Throughout history, mankind has turned to many different sources for guidance on how to do the right thing. Over two billion people today turn to the Abrahamic religions--Judaism, Christianity, and Islam--just as their ancestors did (CIA). However, these belief systems provide flimsy ethical frameworks for modern life when measured by their moral consistency, regard for the practical consequences of their teachings, and encouragement of the pursuit of a full life.
The trumpeted morals and teachings of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are flamboyantly inconsistent. The Sixth Commandment, as supposedly given by God himself, states very clearly not to kill (Deuteronomy 5:17). And yet, it was God who committed such genocidal acts as the destruction of the city of Sodom and Noah's flood. Unless one believes that world leaders should indeed make decisions based on God's examples, the hypocrisy flies in the face of the Golden Rule, which states that we should treat others as we'd like to be treated. In other words, if a person thinks it is wrong for others to do something, then he or she should not do it either.
Another example of inconsistency from the Abrahamic faiths is the change in Muhammad's teachings after he amassed enough followers to spread Islam by the scimitar from Medina to Mecca and beyond. Prior to that, he and his followers were a minority persecuted by the dominant group in the region, the Quraysh. While muslims were the minority, he told his followers to say to the Quraysh, "Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion" (Qur'an 109:6). After his group was more powerful and his men ready to conquer, Muhammad told his followers to say, "I have been commanded to fight against people, till they testify to the fact that there is no god but Allah, and believe in me (that) I am the messenger (from the Lord) and in all that I have brought" (Spencer 187). This has, unfortunately, become one of the many justifications used to commit acts of violence on the rest of the world.
Religious extremism has become synonymous with terrorism. Terrorists like Al-Qaeda's infamous suicide bombers, fundamentalist Christians that bomb abortion clinics, and hardline Orthodox Jewish settlers that indiscriminately blast away the homes of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are never without extensive scriptural citations to justify their heinous actions, all made possible by the inconsistencies of their respective Abrahamic religion's teachings. Fortunately, it's true that these groups don't represent mainstream believers, but they are still based on Abrahamic scripture interpretations and inferences that should have been written more consistently in the first place.
Abrahamic religious leaders have been careless about the decrees and advice that they've given, leading their well-intentioned followers to do terrible things. For example, the Catholic Church, Orthodox Jews, and conservative Muslims each have disapproving views of condoms because of their interpretations of scriptures regarding marriage and procreation. This has allowed sexually transmitted diseases to spread with unnecessary ease in communities around the globe. The United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS has strongly condemned the Catholic Church's ban on condoms, citing the effects on Africa, which currently has approximately 70% of the world's AIDS infections (Queiroz). While allowing condom usage would not eradicate the disease, it would substantially slow its spread down and would have saved countless lives if they had always been approved of by Africa's religious leaders. The Catholic Church may not be responsible for the outbreak of AIDS, but they are responsible for the preventable deaths that have occurred as a result of their policy. Unfortunately, the church has been uninterested in reexamining its dogma even in the face of such terrible consequences, and the same is true for Islam and Orthodox Judaism.
The Christian Science church, one of many other large sects of Christianity, is another organization that enables these unnecessary deaths because of what they preach. Many children die because their parents blocked them from getting vaccines and modern medicine. Without going quite so far as to explicitly ban it, the church strongly advocates relying on prayer for healing instead of using modern medicine because of how they interpret God's nature from the Bible, telling followers that anything else is almost always unnecessary. "A Christian Scientist's decision to rely on prayer comes from trust, not blind faith, in God, and from a conviction that God's care continues under every circumstance," explains their web site (christianscience.com). As for sick or dying children who are too young to make decisions for themselves? "Parents who choose Christian Science treatment for a child do so because they've seen the effectiveness of this treatment in their own lives."
The Abrahamic religions impose unexplained restrictions on followers, forbidding them from living life to the fullest and maximizing their human experience, even when doing so would harm nobody else or even could help others. An example of something deemed immoral without explanation would be homosexuality. When opinions are separated from physical consequences, what remains is the objective, scientific fact that two consenting adults of the same gender engaging in sexual activities does not affect other people, and no children will ever be produced. Their activity does nothing more than make each other happy, and yet according to the core Abrahamic scriptures, it is "detestable" (Leviticus 18:22) and the homosexuals should be put to death (Leviticus 20:13). Fundamentalist Christian groups in America like the Westboro Baptist Church would love to see this become law, just like it is in Muslim nations like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, where even people who don't adhere to these beliefs are still bound by them. Whether or not the couple decides to seek marriage or apply to adopt a child doesn't even matter. No explanation is given for why God so despises homosexuality or why it is inherently immoral.
Another example of how the Abrahamic religions rob followers of having a full life is Islam's treatment of women. According to Sharia law as practiced throughout the Middle East, women must wear special garbs called burkas that cover their entire bodies so that the lustful eyes of men do not fall on them, and nobody is overcome with evil feelings to make them do anything immoral (Qur'an 24:31, 33:59). Both men and women are denied the simple pleasure of smiling for one another, and women cannot even feel the sun on their skin as they please or wear clothing that they think looks beautiful. In fact, even with this rule, they still aren't allowed to go outside without being accompanied by a male relative. It is hard to imagine what more could be done to deny them the human experience.
For those who find it more admirable to seek virtue than to be unquestioningly obedient, Abrahamic religions will not provide satisfying ethical frameworks for modern living because of their lack of moral consistency, regard for the practical consequences of their teachings, and encouragement of the pursuit of a full life. Such individuals can work to rectify these problems within their religious communities, or they can explore alternative ethical frameworks, such as the philosophies of Ancient Greece, modern Secular Humanism, and Eastern religions like Buddhism. Regardless of how they choose to proceed, the important thing is that they continue with their quest to be genuinely good.