The university student made the long walk to his prof's office with one complaint rolling over in his mind.
He couldn't understand why the professor seemed so obsessed with the Bible, constantly referring to it to illuminate the study of literature, said Dennis Cooley, who teaches English at the University of Manitoba.
"He said to me, 'Why are you always talking about the Bible? One of my other English professors does this too, and I just can't see those things. I don't know the Bible.'
"I said I sympathize with the way you must feel, but this book so informs the Western tradition that it's echoed in all kinds of books, including those written by people with no major religious belief."
The student is far from alone, and his frustration marks an accelerating cultural shift.
This Easter weekend, as Christians mark the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, more and more Canadians are in the dark when it comes to the major Biblical traditions that shape Western culture. Many of the expressions they use every day are drawn directly from the scriptures, though they don't know it, and the Western literary canon takes for granted that readers will know the Bible in detail.
For hundreds of years the Bible was the cultural reference point that everyone held in common, the imaginative framework or mythological universe, as Northrop Frye put it, for all of Western literature. Up to the 1960s, nearly everyone who could read had read part of the Bible. Not any more.
As weekly religious attendance has dropped in Canada from 60 per cent in 1945 to 21 per cent in 2005, the number of people who have ever read even a passage of the Bible is in steep decline. In Britain, the Guardian newspaper reported a Church of England survey found only 22 per cent of respondents knew that Easter celebrates Christ's resurrection.
It's a change Prof. Cooley, a teacher for more than 30 years, sees every day in his classroom. When he started his career there were typically several students from religious families who could catch Biblical references in texts. Now it's typically advanced students of literature who are best acquainted with scripture.
"That lack of knowledge means that when they read there are lots of things they don't see, that they can't see," Prof. Cooley said.
Richard Leggett, associate dean and professor of liturgical studies at the Vancouver School of Theology, said part of the reason is that Christian scriptures are increasingly excluded from public discourse.
"The Bible is no longer considered part of the conversation," Prof. Leggett said. "You can have someone graduate university today who has never even looked at the Bible."
Prof. Leggett celebrates the opening of the literary canon to texts written by people other than the much criticized "dead white men," but he also laments what has been lost.
"The Bible lies behind so many things. In English many of our common idioms are taken directly from scripture, and people don't know that."
They include expressions such as "live by the sword, die by the sword," which refers to Christ's words to a disciple who took up arms to protect him, or "to wash one's hands" of a situation, which refers to Pontius Pilate's words to the mob baying for Christ's condemnation.
More pragmatically, he said, if people don't understand the Bible, or the Koran, they won't understand many of the sources of conflict in the contemporary world.
"It's no good to tee off on religion - and lots of people are reading the new God is dead movement - but for a significant portion of this world, religious ideas remain central to their understanding of themselves and their place in the world."