[Milton-L] Help with a pedagogical question

John Leonard jleonard at uwo.ca
Thu Oct 1 16:39:56 EDT 2009

First, thanks to all those who have corrected my error about CE ("common 
era" not "Christian era").  A number of people have pointed out that 
"common" only makes things worse, and I too share that view (and stand by 
the core of my original point) even though Rihcard Strier, whose work I too 
greatly admire, makes a powerful plea for "CE" that cannot and should not be 
lightly set aside.  Richard writes:

> "Common Era" -- and I write as a non-Christian of any sort -- is MUCH 
> better than
> "BC."  Common Era takes into account that Christianity is the dominant 
> religion in
> the West.  Simply a fact.  But it presents the division of history into 
> pre- and post-
> Christian as a way of speaking, not a necessary way of thinking.  It is 
> certainly not
> that.  It is important for Christians to know what a relief CE and BCE are 
> to the rest
> of us.

Eloquent as Richard's argument is, I have a number of difficulties with it. 
First, I am uneasy with the way that Richard aligns "Common" with "the West" 
(thereby excluding the East, not to mention the North or South).  Why has 
"the West" a privileged claim to be "common"?  (I grew up in South East 
London and am as common as muck.)  The advantage of "BC" is that is purely 
chronological, not spatial, in reference and so does not exclude (or 
subsume) entire regions of the globe.  Second, I am unpersuaded by Richard's 
antithesis between "a way of speaking" and "a necessary way of thinking." 
Ways of speaking always entail ways of thinking (or failing to think).  But 
I do respect Richard's sense of relief and shall try to think more kindly of 
CE and BCE in the future, even though I do not believe they are anything 
like a satisfactory solution.  I also take Jeffrey Shoulson's excellent 
point about AD (which I agree is more problematic than BC).

John Leonard 

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