What year is it?
We are, of course in mid-2011, reckoning the number by counting from a point mistakenly calculated as the year of the birth of Jesus Christ. The years before that we identify as B.C., “Before Christ.” The years after that point we mark as A.D., “Anno Domini,”* “in the year of our Lord,” taking care to use it as a prefix: A.D. 2011.
Over the past forty years or so, it has become increasingly popular to use an alternative labeling, “C.E.,” for “Common Era,” and “B.C.E.,” for “Before Common Era.” Though you will not see them much in newspapers or magazines, they have become standard in academic writing. They are handy because they are neutral and secular. Everyone has a calendar—Jews and Muslims have their own numbering, and some people have gotten nervous about the Mayans.** “Common Era” says that this is the numbering we all use now for convenience, believers and non-believers alike.
Nothing escapes politicization anymore. If you use “C.E.,” some people unfamiliar with academic practice will be puzzled, but some will accuse you of secular humanism and hostility to Christianity, and you will be understood to participate in a conspiracy to undermine the Faith.
Here’s a thought: Give it a rest. “C.E.” harms no one, and since many believers get the other method wrong, writing “A.D.” as a suffix, maybe they shouldn’t insist on it.
*Anno domini has also come to be used jocularly in the sense of “age” or “passage of time”: “I used to stay up all night drinking and talking with friends, but now anno domini has caught up with me.”
**Since we are the current imperial power, with our legions stationed at the periphery of our sphere of influence, we could call this year 2764, dating from the supposed founding of Rome. I offer this as a mere suggestion.