Denis Diderot understood their power.
Andrew S. Curran’s, Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely, is a detailed and eminently readable biography of Denis Diderot, and helps us to understand the driving forces of the great philosophe’s worldview and calling.
Diderot (1713-1784) early on rejected any value to religion, and he set about in his career to eliminate all need for religion or God, and to free – as he saw it – the minds of men from the shackles of absolute truth. He lived a libertine but disciplined life, devoted to letters and his own personal advancement and gratification.
The crowning achievement of his career was the writing and development of the Encyclopedia project, in which, in some 75,000 articles published in ten volumes, he sought to create a new framework for knowing and life, one in which whatever could be known about God and religion was subsumed under philosophy and otherwise eliminated from the epistemological grid. He published many other works besides, but the Encyclopedia has had by far the most lasting influence on Western thought. It helped to establish Enlightenment thinking as the new framework and paradigm for knowing, and paved the way for science and subjectivity to become the ultimate arbiters of all truth.
Such a project, undertaken and supported by Christians throughout the world, could have a similar effect, and would seem to be well within the bounds of our remit (cf. 2 Cor. 10.3-5).
However, Christians have neither the vision, inclination, nor commitment to truth and worldview to take up and sustain such a project. Yet another symptom of the complacency of our present generation of the followers of Christ. And a reminder that words have power, and words proclaiming the Kingdom of Christ can turn the Enlightened world rightside-up.