lord is not revisionism; the NT itself observes that some people do not accept Jesus as Christ and Lord. Wikipedia should as well.

It is true that Peter Daniels (a Cornell and Chicago trained linguist), has written that "C.E." and "B.C.E." came into use in the last few decades, perhaps originally in Ancient Near Eastern studies, where (a) there are many Jewish scholars and (b) dating according to a Christian era is irrelevant. It is indeed a question of sensitivity.” Even if this were true, this provides no grounds for rejecting BCE/CE. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, and our aim to create an on-line encyclopedia of high-quality is our primary mission. The very fact that something was devised by, and is becoming increasingly common among, scholars is a reason to use it, not reject it.

However, I believe that “CE” has earlier antecedents in the term VE, or Vulgar Era, which was used first by Christians, and only later by Jews, as an alternative to AD. In a 1716 book by English Bishop John Prideaux, we find, “The vulgar era, by which we now compute the years from his incarnation.” In 1835, in his book Living Oracles, Alexander Campbell, wrote “The vulgar Era, or Anno Domini; the fourth year of Jesus Christ, the first of which was but eight days.”

The first Jewish use of this practice of which I know is from an inscription on a gravestone in a Jewish cemetery in Plymouth, England:

"Here is buried his honour Judah ben his honour Joseph, a prince and honoured amongst philanthropists, who executed good deeds, died in his house in the City of Bath, Tuesday, and was buried here on Sunday, 19 Sivan in the year 5585. In memory of Lyon Joseph Esq (merchant of Falmouth, Cornwall). who died at Bath June AM 5585/VE 1825. Beloved and respected."

This inscription, like most, uses the Jewish calendar (5585), but ends by providing the common year (1825); presumably the “VE” means “Vulgar Era,” and presumably VE was used instead of AD in order to avoid the Christian implications.

In 1908, In its article on "Chronology", the Catholic Encyclopedia uses the sentence: "Foremost among these [dating eras] is that which is now adopted by all civilized peoples and known as the Christian, Vulgar, or Common Era, in the twentieth century of which we are now living." This 1908 example from the Catholic Encyclopedia is the first use of “Common Era” I can find, and I believe it was used synonymously with, or to replace “Vulgar Era.”

In short, Christians first use “Vulgar Era” as an alternative to AD. “Vulgar Era” is more inclusive than “in the year of our Lord” and Christians may have been acknowledging that many people use the Gregorian calendar without believing that Jesus is Lord. It is important to note that at that time, “vulgar” had no negative connotations. “Vulgar” comes from the Latin word vulgāaris (from vulgus, “the common people”), meant “of or belonging to the common people, everyday,” and I believe it was used by Christians in the 18th and 19th centuries to mean “common.” By the 20th century, however, the meaning of “vulgar” had changed to signify “indecent.” Thus, Christians stopped using the Latin word and used its English translation, Common, thus introducing “Common Era.”

It seems to me that CE began with Christian religious scholars -- the Catholic Encyclopedia. I am afraid I do not know much about the Jehovah's Witnesses, who I am told also eschew BC and AD; I gather they do not think of themselves as Christian, but they certainly are not Jewish. I do think it is interesting, though, that the alternative to A.D. was first introduced by Protestant and Catholic clerics. I believe this shows that there was a time when Christians understood and respected the fact that many people do not share their faith. I know many Christians who today share this understanding and respect. I just think it is both puzzling and a shame that others so resist the idea, that there are people out there who have other beliefs.

Argument 2: BCE/CE are POV

As to the second argument, that BCE and CE are themselves POV, there are four reasons given.

First Reason: Atheism

One, that BCE and CE are atheistic and suggest that God does not exist. This is patently not true. There is nothing in the words “Before” “Common” and “Era,” or in any combination of these words, that even hints that God does not exist. Moreover, many people who believe in God (including religious Jews and religious Christians referred to above) use BCE and CE.

