A solitary Christmas card arrives by fourth post, bearing a kind message from one of my ex-sisters-in-law. At last, my mantelpiece breaks its duck: I had been thinking of going out and buying some cards to put up around the room – doing a ‘shelfie’, perhaps?
As the letter-flap flipped, I was coincidentally musing (while bathroom-bound) on a thought concerning the Christian religion. I don’t think people generally notice that, while the majority do not (by definition) believe that a man was born of a virgin, walked on water and returned from the dead, although many do, most of the world seems quite happy to operate on a calendrical system that takes as its starting point, the supposed date of this unusual individual’s birth.
Right-on archaeologists have recently adopted the ecumenical euphemism ‘Common Era’ to define the period of, as of next Wednesday, 2013 years that counts as post-Birth and used to be known as AD – ‘Anno Domini’, the Year of the Lord. Time prior to AD was called BC, or ‘Before Christ’, and even people who do not worship Christ as the Son of God (I have never understood quite what that phrase actually means, if anything?) went along with the system for many years.
BC is now called ‘BCE’, or ‘Before Common Era’. What no-one has explained, to me at least, is what is meant by ‘Common Era’? Common to whom, given that the turning-point remains a matter of religious doctrine? Not, surely, to Buddhists, whose non-Christian belief system dates from approximately 500 years BC, or to Muslims, whose religion was dictated to the Prophet by an angel in 625 AD, and who privately amongst themselves deduct the difference when referring to the current year?
And what of the Church of Scientology, now sanctified by order of the UK Supreme Court? Surely they date their puerile Sci-Fichobabble from the night the Blessed L. Ron decided to invent a new religion as a literary joke?
Nor have I quite grasped the necessity for scholars to date all events to times either before or after the miracle birth of the Saviour? What is wrong with dating past events from before lunch today? Or perhaps setting some other arbitrary fulcrum for Time’s lever? Weights, lengths and distances seem to be reified by lumps and rods of metal preserved in various, usually French, institutions; longitude begins at Greenwich, currencies are valued in terms of the US dollar, time by the decay of isotopes, and we happily go along with it, rather than insisting on all measurements being stated in Biblical cubits, talents, candles, the movements of stars or the weights of angels.
Whatever, Christian or n0, the vast majority of people in the world set their watches and depart from airports and agree to meet and marry each other, sit down to feasts, lie down for fasts and hold elections at dates and times that are based on the Gregorian calendar. It says quite a lot about humanity, that we do at least see eye to eye on some issues, even if we differ on the fundamentals.
Perhaps that is the message of Christmas.