Jeff Tallon: Drop the terminology but Jesus will still be there

To change AD and BC is a denial of our culture and heritage. Photo / Supplied
To change AD and BC is a denial of our culture and heritage. Photo / Supplied

The Australian curriculum authority has ruled that the terms AD and BC are out of date and out of bounds for secondary schools. In a world besieged by political correctness it was bound to happen and remains bound to happen in this country - unless we see sense.

AD of course stands for Anno Domini (the year of our Lord) and BC for Before Christ. They will be replaced in the curriculum by CE (common era) and BCE (before the common era). It is a PC move that is directed towards removing references to Christ in a secular education system. It will sadden many.

The irony is that it is just a question of terminology. The Gregorian calendar that we use remains unaltered so that the advent of Christ is still a factor in our measure of time, you just have to dig a little deeper. (It's not exact of course. Most early Christian writers placed Jesus' birth in 3 or 2 BC - the 42nd year of Augustus.)

But if the Aussies were serious about this it might also be necessary to remove the reference to Pope Gregory.

We could just call it the "Western calendar". But oh dear, the term "Western" derives from the notion of the Western church vis-a-vis the Eastern church, so we can't have that either. What about the Greenwich calendar then? After all we have Greenwich Mean Time. That's nice and neutral, though it does smack a little of colonial empire, and the French were never happy about it.

There is just a little problem too in the fact that the people who set up the Greenwich Observatory in 1675 AD were Christians. Oh, and they were closely linked to all those Christians who founded the Royal Society and established the modern scientific revolution - Newton, Hooke, Halley and their contemporaries. The Aussies probably should also abandon modern science in their curriculum because its very roots are steeped in Christian institutions and philosophy.

We could go on about democracy, human rights and our modern understanding of individual freedom - all products of a Christian world view. We could blacklist Bach's music, all dedicated "to the glory of God" - or even jazz for that matter, derivative as it is from Christian "negro spirituals".

This of course is all nonsense. Units of time may be in seconds, a truly neutral term, but most units in science are named after notable individuals: Watt, Ohm, Ampere, Henry, Farad, Tesla, Gauss, Oersted, Joule, Newton, Pascal, Boltzmann, Planck and so on. This has not been without its critics because these are all white, male and European.

Nonetheless we remain sensible and see the merits of retaining these terms and, in so doing, honouring those who contributed to the advance of knowledge.

But a note of caution. These individuals did indeed push back the frontiers of knowledge, yet not one was indispensable. Perhaps the most notable of these is Newton.

Take him away and the progress of science would have been held up a few years only. Others were close on his tail. The sum total of science today would be no different with or without Newton.

It is nonetheless still appropriate to honour him because he was the first to do what he did.

But without Jesus there would be no Christianity and everything that has followed from it.

Whatever your religious beliefs, of all people across the past two millenniums Jesus is surely the most notable in terms of his impact on the course of history, on ethics, culture and on religion.

To this we can add his indirect impact on philosophy, science and democratic freedoms.

If we can name our various measures after notable individuals whose contribution nonetheless is in no way pivotal to science, we can surely use one who has been unique in his contribution to the world as we know it when we refer to time.

To banish AD and BC from our schools would be nothing short of modern-day book-burning - the sort of thing that totalitarian communist states attempted throughout the 20th century.

The irony I suppose is that Jesus almost certainly would have opposed the idea of using his name for the reckoning of dates - such was his disavowal of status. But that is not the question and we meanwhile seem hellbent on denying our spiritual and cultural heritage.

Fortunately, the focal role of Christian faith in Maori and Pacific culture, and in some of our immigrant communities, serves as a buffer and may yet rescue us from the PC de-Christianising of our national life and institutions.

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