Without a second's hesitation, the student raised his hand to ask. He looked agitated, as if my explanation had made him uncomfortable. And with a certain vibration in his voice, he challenged me with a question I had not expected:
-Professor," he said, maintaining his respect at all times, "why do you constantly say 'before Christ' and 'after Christ', wouldn't it be better to say 'in the common era'?
In my defense, I will say that this had never happened to me before. In Spanish it is not common to use such terminology and I certainly did not expect a university student to be concerned about such an issue. But I do not miss any opportunity to enter into conversation with someone who shows interest. Disinterest I don't know how to deal with, but discussing has always been one of my hobbies.
-The year zero doesn't exist," I answered, still thinking about the best way to answer my interlocutor's question, "And that doesn't make much sense. But it is something very human. Let me explain.
"The Greek and Roman civilizations are at the basis of modern culture, but they had a great shortcoming in their scientific system, they did not know the number zero. The number zero is arbitrary to a certain extent, and not knowing it did not stop Aristotle in his philosophy or Virgil in his epic. But it is true that this technological device represents an unquestionable advance for the cultures that possess it. Neither Rome nor Greece knew the number zero, and thus their algebraic development was limited.
Christ, point of reference?
Back to my student's question. The idea that history has a reference point and that this point in time is the birth of Jesus of Nazareth is arbitrary in many ways. Even worse: the demarcation of that exact year is wrong and we have known that for a long time. Dionysius the Exiguous invested much energy in recomposing the timeline that led him to conclude the exact year of the Birth of Christ, but we now know that his calculations were wrong, or at least inaccurate, by about 6 years. Jesus of Nazareth was born in the year six before Christ".
The conversation was getting lively. Year zero does not exist and Jesus was born in the year six B.C., but I insist on using the terminology "before Christ" for events that occurred more than 2023 years ago. My English-speaking peers tend, increasingly, to use the nomenclature "common era"to refer to the dates before and after Christ. And so it is common to find the acronyms BCE or CE (before Common Era / Common Era) instead of the traditional BC/AD (before Christ / before Christ / after Christ). anno Domini). It was clear that this was the underlying idea behind my student's question.
Analyzing the transition process that is leading more and more specialists to use common era instead of the classic "year of the Lord", we discovered that this is not an arbitrary process. The tension in my student's voice was caused, as he later acknowledged, by a sense that using "before Christ" was inappropriate in a scientific context. Moreover, such a Christo-centric reference is not very inclusive: many of the students, and the scientific community in a broad sense, do not recognize Jesus of Nazareth as the Savior.
This is not an arbitrary process, but neither is it new. Almost a quarter of a century ago, the Secretary General of the United Nations said: "There is so much interaction between people of different religions and cultures, different civilizations, if you will, that a shared way of reckoning time is necessary. And so the Christian Era has become the Common Era" ("Common Values for a Common Era," Kofi A. Anan, in "Civilization: The Magazine of the Library of Congress," 28 June 1999). The globally respected Kofi Anan calls for the "Common Era", and frames his proposal in a process of universalization of Christian culture.
In other fields this process of "openness" applied to the Christian tradition has been called inclusivity, or legitimate secularization. A somewhat radical exponent of such a consideration is the acclaimed historian and researcher Yuval Noah Harari. I say radical because in his speeches he does not refrain from categorizing religions as a pure human invention and as a tool for control. The Israeli historian says: "we use language to create mythology and laws, to create gods and money, to create art and science (...). Gods are not a biological or physical reality. Gods are something that humans have created through language, by telling legends and writing scriptures" (Y. N. Harari, Speech "AI and the Future of Humanity". Frontiers Forum, Montreux, April 29, 2023. Transcription and translation are mine).
Erasing Christ from the culture
The logic of this secularization process is evident, and could be summarized as follows: if we men and women have been the inventors of religions, and these traditions are not physical or biological, they become tools of control, and therefore must be eradicated. Not only in general, but in the specifics, in the subtlest cultural traces... which brings us back to "before/after Christ". Replace that expression with a less culturally marked one.
My interlocutor was hooked on our conversation. We were understanding each other. This university student considered it his responsibility to cleanse public discourse of the exclusivist marks of culturally Christian language: in this way, he thought, the discourse becomes more inclusive, respectful and less Christocentric.
This was the moment for me to raise the question that was to reverse the direction of the conversation: Is it truly inclusive to replace "BC" with "CE"? what is it for? If we want to see a clear example of cultural inclusivity in the realm of calendars, the best example I can find is the week in Christian cultures: it is seven days, like the days of creation according to Jewish tradition. One of the days is the Sabbath (for the Shabbat Jewish), the next is Sunday (dies Dominicaeby the resurrection of Christ, the Dominus), but the preceding day is Friday, from Latin dies Veneris (the day of Venus) for the Roman goddess, and we start the week on Monday, the day of the moon.
In English it is even more interesting, as the Norse gods make their entrance into a week of Jewish origin at a time of clear Christian markings: Thursdayday of Thor, y Fridayday of Freyacoexist with Sunday, the day of the sun (Sunday) and the Sabbath which takes its origin from the Roman tradition (SaturdaySaturn's day).
In contrast to this inclusive and integrating process that crystallizes in the week in the West, eliminating the name of Christ from the temporal references is not only clearly useless (the year 1592 after Christ and the year 1592 of the common era are the same date), but also presents a sign of cultural erosion: eliminating a traditional and cultural reference is not very inclusive, since, at least, it excludes those who identify their roots with a specific tradition and culture. An inclusiveness that eliminates differences is of no use.
Human intelligence and AI
Being aware of these details makes us very human. In this context, we are called to a more human leadership in a time of Artificial Intelligence (as Jesús Hijas says in his works). The ubiquitous AI beats us at chess, and soon at the stock market. It will always beat us in processing speed, accuracy and scope of the tasks it performs.
The human being, on the other hand, excels in empathy and self-awareness. These are skills that need to be developed in particular. Thus, human intelligence and artificial intelligence working together, without eliminating their differences, but protecting and developing them, is the path to success in the year 2023 AD and the years that will follow.
Co-founder, Executive Director CRETIO Foundation