Ill, I think you know most of my position from other posts that I've made, but let's see if I can summarize some of my major conclusions, which if you like I will support with background/hypothesis and experiential data.
People tend to work, live, socialize and express themselves better in community. Religious communities (a specific church, religion, etc) are formed, in their essence, in order for people to have a space within which to express their common faith and the ways they have in common of living that faith. Religious communities grow to be organizations; organizations are flawed. Organizations tend to self-perpetuate and become rigid as they get larger. Often when people join large organizations they find that on a macro level the organization does not feed them spiritually, but on a micro level it does, or else they wouldn't join. Often, those people will choose to ignore the teachings or rules promoted by the macro-organization because on the micro-level, the faith that is expressed is done so in a way that coheres with their beliefs.
Additionally, some people like religious organizations with strict rules so that they can feel assured that they are doing the right thing.
Also, don't forget that every religion is taught to children who grow up in it in a different way than it is taught to adults who join, or adults who truly study the theology behind the accepted practices. You have to water the stuff down for simpler minds. And so sometimes people who haven't studied a particular religion closely or as an adult will have incorrect opinions about the actual "teachings" of that religion.
History tells us our mistakes that we can then rectify. Religions are human organizations that are developed and run by human beings. Human beings screw up all the time. Human beings in positions of power screw up all the time, very visibly and sometimes in a way that can have lasting detrimental effects. Don't ask whether a religion has in the past been screwed up, ask what it's doing now.
For religions that are visibly hate-filled, and there are some, ask yourself whether that's the fault of the "religion" or the fault of its membership and the people who are currently in power. Then ask yourself whether those same people would perpetuate the same hate under a different guise if they didn't belong to a religion.
You know I believe that faith is ultimately a personal issue, a personal search. I would not be comfortable as a member of almost any religion you could name (from a macro perspective) but I acknowledge the great goods that can be achieved in specific communities, and I don't want to stop good people from doing good things through their communities, even if that means I have to indulge their fantasies about what the after-life will be like, etc.
Here's an example. My mother, at a very difficult time in her life, joined a Baptist church in her community. She and I talked about it at the time, and I said to her, "You love to play cards and to dance. Why would you join a religion that prohibits both?" (Obviously not all do, some are more flexible than others, but her church did happen to frown upon both activities). Then I met her pastor. What a lovely, loving person. His focus and his message was one of acceptance and hope and love. He had a way of working within the rules and confines of a particular religion to create a community that transcended religious dogma. Was I going to take that away from my mother, or even disapprove? Never. So that's a time when I saw why it worked. But most of the time, you don't see inside people's hearts or learn from them what really works in their life or why the religion that they have chosen is right for them. Also, most people aren't really taught to speak about their religion in those kinds of terms, often they are unable to say anything beyond "It's true, I believe it, that settles it." But you know there's more to it than that.
My rule for myself is to be tolerant and accepting of differences in others and when I become judgmental to take note of my judgment. Being judgmental is a necessary action of the mind. If we are not capable of making judgments, we would be unable to discern the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships, etc., down to the simple task of deciding whether the milk is fresh or spoiled. That takes judgment. It's not a good or a bad thing. So I try to note the judgments that my mind automatically makes, and when those judgments could result in my holding a negative opinion of someone based on the automatic reaction of my mind, I try to be conscious of it so that it doesn't actually affect the way I treat them.
~ ~ ~
All meetings end in separation
All acquisition ends in dispersion
All life ends in death
- The Buddha
Every hundred years, all new people