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P.C. scholars take Christ out of B.C.

5/3/2005 3:09:00 PM by Michael Gormley - AP

In certain precincts of a world encouraged to embrace differences, Christ is out.

The terms "B.C." and "A.D." increasingly are shunned by certain scholars.

Educators and historians say schools from North America to Australia have been changing the terms "Before Christ," or B.C., to "Before Common Era," or B.C.E., and "anno Domini" (Latin for "in the year of the Lord") to "Common Era." In short, they're referred to as B.C.E. and C.E.

The life of Christ still divides the epochs, but the change has stoked the ire of Christians and religious leaders who see it as an attack on a social and political order that has been in place for centuries.

For more than a century, Hebrew lessons have used B.C.E. and C.E., with C.E. sometimes referring to Christian Era.

This raises the question: Can old and new coexist in harmony, or must one give way to the other to reflect changing times and attitudes?

The terms B.C. and A.D. have clear Catholic roots. Dionysius Exiguus, an abbot in Rome, devised them as a way to determine the date for Easter for Pope St. John I. The terms were continued under the Gregorian Calendar, created in 1582 under Pope Gregory XIII.

Although most calendars are based on an epoch or person, B.C. and A.D. have always presented a particular problem for historians: There is no year zero; there's a 33-year gap, reflecting the life of Christ, dividing the epochs. Critics say that's additional reason to replace the Christian-based terms.

"When Jews or Muslims have to put Christ in the middle of our calendar ... that's difficult for us," said Steven M. Brown, dean of the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City.

The new terms were introduced by academics in the 1990s in public elementary and high school classrooms.

In New York, the terms are entering public classrooms through textbooks and worksheets, but B.C.E. and C.E. are not part of the state's official curriculum, and there is no plan to debate the issue, said state Education Department spokesman Jonathan Burman.

"The standard textbooks primarily used in New York use the terms A.D. and B.C.," Mr. Burman said. Schools, however, may choose to use the new terms, although B.C. and A.D. will continue to be used in the state Regents exams, many of which are required for high school graduation.

Candace de Russy, a national writer on education and Catholic issues and a trustee for the State University of New York, doesn't accept the notion of fence-straddling.

"The use of B.C.E. and C.E. is not mere verbal tweaking; rather it is integral to the leftist language police -- a concerted attack on the religious foundation of our social and political order," she said.

For centuries, B.C. and A.D. were used in public schools and universities, and in historical and most theological research. Some historians and college instructors started using the new forms as a less Christ-centric alternative.

"I think it's pretty common now," said Gary B. Nash, director of the National Center for History in the Schools. "Once you take a global approach, it makes sense not to make a dating system applicable only to a relative few."

But not everyone takes that pluralistic view.

"I find it distressing; I don't like it," said Gilbert Sewall, director of the American Textbook Council, which finds politics intruding on instruction. He said changing terms accepted for centuries because of a current social movement could threaten other long-held principles.

Mr. Nash said most major textbook companies have adopted the new terms, which are part of the national world history standards. But even those standards have been called into question.

In a 2000 national resolution, the Southern Baptist Convention condemned the new terms as "the result of the secularization, anti-supernaturalism, religious pluralism, and political correctness pervasive in our society."

"Is that some sort of the political correctness?" said Tim Callahan, of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, an independent group with 60,000 educator members. "It sounds pretty silly to me."



Copyright 2004 Victor Claveau. All Rights Reserved