Second Reason: Anti-Christianity

Two, that BCE and CE are anti-Christian because they deny that Jesus was Christ and Lord, or that he even existed. Again, this is patently absurd. There is nothing in the words “Before” “Common” and “Era,” or in any combination of these words, that even hints that Jesus was not Christ, let alone that he never existed. All it does is imply that there are people who do not believe that Jesus was Christ and Lord. Saying that “Jesus never existed” would indeed violate our NPOV policy. Saying “Some people believe Jesus never existed” is, however, NPOV. To say that BCE and CE are anti-Christian is tantamount to saying “NPOV is anti-Christian.”

BCE/CE makes no attack on Christianity, nor does it call into question any Christian beliefs. If simply acknowledges that there are people who do not share Christian beliefs. A devout Christian can use "BCE" and "CE without feeling that he or she is betraying his or her faith, because using these terms in no way negates their faith. The same cannot be said for non-Christians and BC/AD.

Third Reason: Personal POV

Three, some people have claimed that my saying that BCE and CE are simply my personal point of view. This is not true. That this is the year 2005 CE is not my point of view; my point of view is that this is the year 5765. That Caesar was assassinated in 44 BCE is not my point of view; my point of view is that Caesar was assassinated in 3716. This is using the Jewish Calendar. The Christian Calendar would have this year be AD 2005 and the year of Caesar’s assassination 44BC. That is the Christian POV. To say that it is 2005 CE, or that Caesar died in 44 BCE, takes neither my view nor the view of Jguk, Trodel, and others. It takes neither the Jewish nor the Christian POV. It is NPOV.

Fourth Reason: Essentially POV

Four, some people have suggested that BCE and CE by necessity and essentially reflect some point of view. Thus, Silversmith wrote: “The whole point behind inventing BCE/CE was POV! Someone decided they didn't like the meaning hidden, not only in an abbreviation, but also in Latin. So they decided to come up with another abbreviation, which they thought would be better.” Jguk wrote, “Also you seem to ignore that the very act of changing from BC/AD to BCE/CE notation is the expression of a POV.” Nobs asked, “As a newbie, let me see if I understand how to make the argument : "It is my POV that your POV is POV; whereas it is my POV that my POV is NPOV." is that it?”

This is perhaps the most ludicrous and offensive reason possible, because it amounts to a negation of our NPOV policy as a whole. In answer to Nob’s question, our Wikipedia: Neutral point of view policy is:

A point here bears elaboration. We said that the neutral point of view is not, contrary to the seeming implication of the phrase, some actual point of view that is "neutral," or "intermediate," among the different positions. That represents a particular understanding of what "neutral point of view" means. The prevailing Wikipedia understanding is that the neutral point of view is not a point of view at all; according to our understanding, when one writes neutrally, one is very careful not to state (or imply or insinuate or subtly massage the reader into believing) that any particular view at all is correct.

Remember, this policy is non-negotiable. To suggest that "NPOV" is a "POV" and thus violates "NPOV" is absurd on its face. NPOV is not a POV, it is a policy about not elevating any POV to dominance. One cannot argue that NPOV is a POV; any such argument must immediately be dismissed.

Some people have offered a slightly different argument, not the “NPOV” is a POV, but rather that whether one prefers BC/AD or prefers BCE/CE depends on one’s point of view, and an NPOV article would explain this and provide both points of view. Silversmith argued this when he quoted our Wikipedia:Neutral point of view policy as saying,

There is another reason to commit ourselves to this policy. Namely, when it is clear to readers that we do not expect them to adopt any particular opinion, this leaves them free to make up their minds for themselves, thus encouraging intellectual independence.

Silversmith is right, that NPOV leads us to include multiple points of view in articles. The problem here is not with the policy or the principle, but rather with how it is being applied. Specifically, the problem with this argument is that it applies only to an article on dating systems, not to an article that uses a dating system.

For example, an article on Jesus should include multiple points of view: Jesus was the messiah; Jesus was a false messiah; Jesus was a prophet; Jesus was the son of God, and so on. Including these multiple points of view is one important way of achieving an NPOV article.

Similarly, in an article on dating systems, NPOV requires us to say that some people use BC, and others use BCE.

