I recently heard someone complaining about how Christians are oppressed in this country, and it really scared me. In America, aside from the laws that Christians make based on their interpretations of the Bible, I have always been faced with the societal assumption that Christianity is the only real religion - that if you're not Christian, then you're an atheist or some other sort of Heathen - and now I have to put up with them talking about how hard Christians have it as a people. Apparently, they are so distanced from oppression that they don't even know how to recognize oppression. People are being tortured and killed for their beliefs in China right now, and these people have the chutzpah to say, "I guess that's sort of bad, but here in America, there are no governmentally mandated prayer sessions, and some atheists tried to make it illegal for schools to force children to acknowledge our god every morning in a pledge of allegiance to our country. You do not know oppression until you are faced with people who are so ignorant that they don't realize that your religion is the only one that matters."
Christians are not oppressed in America at all. They are allowed to believe in what they do and to tell others to believe what they do and they're treated as if their ideas are established fact or at least a valid viewpoint. Other people not doing everything you tell them to is not oppression. It's really frightening that some of them can convince themselves that they are oppressed, because Christians are a majority and if they manufacture an oppressor, it will justify in their minds what actions they take to cast off their oppression.
Some people I admire have said that the problem with the way Christians think is with the Bible, and it wouldn't be a problem if they didn't believe in it. I disagree. First of all, telling people not to believe in the Bible is probably not going to be very productive. In principle, people want to believe in the Bible and have set up vast and complex rationalizations for the parts that they don't agree with. Second, as a basis for a system of thought, the Bible isn't as bad as some people think it is. There would be less of a problem if people actually believed in the lessons of the Bible, rather than using it as a justification for whatever they already believe in.
Take American conservatives for example. They are a group that loves to pretend that they are certain God is on their side. Ask some of them if they love terrorists. Go ahead. If I were a gambling man, I'd be willing to wager that the most common answer will not be, "Of course I love the terrorists and would do nothing to harm them, just as Jesus commanded (Luke 6:27)." After the World Trade Center was destroyed, George W. Bush, God's candidate (by which I mean Loki, Norse god of mischief), was praised for bombing Afghanistan and sending a manhunt for Osama Bin Laden. I think that's silly. Bush didn't do anything extraordinary. There simply wasn't any plausible alternative. Al Gore would have done the same thing, as would John Kerry. Anyone we would have ever considered electing would have done the same thing. In fact, about the only person who I think wouldn't have is Joshua of Nazareth (or "Jesus," as he was called after a few generations of translation). If you can take him as a man of his word (a bit of a leap of faith for me, but it shouldn't be too hard for a Christian), then you have to accept that he said, "Do not resist one who is evil. If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." There is very little ambiguity in that passage.
From reading over many interpretations of the Bible, I've discovered that the Bible can be interpreted to mean anything. In fact, anything can be interpreted to mean anything else. That's how it came to be that the words of a liberal hippie Jew have been used to justify so much war and hatred and oppression. Maybe I should explain. You can get in trouble referring to Joshua as a liberal hippie Jew, because all of those terms have been often reviled by Christian conservative squares. First off, he was a hippie before there was a word for it. He was a nonconformist who preached peace and unconditional love for all of God's creatures. What would you call that if not "hippie"? Second, he was most certainly a Jew. In fact, he was so Jewish, he was sometimes called "The King of the Jews." That is why the Jewish sacred texts are included in the Bible, which is to say that the entire Jewish system of belief is part of Christianity, which is also to say that you cannot follow Josh's teachings without believing in Judaism. So Christians, stop pretending you're not Jewish. It's obnoxious. Above all else, though, he was a liberal. He was a liberal in the sense that he was not restricted by the dogma of those around him, and in the sense that he was tolerant of others (that's what being liberal means; look it up if you don't believe me). He spoke up for the oppressed and for those condemned as sinners. He supported charity for those who had little. He advocated forgiveness and reform over condmenation. He was an outspoken opponent of the death penalty. Have you forgotten "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone"? It really is a shame that most interpretation of the Bible is done by such conservative people, because there are so many progressive ideas in there.
I have heard it said that the solution to the inconsistencies in Christian thought is for everyone to stop believing what other people tell them about religion and for them to think for themselves. Personally, I do not think unrestricted free thought is likely to spread truth. After all, where do you think we got such popular and absolutely insane interpretations of the Bible as "God hates fags" or "All women are evil" or "Jesus does not want rich people to pay taxes"? We got them the same way we got the Flash's origin story. Someone thought of it and it made sense to him.
As I see it, the solution is largely political. Even though there are people who can handle free thought, there needs to be some sort of authority to protect them from the people who cannot. That is why we are fortunate in America not to live in a democracy. You see, in a democracy, issues are decided by the people, even those who don't understand them. In a republic (our system of government), we choose people to make those decisions for us, and it is our responsibility to choose people who will represent the best interests of their constituents (all of their constituents (even the gay ones)) and who can distinguish what is important and what makes sense from what is irrelevant and irrational.
For example, say you have an issue like gay marriage. There are gay people who want to marry people of the same gender, but there are Christians who say that God will not recognize any such marriages. Of course, it doesn't say anywhere in the Bible that God won't recognize the marriages (even if you subscribe to the interpretation that homosexuals should be dragged out into the street and murdered, it STILL doesn't say that God won't recognize their marriages), but if you can't trust your extremist fundamentalist religious zealots, who can you trust? If the person you have elected to make a decision in this matter is not a complete dipshit, he might realize that, even if God does not recognize the love and commitment between two people because their genders make it really icky, it is not the government's job to be God. The State does not have to support same-sex marriages, but if the offense is only against God, then He can very well deal without the government infringing upon the rights of people who do not think that they even are offending God.
For a related example, did you know that the state of New Jersey has no law against tampering with mail? That does not mean that New Jersey supports tampering with mail, but since the offense is against federal property, it can be dealt with on a federal level. Similarly, in the Christian religion, there is a divine system of retribution for sin. Having another system to punish sin in the government is redundant. As for murder or theft or rape or any other sin that is also illegal and should be illegal, the difference there is that Hindus and Muslims and Wiccans and atheists also oppose murder and theft and rape. Since the offenses do not depend largely on religious belief, a secular body (like the government) needs to enforce them. In fact the government needs to protect the rights of atheists even more than of Christians, because atheists have no God to wipe out the wicked and no Hell to which they can banish unbelievers, so the government is the only protection they have.
Unfortunately, we do not live in a land where we can count on officials to be rational, so that's why I'm writing this. It should stand as a guide for anyone who thinks he is ready to make decisions for himself or to tell someone else what decisions to make and who would like to use the Bible as reference. It should help people distinguish between what we know to be true, what the Bible says, and what some lunatic claims the Bible says (there is some overlap between these categories).