At their core, religions are based on good ideas. The rudimentary concepts are solid - be kind to others, do what is right, humble yourself, and so on. The right idea is there, but the process is all wrong.
Religion takes a simple concept and clouds it with regimen, ritual, symbolism and dogma, creating tremendous misunderstanding among the people who are trying to learn. Because of the way that religions function, people go to church and practice there, then go home and let it all go. Instead of remaining in a state of grace, or at least the state of attempting to be in grace, people return completely to the physical world now that their obligation to God has ceased and they are back on their own time.
What religion attempts to say - that the obligation to God doesn't cease and that whatever you believe should be carried with you both in spirit and in practice - falls on deaf ears. Part of this is because the way religion is taught in the first place.
As is said in buddhism, most people are not living consciously, wandering through their lives almost completely unaware of who and what they really are, and what the purpose of being here is.
So what is it about religion that allows it's good ideas and truths to fall short of the mark?
It is the fear and the dogma of religion itself that binds it from truely hitting the mark. Religion teaches things that are true yet at the same time it teaches them in a way that says that the individual religion is the only one to have truth, all others are wrong. In many cases, other religions are portrayed as out right evil - that it's believers are worshipping Satan and committing sins even if they don't realize it. This isn't every religion of course, but it is pervasive enough that our world continues to be torn by war over religious belief.
The great people of our religions - the teachers and prophets who came before - tell us that patience, kindness, humility and tolerance along with understanding are the keys to truely reaching the state which the religion promises. Why is it that most religous practice seems to throw these keys right out the window? That's where fear comes in - fear of the unknown, fear of the different, fear of poverty, fear of pain and death, fear of the wrath of the creator himself. This fear is what drives the hatred between religions more than anything else. It isn't that their core beliefs - the basic nuts and bolts - are all that different. The basic tenants are the same - but it is the worship, practice, and name of the creator that differs. Misunderstanding is a massive factor as well. In many religous texts, it is said that if someone does a certain act, then surely they will be put to death...
This is assumed at times to mean the creator himself will strike that person down where they stand, and at other times is assumed to mean that man himself should rise up against the sinner... where is it understood that it means a person, by allowing himself to pursue certain actions, is shutting himself off from spirituality - his true nature - and causing spiritual death within himself?
Many ideas within various religions are handled as if they are meant extremely literally, when the likelihood of that is slim. Our religious texts are clearly trying to tell us something extremely important, but with consideration of time, language and understanding. The books had to be written in terms that people could readily understand - a farmer would more easily comprehend the idea of a vinyard and harvest than he would spiritual law and karma, and so the books were written in this way.
Over the years, however, people have read the stories and understood them almost exclusively in literal terms. The twist is that we know the stories mean more than what they say, but since we cannot readily understand their true meaning, we take the literal and work with that.
We have lost our understanding that all of our actions are governed by karma, and that spirituality is the absolute most important aspect of our lives, the one to which the most time should be devoted, above both our basic needs and above all other vain pursuits.
Interestingly, the ideas within Buddhism are echoed in most other religions - but it is only in Buddhism that the ideas themselves are laid out as a path to follow in order to be enlightened. Buddhism seperates the goals and the method to reach them from the stories of those who came before us, handing us a guide to our mission in life in the most simplistic format. Even so, it is not always understood what one is truely seeking.
Other religions share these same ideas, and the figures in those religions who came to earth as humans and were reborn spiritually (Jesus, Krishna, etc) talk about the very same path that Buddhism does.
Jesus tells us to give up our posessions, to humble ourselves, to be innocent like children, and to give freely of ourselves to others, keeping nothing for ourselves. He himself fasted for 40 days despite temptation prior to his beginning to teach, showing us with his very life the path we too must follow. When it is said we are to follow Jesus, it doesn't mean sitting in a church pew murmurring his name as you're tranced by the cadence of the pastor's speech - it means that you do exactly what Jesus did -
You pile all the burdens of your life on your back (your cross), thereby accepting that not only must you endure whatever strife comes your way, but that you actually need that strife to strengthen you spiritually and help your soul to grow and to flourish. This is about embracing the flow of Karma and understanding that you have absolutely no control over the events of your life - to attempt to control anything is vanity and pride.
You deny your physical body (fasting in the desert for 40 days), thereby asserting the power of your soul over the power of your physical mind and physical body. In Buddihism, it is said you should eat only what you can aquire by begging, implying that one would eat very little and beg occasionally only when necessary. This both teaches the soul to impose it's will over the physical, and it humbles the mind to understand that it is no greater than any blade of grass.
You give everything you have - and more - to anyone you encounter, until you have no posessions at all. Then you give your help, your love, and your strength. The idea that we should own even a single thing in this world is absurd. The earth belongs to no one, she is our kind host and we've stolen all of the silver from her cupboards and the jewelry from her safe. We own nothing, and the right way is that we should walk through life and as we need something it will appear, being provided for us by the laws of Karma and of Grace. The need to stockpile serves nothing more than fear. In giving all of ourselves to others, we can learn an incredible lesson... there is no need to fear that you will have nothing left for yourself, as what lies within you is an inexhaustable well spring that opens and pours out the more it is used...
Imagine siphoning gas - if you draw on the tube until the tube itself is full, dump a little from the end into another container and then stop, nothing more will come from the tube unless you force it. However, if you draw from the tube and then place the tube in the container lower than the source, and allow it to remain open, it will continuously pour out. If the source from which it is coming is the size of the ocean, then the cup will run over, water will cover the table, pour onto the chairs and finally begin to flood the ground. There will be no end in sight for a long time, and everyone there will have all of the water they can stand to enjoy. The power that can come from our souls is just like the ocean in this comparison, if we draw from it and draw from it and draw from it, and keep our selves open for more to be drawn, then the power will pour through us unceasingly.
This is the concept least understood about giving to others. People give some and then they say to themselves "I was good, I gave some today, now it's time to be concerned about myself and not about others" but this represents greed, self importance and most importantly, a lack of faith.
If one has faith, then one knows that they need not provide for themselves - so long as they concern themselves with providing for others, the universe will make sure that the one is provided for.
To achieve enlightenment, you have to let go of everything, even to the very protection of your own life. After all, death is an immenent and necessary part of life, and it is only through death that we can ultimately reach beyond this Earth.