I had the opportunity this afternoon to meet the students that I will be teaching in the spring. It was an awkward meeting; I, along with a grad student in English, will be team-teaching two separate sections of students this year. One section has been set aside for students in the University Honors Program, and the other section is just "regular", although I always have one or two students in the "regular" classes who could easily do honors-level work.
The third member of the teaching team comes from the School of Philosophy, and since the Honors Program philosophy track follows a different sequence, I'll be working with two different philosophy instructors. The "regular" section will be taught by a grad student in philosophy, but the honors section will be taught by a member of the philosophy faculty, Fr. James Brent.
Fr. Brent had the students fill out information cards, and one of the bits of information he requested was "religious affiliation." This datum, he said, was optional; students could leave it blank if they so chose. Then he made an interesting statement: the belief that religious affiliation is optional is itself a philosophical position that demands examination and proof.
I don't know why I'd never thought of this before. I've had courses in Philosophy of Religion, and I've always regarded atheism as a religion in its own right, or at least as a philosophical commitment to a denial of the existence of God. But Fr. Brent is correct: to regard religious affiliation as "optional" says a lot about the value (or lack thereof) and significance of religion in the first place.
To give credit where credit is due, Fr. Brent cited "A Secular Age" by the modern philosopher Charles Taylor as the source of his statement. It's been a long time since I read a philosophy book, but this one looks good, so I'll be adding it to my reading list. I'm just not sure when I'll get to it...