It's hard to consider atheism (an active and often evangelical disbelief in God) separately from secularism, liberalism, modernism, evolutionism, and all the other "isms" of the modern world. In the newest addition to my "Now Reading" list, The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World (Doubleday, 2004), Alistair McGrath tries to do exactly that. McGrath is described as a professor of historical theology at Oxford, but he is no shrill Christian demonizing atheism. In the introduction, he writes:
The idea that there is no God captured human minds and imaginations, offering intellectual liberation and spiritual inspiration to generations that saw themselves as imprisoned, mentally and often (it must be said) physically, by the religious past. It is impossible to understand the development of Western culture without coming to terms with this remarkable movement.
One rarely sees this warm feeling for atheism among churchmen, who also tend to emphasize the increasing potency of science and secularism rather than the decline of atheism when they assess the religious landscape of the 21st century. So Twilight should offer an unusual perspective by one with the academic credentials to say something interesting on the subject.
I also finished Holifield's Theology in America and cycled it down to the Religion Book Notes list. A lot happened between the Reformation of Luther and Calvin in the 16th century and the debate between fundamentalism and liberal Christianity in the 20th. Holifield covers the establishment of Calvinism in America in the 17th century, its evolution toward Arminianism (stressing free will) in the 18th century, and the proliferation of new sects, denominations, and churches in the free-market religious scene of 19th-century America. A Mormon might view the book as a productive exercise in doctrinal genealogy.