It stands to reason that conflict will arise between two or more sinners intent upon mutually exclusive actions. Something has to give. But I have been noticing how often even well-meaning Christians are quite determined to dictate or evaluate the choices, decisions and behavior of others. Not only where a clear Word of the Lord identifies what is right and what is wrong, but also in matters that fall well within the freedom of the Gospel. Or, sometimes it happens that a course of action quite in harmony with the Holy Scriptures will be questioned and criticized in favor of something else that may be at odds with the good and gracious will of God. As I have become increasingly aware of such tendencies, also in myself, I have been wondering why we poor, miserable sinners are inclined to act this way.
Tolerance and diversity-for-its-own-sake are all the vogue these days; they have been for a while now. I find that whole kit-n-caboodle a bit humorous and ironic, since it is a mindset that seeks approval from those who are different by choice. But why? As much as everyone wants to be a self-determinating individual, it seems the vast majority of folks are really hoping that their self-determination will end up looking pretty "normal" and "mainstream." Those who pride themselves in being "weird," have generally identified quirkiness and eccentricity as the very sort of cool that will help them to be accepted and fit in. We all crave a clear sense of personal identity, but, so far as I can tell, most of us would prefer that identity to be recognizable and more familiar than strange to our neighbors in the world. Tolerance and diversity are stressed, I think, mainly to broaden the parameters within which "normal" is to be found; because the truth of the matter is that no one is really very tolerant of differences in others. We want to be like everyone else, because we'd prefer that everyone else be like us.
Admittedly, there does seem to be rather a lot of tolerance when it comes to religion and the myriad things that pass for "spirituality." There's a tendency to cut everyone a bunch of slack when it comes to God, partly because there is this mistaken notion that we can't be too sure about any particular truth of the matter, but also, I think, because insisting upon any objective truth about God already rules out the notion that I am free to pick and choose who and what I am. By tolerating "anything goes" with my neighbor and his faith, I presume to give myself the same latitude and to exercise a kind of spiritual licentiousness.
When it comes to a consideration of other people, however, there is a decided lack of patience or tolerance for any thinking or behaving that diverges from one's own choices and decisions. Folks get downright aggressive about this. Some are openly aggressive, not hesitating to express their opinion as though it were the golden mean by which all else is to be measured. Others are far more passively aggressive, smiling to their neigbhor's face, but disparaging and criticizing behind his or her back. Either way, the critique emerges from the fact that people make different decisions from different perspectives, with different values, goals and purposes. Some things are plainly right or wrong, but most things in life are not so clearly either one. Great. Except that we get uncomfortable when others proceed differently than we do or have (or would), and others are similarly unsettled by our distinctive actions.
I've concluded that this urge to criticize and "correct" the differences in others, stems from the works righteousness inherent in our sinfulness. Believing that our righteousness is a product of our own behavior, every choice and every action is freighted with a fevered scrupulosity and weighted with unwarranted significance. If we are pridefully convinced of our own righteousness, we evaluate the differences in others as obviously unrighteous. Alternatively, if we are uncertain of ourselves and our decisions, then the contrasting choices and actions of our neighbors are threatening and downright dangerous to our self-confidence and sense of security. Hence we become either condescending or defensive. That appears to be the reason we poor sinners have such a hard time allowing others to be themselves and do their own thing. It's finally impossible to "live and let live" when you're trying to live by the righteousness of the Law, as the old Adam is always striving to do. The freedom to be ourselves, and the freedom to let others be themselves, is lived only in the Gospel: in the grace, mercy and peace of the New Man, Jesus Christ.