Monday, May 10, 2010

In One Year and Out the Other

One extensional device used in general semantics is called dating.  That is, by attaching a date to whatever it is we're talking about, we can remind ourselves that there is always a temporal context involved, and that context is constantly changing.  Simply put, it reminds us that things change over time.  Lance Strate(2010) is not Lance Strate(1980), I've changed in numerous ways, some for the better, some not.  The United States(2010) is not the United States(1776).  The dollar(2010) is not the dollar(2000).  And so on.

You get the picture, right?  So, dating can be very useful, but it begs the question, how do we date things? Now, if I were to ask you, what year is it?, no doubt you'd answer, it's 2010, of course!  But of course, that would be the year 2010 on the Christian calendar, which is supposed to indicate the number of years since the birth of Jesus, although Christians now believe that dating to be inaccurate.  

Of course, even if you are not a Christian, you have to use this system of dating to function in the western world, and we all pretty much go by this calendar without thinking much about it, reifying this representation of time, viewing it as what time actually is.

Being Jewish, however, I am reminded that there are other systems of dating, although the reminders do not come all that frequently.  If you were to ask me what year is it on the Jewish calendar, I think I'd know the answer, but I wouldn't be sure unless I could look it up (I just did that now) and checked to see that it is currently 5770.  For most of us, the question doesn't come up very often, mostly around Rosh Hashanah, but otherwise we use the same calendar everybody else uses, and typically, we don't think twice about it.

Many of us even use the designations BC and AD, even though the abbreviations have a religious meaning that does not reflect our faith.  BC stands for Before Christ and AD for Anno Domini, which means In the Year of Our Lord.  Since we don't believe in Jesus Christ, let alone consider him our lord, using BC and AD forces us to make a declaration that goes against our beliefs.  From a traditional standpoint, that is a very serious matter indeed, although from a modern standpoint, we might use BC
and AD without attaching very much significance to the terms (in general semantics terms, we of necessity learn to take control of our semantic reactions).

There is an alternative used by non-Christians, however, and I remember first encountering it when I was a child in religious school, in the Jewish history textbooks we were given.  Instead of AD, we can use CE, which typically stands for Common Era, but also has been taken to mean Christian Era, and Current Era.  And for BC we substitute, quite naturally, BCE, which stands for Before Common Era, or Before Christian Era, or Before Current Era.

Actually, it's BCE that's the most useful of the two, as we typically do not use AD and therefore do not need to substitute it with CE.  So, it's good that BCE so closely resembles BC, as that helps to avoid confusion among those not familiar with these alternate designations.

Interestingly enough, the phrase "common era" was first used by Christians, although the formal substitution for BC and AD is traced back to 19th century Jewish scholars.  But today, BCE and CE are used by members of other non-Christian faiths, by atheists, and even by some Christian denominations.  For more on this, take a look at the Wikipedia entry on Common Era.

As you might imagine, the question of whether to substitute BCE/CE for BC/AD  in public schools and government documents can be controversial.  In fact, just recently, the progressive organization, Media Matters for America, reported on how Fox News, in their zealous defense of Christianity, made a federal case out of just this sort of thing.  The item, itself dated May 4, 2010, is entitled:
Fox hammers White House for not insulting Jewish Americans

And they begin by quoting the Fox News headline: 

White House Omits "in the Year of our Lord"

The Media Matters report goes on to relate

Placed in the context of a network that has consistently denounced perceived slights against Christianity as the result of political correctness and secularism run amok, the message is clear: Those godless Marxists are at it again.

But if you click through the image, you discover a report about how the White House has not included the phrase "in the year of our Lord" in a proclamation... declaring May as Jewish American Heritage Month.

Seriously, what is wrong with the people at Fox?

How can they honestly have a problem with the White House removing that reference from a proclamation celebrating Americans who don't believe Jesus was divine? Is it actually their position that the White House should be actively seeking to insult the people they are trying to honor?

Apparently, Fox has decided that America is a Christian Nation, and the rest of us are just visiting here.

Mind you, we're not even talking about the use of AD here, but the actual use of the formal phrase, "In the Year of Our Lord"!  And for a proclamation for Jewish American Heritage Month!  Is it really possible that no one at Fox News sees the irony in this?  What more can I say but, Oy Vey!

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