But this is not an article on dating systems, it is an article on a historical figure and must thus use a dating system; the question is, which one? The Jewish system that Jesus himself used, by which he was born around 3756? Or the Christian system that dates his birth either to AD1 or 4 BC or 6 BC? To comply with our NPOV policy, we should not use either system. 1 CE, or 4 BCE or 6 BCE is neutral.

Argument 3: We Would Also Have to Reject the Gregorian Calendar

The third argument takes two forms. One, the claim that to reject BC and AD is to reject the Gregorian calendar. Two, the rhetorical question, “If you do not think the Gregorian calendar violates our NPOV policy, why do you think BC and AD do? Both of these forms have one thing in common: that the Gregorian calendar and BC/AD are inseparable. This view is implicit in those people who respond to criticisms of BC/AD by suggesting that the Gregorian calendar itself is being (or should be) challenged. Thus, Gene Nygaard wrote, “How would reading that Jesus was born 3,760 years after the beginning of the world (A.M.) force me not to believe that the Earth is about 4,500,000,000 years old? Isn't that terminology every but as much the pushing of a particular point of view as what you've been complaining about?” And Nobs wrote “I return to the fundemental premise, 2005 is not a random number pulled out of a hat. If these enlightened rationalist & truthseekers really want to establish factual truth, why then do they seek to assign the random number 2005 as being the current calender of reckoning, when as everyone knows, it's pure crap. Why don't they state thier real agenda, to make it the year 14,000,000,000 or 20,000,000,000, or thereabouts, to be scientifically and factually accurate.”

At first, I thought this was a red-herring. We are debating BC/AD, not the Gregorian calendar; why open up another can of worms. But I think I understand their point – isn’t the Gregorian Calendar representing the Christian point of view? I understand why they think so, but my answer is no.

It is true that the Gregorian calendar started as a Christian calendar. Christians believe it is AD 2005. Other religions and peoples have other calendars: for Jews, this is the year 5765. Muslims believe it is 1426 (I think, no disrespect if I am mistaken). I think the Chinese year is 4703. These are all different points of view.

But we do not live in a segregated world where Christians, Jews, Muslims, Chinese and others never have anything to do with one another. For Jews, Christians, Muslims, Chinese and others to be able to engage in commerce, share scholarly research, coordinate political activities, it is much more convenient to have one calendar.

The question of "which calendar" was settled by historical events. European colonial expansion beginning in the 1500s and peaking in the early 1900s involved the deliberate attempt to spread Christianity, by the late 1800s capitalism, and the calendar used by most Europeans, that is, the Gregorian calendar. Although the Gregorian calendar was created as a specifically Christian calendar, many non-Christians were forced to use it, and many more were encouraged to use it. The Gregorian calendar is now a convenient convention that Christians, Jews, Muslims, Chinese, Hindus, and others have "in common." That is why the terms "Before the Common Era" and "Common Era" are both accurate and neutral.

Grace Note, who favors AD, asks of the CE system "Who has it in common with whom?" But Nob, who also favors the AD system, provides the answer: the current system of dating (by which this is 2005) "is currently commonly used globally by all cultures and civilizations, Islamic, Sinic, Japanese, Hindu, etc."

I and many people like me — in fact most Jews I know – have no problem with Christians using BC and AD among themselves since it is after all their religion. Saying that this year is AD 2005 is the Christian point of view. But many people do not accept that Jesus is Lord. That reflects one point of view and is by no means neutral. But we are deeply offended when these terms are applied to ordinary events or even our own history, because we do not believe Jesus was Christ or the Lord.

Jews are willing to use the Gregorian calendar, as long as it is no longer strictly identified as "Christian." We can accept the numbers (e.g. 2005) as a convention, but this number (2005) has meaning because many people accept it as a convention. It is true that the Gregorian calendar is derived from an assumption about Jesus' birth, and an assumption that happens to be wrong to boot. But the same thing can mean very different things in different contexts. For Christians, 2005 may very well mean "2005 years since Jesus' birth." When Jews use "2005" they know that Christians think it is 2005 years since Jesus' birth. But that is not why Jews use "2005." The reason they use "2005" is because it has become a convention shared by (i.e. common to) many people worldwide. It is a convenience -- rather than have to convert the Jewish year to the Christian year to the Muslim year to the Hindu year whenever different people try to communicate, it makes sense to pick a convention. But Jews will never use “2005" because it is "the year of our Lord."

