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The Successful Error


3DOP

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"Be ye therefore wise as serpents and simple as doves."

Our Lord's admonition here seems to ask us to imitate both God and the devil. One man of faith has characterized this passage as an exhortation to "use the methods of the devil, with the motives of the Holy Spirit," pointing out that the serpents most certainly represent manifestations of the Evil One, while the dove would represent the Holy Ghost. Whether or not you appreciate his interpretation (it troubles me a bit), those who believe the Gospel are still left to ponder the fact that our Lord could recommend in some respect, what could be called "the wisdom of the devil". I suggest that without offending God and His truth, we can admit that there is perhaps some good reason to have respect for every belief that has gained a foothold in the minds of men. Successful error is never something worthy of ridicule. I further suggest that to think that anything believed by a lot of people for a long time is obviously absurd displays a naivete that is borne of inexperience.

I think there is a tendency in all of us who long to know the truth, when we think we have found it, to forget that error is ordinarily like the serpent, subtle. What I mean is that we mistakenly think that the opposite of truth is clear error, and so we create a need to find out that what we have rejected is plainly stupid or evil. Successful error (the kind which more than a few thousand people believe for more than a generation) is never plainly stupid or evil. I think it takes some experience in putting yourself into the shoes of everyone else before one can overcome this tendency to hold that error is always obvious. To hold that successful error is obvious is to disdain the persons believing the successful error and despising the beliefs they hold most closely.

3DOP

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I think the admonition is to learn the devil's tricks, not to use them. Being naive is harmful. Falling for MLM schemes generally shows that you are not as cunning as a serpent.

My ward had an FBI agent give a fireside which he based on this verse. It was about self-protection and how to use the cunning of the devil to avoid his schemes while remaining as harmless as doves and not partaking of the devil's evil.

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I think it's likely that this verse is referring to the mythological characteristics of serpents (wisdom) and doves (peace), not to the devil and God. The same verse also refrences sheep and wolves.

Thank you Jason and The Nehor, my opening reference to the Bible verse was an afterthought.

Neither interpretation seems to me to present any challenge to my contention that the "successful error", as I have characterized it, is never plainly absurd or wicked. I think all religions have to exercise rigorous patience toward those who believe that the opposite of truth is clear and obvious error. I am not relativizing truth, or at least do not wish to be, but I must admit that I never find any religious, political, or philosophical movement that has gained a following that lasts for a generation or more that may be correctly characterized as plainly ridiculous or evil. There are always many grains of truth with which one can sympathize in any successful error and often they are founded upon indignant reactions against real moral injustices. I respect every successful error as defined above and am soliciting views either in agreement or disagreement.

To be candid, my view strikes me as potentially leading to the idea that truth itself, is merely successful error too. That if we respect all successful points of view, we cannot discern the difference between true and false. Truth becomes what one believes. That is where I would be vulnerable and I am wondering how best to salvage truth and my concept of the successful error at the same time. There are many here who regularly demonstrate that they think Atheism, Evangelicalism, Mormonism, or Catholicism are as plainly stupid or evil as the nose on your face. They employ the words ridiculous and absurd so frequently that they find the need to refer to that which they suppose to be false with words like totally, or extremely, as though words like ridiculous and absurd admit of moderation. Can one be moderately ridiculous? But I digress. These are the souls that frustrate me the most and they are on my side of the fence religiously as well as yours.

There are perhaps more people here who know that if they would oppose something, they must attempt to appreciate it from the inside out. They don't offer opinions on things they don't know about even though they speak in favor of what they believe. I think that a lot of these people here will agree with what I have said. I am concerned that such a respectful view of error as I have developed, could lead one to deny the knowability of truth. My problem is that I am thinking that the opposite of truth isn't nonsense. The opposite, in the sense of being most destructive of truth would be that error which acknowledges and builds on many truths with possibly only one hidden flaw. Errors must be subtle to be successful. They must permit the careful adherent to live with a conscience which is satisfied morally, and an intellect that is satisfied logically.

There is a reason I haven't identified my faith in this thread, as I almost always do. This is my private opinion. I will not defend it with the fervor that sometimes comes out when my faith is attacked. I welcome any thoughtful criticisms.

Thanks

3DOP

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Although the serpent is normally associated with the devil, the serpent was also used as a shadow of Christ(Moses hoisting a fiery serpent up on a stick so that all that looked upon could be healed), so there are other meanings that it could be.

Genesis describes the serpent as being "more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made". While being "subtil" is usually associated with those that would use words in a coniving manner, it doesn't have to work that way.

I agree with Nehor that they were instructed to be wise to the ways of the world, but not use that knowledge for evil purposes...like being in the world but not of the world.

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To be candid, my view strikes me as potentially leading to the idea that truth itself, is merely successful error too. That if we respect all successful points of view, we cannot discern the difference between true and false. Truth becomes what one believes. That is where I would be vulnerable and I am wondering how best to salvage truth and my concept of the successful error at the same time.
This reminds me of a thread a little while back with some discussion between ba81 and mfbukowski about the nature of knowledge and certainty.

I personally believe that having faith in God means I accept that there is a definite truth out there and God can reveal that truth to me. Those who don't believe in God could argue either way.

Successful error seems more of an artifact of the complexity of the world and the interactions therein. As much as one can point to some simple things, it is self-evident that there is complexity. At that point not everything is plain before us anymore and, as you said, a subtle change may not be noticed and could seemingly fit into the whole just fine. Even large changes may be accomodated within certain systems and still maintain coherence. But whether we are discussing science or religion, we are trying to describe a system that is real. If it is real then there is a correct way of defining it, in my opinion. So we are searching for the truth while realizing that we don't have the whole picture yet. If the successful error is sufficient, then it may not be all bad...

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