THE ABC OF BC AND AD
SYNOD INSIDER JUNE 1999
AS THE TWENTY FIRST CENTURY looms the Christian Church is reaping the harvest of twentieth century liberalism. Some of the ideas which gained currency fifty or a hundred years ago seem somewhat naive or incredible to modern minds. First there was an irresponsible innocence which assimilated pseudo-scientific ideas into the Christian arena. If you don't believe me just take a look at some of the piffle which passed for hymns in the years before the first world war.
People lost their belief in original sin, preferring to believe that we were evolving inexorably into morally superior beings. Even the horrors of the first world war failed to stop the bandwaggon rolling. Churchgoing continued and Sunday Schools were full. Sadly, though, children generally didn't find a living faith - they gained an arm's length acquaintance with religious ritual; the form but not the power. They grew up with a second-hand faith and modest knowledge of, but little belief in, the gospel. In their turn they had little to pass on to their children, and the steady decline in churchgoing which has characterised this century set in. The last 50 years has seen fewer attenders, fewer baptisms, fewer confirmations and fewer communicants in all the mainline denominations.
When Billy Graham came to Haringey in the fifties and Earls Court in the sixties, many of those converted were coming back to a faith from which they had drifted away years earlier. Today many many people don't have a faith to return to - they have never had one. Stop people in the street and you would be surprised how many haven't the faintest idea of who the Good Samaritan was, or what happened on Good Friday. They don't even know which God they don't believe in.
So is it any surprise that a study carried out for the Broadcasting Standards Commission by Professor David Craig of Middlesex University urges broadcasters to drop references to BC and AD? His report recommends that these terms should be replaced by BCE (Before Common Era) and CE (Common Era) to avoid offence to other religions.
"The inconvenience of using CE and BCE instead of the more traditional and less sensitive BC and AD is modest compared with the offence occasioned by the Anno Domini and Before Christ dating," he said. "The assumption that Christianity has the sole claim to virtue and value is offensive to all religions. The sensitivities of Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs have to be taken into account in modern Britain."
Stephen Whittle, director of the Broadcasting Standards Commission said, "Many groups persecuted in other parts of the world feel that their religion is central to their identity, while Christianity has become tolerant over centuries of dominance in this culture. For example, there had been a "relaxation in rigour" on the use of Christian holy names. Use as a common expletive in conversation is reflected in broadcast drama, live discussion and in recorded material and causes marginal comment."
However, he acknowledged that Christians were offended by casual use of the name of Jesus Christ. So the Chairman of the BSC is nothing if not perceptive - but will he do anything about it? Most of us have been brainwashed into thinking that we have to be ever so mindful of the sensitivities of every group except Christians. Two cheers for Mr Whittle, but three cheers for the Church of England spokesman who said: "In the run up to the Millennium it has been said time and time again that this is a Christian celebration. People of other faiths realise this. It makes one wonder whether we are talking about sensitivities that are there or not." Three cheers too for the Archbishop of Canterbury who was reported in The Daily Telegraph as having threatened to boycott the opening ceremony of the Millennium Dome if he was not allowed to lead the nation in a Christian prayer.
Jonathan Petre wrote that "Dome organisers are believed to want to keep the New Year's Eve celebrations free of prayers and speeches so they can choreograph a spectacular show involving music, dancing and lights. Many also feel that the celebrations should be secular in tone because of the wide range of religious beliefs in the country. Though he is not against the idea of a church service - possibly at Westminster Abbey or St Paul's Cathedral, to be attended by Government members and other dignitaries - Dr Carey still insists that he be allowed to say a prayer at the Dome."
A recent opinion poll on behalf of the Church of England showed that 68 per cent of people who said they would watch the event on television would like a specifically Christian component in the celebrations. The Archbishop of York, Dr David Hope, said in The Sunday Telegraph at Christmas that the Dome was a reflection of human arrogance rather than the humility of the crib at Bethlehem.
Last month, the Commons culture committee suggested that Church leaders stay away from the Dome, saying the celebrations should represent the diversity of religious belief across the population. But sheer common sense would tell you that you can't organise a birthday bash and try and pretend you don't know whose birthday it is.
But what price common sense? New Labour's Gerald Kaufman, the committee chairman, backed plans by Chris Smith, the Culture Secretary, to centre the celebrations on the Millennium resolution, a specially-commissioned meditation which has been condemned by many for not mentioning Jesus or God.
If only churches across the land would drop this silly candle and Christless meditation idea - and take the positive and practical step of giving people a Gospel, there might indeed be hope of revival in the new Millennium. There are some excellent materials available. Send your orders to CPO now.
Gerry O'Brien is a lay member of the General Synod. He represents the Diocese of Rochester.
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