Churches across Canada are flush with born-again converts, and awakening from a long political slumber. Why the Canadian left needs to duft off its Bible.

Lately, the forces of organized Christianity have been throwing their weight around in the political arena. Both Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin have been threatened from the pulpit with eternal damnation for supporting same-sex marriage. Other MPs have suffered more than mere threats,finding themselves cast out of their parishes. In early summer, headlines announced that Christian activists were capturing Conservative party nominations on both coasts and singled out a Presbyterian minister, Tristan Emmanuel, for recommending “Christian, pro-family people” as preferred candidates to his audiences. Emmanuel, the founder of the Equipping Christians for the Public Square Centre in southern Ontario, travels across Canada to spread the message that Jesus commands Christians to be politically engaged. These developments in Christian circles (to say nothing of those within other faiths) have many voters and pundits calling for reinforcements to the “great wall” separating church and state.

Christianity’s new ascendancy is a broad North American phenomenon, and anyone keeping score would have to conclude that, increasingly, the religious are thumping the secularists. In the United States, born-again President George W. Bush was re-elected in 2004 — at least in part — by setting out to register four million new evangelical Christian voters. Mel Gibson’s The Passion of The Christ, derided by mainstream critics as everything from unwatchable to anti-Semitic, pulled in $370 million at the box office, the same total as Spider-Man 2. Author Rick Warren ’s quasi-evangelical The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For? has racked up sales of more than 20 million copies worldwide and almost one million in Canada — though it was not even acknowledged on most bestseller lists.

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Ask Canadians about their priorities for government spending, and funding for the arts and culture will turn up near the bottom of their hit parade (it routinely wrestles for last place with foreign aid). Anyone intimately involved in the sector, however, knows that the response of the “average” citizen masks deep differences within the population on the deemed importance of public support for the arts and culture. While the wisdom of funding symphonies, book publishers, museums and their ilk may be lost on the masses, legions of cultural bureaucrats, mavens and volunteers seem to spend their days lobbying policy-makers on the need for more funds for the arts. In fact, while it is rarely in the forefront of public debate, there may well be no single issue that divides elites and the general public more than this question.

The arguments in support of cultural funding, however, are many, varied, rarely coherent and most often revolve around questions as to which constituency within the arts and cultural community is in most need of, or would benefit most from, this support. Rarely stated, but always implicit, is the premise that Canadian culture (at least at this point) is not economically or commercially viable. Not even whispered, however, is the underlying belief that the average Canadian is not sufficiently interested in any of these forms of cultural expression to pay — either through taxes or at the box office — for our creator community, cultural industries or the public institutions that exhibit and host cultural events.

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