The desire to reset the calendar

The logic of the shift to “CE” and “BCE” demands that we reset the calendar since it’s still offensive to have to mark your dates from Jesus even if you don’t call him Lord or Christ. This will happen one of two ways.

1.) We decide to reset the calendar at some arbitrary date. Some sort of agreement gradually builds, probably under the influence of elite opinion, that we will reset our history at some set moment. We fight over some piece of legislation (or not) and it passes to set the calendar over at zero. Newspapers, history textbooks, contracts, public records, and everything else resets to confusion and inconvenience.

2.) We decide some event is so significant that it deserves to be the reference for all other times. The desire that a timeline start at some chief or significant event is the normal way of human action, though variosu exigencies force us to pick an event in human history (the date of the big bang or the congealing of the earth, even if we could get it accurate enough – which we can’t – would leave us with unmanageably large numbers.) So we’re stuck finding a person or event that we want to reckon all time from.

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10 Comments

  1. Paul said,

    January 20, 2016 at 7:37 pm

    I suppose that we might use AUC, ab urbe condita, but this would be egregiously Eurocentric, and far too pious. We might use 1648 or 1789 as the founding year of modernity, or 1945, the year in which the United Nations charter entered into force. The last seems most likely to be favored by the Davos crowd. Or 1989, 1991? Two years ago, I would have said these were too triumphal for us, but perhaps not.

    Regardless, I offer a quibble: reckoning by regnal years is, historically, the most common way of keeping the years in sequence. But whose reign would we use? the “Leader of the Free World?”

  2. alacoda said,

    January 20, 2016 at 11:44 pm

    I actually can’t see BCE or CE or even maybe AD being discarded even supposing the total extinction of Christianity (as a social phenomenon); Hayden White, after all, argues* that “history” is ineluctably Christian in origin and in practice, with Western ways of researching, writing, and accessing the past presupposing fundamentally Christian tropes on a much deeper level than the comparatively superficial feature of a chronologically convenient marker.

    * Latter half of https://haydenwhiteblog.wordpress.com/2013/09/26/what-does-it-mean-to-live-in-history/

    • alacoda said,

      January 20, 2016 at 11:51 pm

      I’ve just realized I’ve made a basic mistake in conflating “the calendar” with “history”, so now I’m considerably less sure about the expected lifespan of BCE, CE, etc., but my guess would still be that any serious overhaul to that particular system would run more like the 24-hour clock, not necessarily a replacement but a complement, since, still following the White essay/blog, some sort of Christian inheritances are simply inescapable (even, and especially in secular modes of thinking, but that’s another topic entirely).

  3. January 21, 2016 at 8:06 am

    Do you know of any serious proposals like this? I agree with alacoda. It is not going to happen. The world is not going to change the seven day week, even though it does not care about the Sabbath. And likewise it isn’t going to change the calendar, even if it does not care about Jesus.

    Basically you have to mark dates one way or another, and people are going to use the way that is most commonly used, just like people deciding on a social network choose the one that is most commonly used.

    • January 21, 2016 at 11:33 am

      Do you know of any serious proposals like this?

      Of course not. I’m arguing from the logic of a position, not from a news story.

      …even if it does not care about Jesus.

      But the arguments for CE and BCE are not ones that assume people don’t care about Christ, but that they are offended by him. I even remember giving the same argument you’re now giving around the late 90’s, except to prove the opposite point, sc. I said “you don’t have to care about Christ to date your calendar from him any more than you have to care about sun worship on Sunday or Thor on Thursday”. I was assured back then that the analogy was spurious, as it certainly was if persons were not indifferent to Christ but offended by him.

      • January 21, 2016 at 1:13 pm

        The analogy is only spurious because there are lots of people who believe that Christ is God, while there are not a lot of people who believe in Thor. This is why people take offense, namely because they think the calendar supports the believers. But as long as there are a lot of believers, there would be no motivation to make the change you are talking about. And if one day there are few believers, the analogy will no longer be spurious. People won’t be offended anymore.

      • January 21, 2016 at 1:42 pm

        But as long as there are a lot of believers, there would be no motivation to make the change you are talking about.

        But this is the perfect opposite of what’s the case. The believers are one of the causes of the offence people take in Christ. There are also other reasons why the world finds him offensive.

  4. robalspaugh said,

    January 21, 2016 at 8:17 am

    A fun topic. What globally significant thing could you pick as a benchmark? The very notion of a universal calendar is tied directly to Christianity/Judaism.

    Anything truly ancient, early man, takes us into heavily disputed and uncertain territory–and we would have to adjust to a massive time scale for dates. What are the modern analogs? Some earth-changing invention? Whose? Which country? Who says everyone cares?

    So it seems we’re stuck with two choices: totally arbitrary or a theology of history.

  5. theofloinn said,

    January 26, 2016 at 11:13 am

    At one time, people in science fiction were touting the date of the first chain reaction or the date of the moon landing as suitable benchmarks. But then atomic energy became vilified and space exploration became a bore, so the same indifference/dislike took place for those, as well.

    • robalspaugh said,

      January 26, 2016 at 12:41 pm

      You think Catholic v. Protestant is bad, wait til you see Apollo v. Sputnik!


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