This is why we call it the "common era" -- because many non-Christian groups use it also. "Common" means shared by many people, and indeed many people, including people of different faiths and no faith, share the Gregorian calendar. This seems like a straightforward use of the word "common." The point is, they have the calendar in common, but they do not have belief that Jesus is Christ and Lord in common. They do not use this calendar because they believe Jesus is Christ or the Lord, they use it as a convention to coordinate activities and records of activities with one another. So CE makes perfect sense. Saying it is 2005 CE is the neutral point of view. Not my view (remember it is 5765) but a neutral point of view people all over the world can use to make commerce, politics, and other common activities easy to coordinate.

You are more than welcome to use AD when expressing your personal views. Similarly, I can use 5765 when expressing my views. But if we are going to write an article that is NPOV, we need to come up with something we can have in common. I will give up 5765 and share your Gregorian calendar because it is something most people today have in common. But that does not mean that most people have in common a belief that Jesus is Lord. If you want to participate in a common sphere with people who are different from you, you can't expect people to use "AD."

Argument 4: Unnecessary: BCE/CE means the same thing as BC/AD

The fourth argument is that BCE and BC really mean the same thing, and CE and AD mean the same thing. This was argued by Ben Standeven: “We shouldn't pretend that the Common Era is something different from the Anno Domini; they're just two different names for the same thing.”

This is not true (this is precisely the sort of thing Wittgenstein wrote volumes on). They are two different ways to refer to the same thing, but they are nevertheless different ways used in different contexts and thus have different meanings. Let me provide some examples: "The United States of America" and "The Great Satan" refer to the same thing, but have vastly different meanings. "H2O" and "Holy Water" are two different ways of referring to the same thing, but they have different meanings. "Sodomy" (in one of its forms), "blowjob" and "felatio" are three different ways of referring to the same thing, but they have different meanings. "Venus," "the evening star," and "the morning star" are three different ways of referring to the same thing, but they mean different things.

People often see two different things as “the same thing” from their point of view, when they are very different from another point of view. For example, a commuter who takes the 8:05 train to New York (or London) every day may say “I take the same train every day, the 8:05.” But a member of the maintenance crew might view the train that was used on Tuesday to be very different from the train that was used on Wednesday.

I grant that some people do not see a difference between AD and CE. But it is amply clear that many people do see a difference: one is POV and the other NPOV; one, in an appropriate religious context, is inoffensive, but in a secular or NPOV context very offensive. I have tried to explain why AD is POV and CE is not. If you still do not understand my arguments, and if you really, really see no difference between the two, please opt for the one that does not offend. I think our NPOV policy is more important, but I will settle for plain courtesy.

Revelant External Links

The Online Oxford English Dictionary (subscription required) references C.E. as Common Era; occas[ionaly] Christian Era and gives the following entmological reference: 1838 E. H. LINDO Jewish Calendar (title-p.), Tables for continuing the calendar to A.M. 6000-2240 *C.Æ. Ibid. 111 (heading) 3760 C.Æ. Commencement of the Christian Æra. 1886 K. MAGNUS (title) Outlines of Jewish History from B.C. 586 to C.E. 1885.


See /Discussion.

Vote for 3rd alternative

For a vote on a 3rd option see /Alternatives.


See /Votes.

Alternative Solution

Wouldn’t it be easier if we simply used BC ("Before Christ") and AC ("After Christ")? Kiumars

The objection to BCE/CE (whether you agree or not) is that its an attempt to foist a novel naming convention when there is nothing wrong with the traditional BC/AD. The objection to BC/AD is that it acknowledges the Christian deity (even if only the objectors are aware of it). I cannot see either side being attracted to your well-meaning suggestion ClemMcGann 15:30, 18 June 2006 (UTC)
It doesn't acknowledge a Christan deity, it asserts that the Christian deity exists. --Oldak Quill 23:31, 29 July in the 2006th "year of our Lord" (UTC)