Monday, May 10, 2010

Media Matters and Semantic Sensibilities

What year is it?  No doubt you'd answer, it's 2010, of course!  And if I asked, what year is it on the Jewish calendar, well, you might have to go look it up (I know I had to check to make sure) before answering, 5770.  As Jews living in a western society, 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.

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 we say but, Oy Vey!  When it comes to sensitivity on Fox News, you might say that it goes in one year and out the other!

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