You are such a bright guy (this is a genuine compliment). Let me try and give you my feedback on your questions:
***"I believe it is God's intent that religions of the world grow and share from one another." Whenever two major religions are put into contact, the result tends to be bloodshed, again and again for thousands of years. Not to say that blending and contrasting ideas is a bad idea. But God sure has a bloody, roundabout way of doing things if he's behind all this, doesn't he?***
I agree that this is generally the case. The problem is that the minimum path is the minimum path and the minimum path is the best approximation of God's nature. The lower level of that approximation is 'evil', but the higher levels approximate to 'good'. Hence, we see good and evil in the world. Over time the world tends to good as God's actions are continually felt in the world.
Now, we can all stand up and stomp our feet and wish it wasn't this way. But, we wouldn't be here unless it was this way. A fact of matter doesn't chance because of our heartfelt pain. Evil exists and it just happens to be the end result of minimum tactics being induced in nature. I take solace in the belief that good will eventually triumph over evil. God will unify the world and bring lasting peace. That's my (liberal) Christian view of the world, and I think that's just the way it is (or happens to be).
***"In your case, I would focus on the ideal principles of Islam and fully incorporate those in your life...." Shouldn't Islam be established as scientifically valid before we start believing in it? Or are you just arguing for religion's usefulness in making you happy?***
In my view, science only makes up one segment of knowledge - the empirical confirmation side. It happens to be the most reliable in terms of providing the most undisputable evidence, but it also happens to lack any meaning about the world without accepting other forms of knowledge - specifically philosophical type knowledge. For example, it is almost meaningless to talk about electrons as part of an atomic model unless we accept that electrons do in fact exist - at least for all practical purposes. We need to accept certain knowledge obtained from philosophy in order to make the concept of electrons meaningful. If we accepted a philosophical position such as science is just the opinion of nerds that went on to graduate school, then maybe science would lose a little meaning in the process.
Similarly, I think we need a unifying paradigm that summarizes all the worthy principles in life in some unified manner that is meaningful for all humans. This is what religion accomplishes. It brings together sparce principles (e.g., love of wisdom, belief in God, an understanding of what makes our lives meaningful to be living, etc), and forms an organization that gives life a full breadth of meaning despite the meaninglessness of certain events in our lives. On pragmatic grounds alone this is warranted, but I think it is warranted on philosophical grounds. Since I see all knowledge as founded in philosophical thought (and not scientific thought), I believe that religion is justified. The key is choosing which kind of religion, and this is what I was trying to communicate to Yasir.
***A question, Harv. Why do you believe in a personal, loving God as opposed to a generic universal force? Is it just desire for a loving universe?***
Well, in my view God is a holistic universal force. However, I believe this generic universal force translates into a personal, loving God. Being personal and being loving are akin to the ultimate attributes of a holistic universal force. In order for holism to be effective, all the pieces must be considered. Part of the pieces are conscious thoughts, and these too must be considered. The only way that I can imagine that a conscious piece (us) can be considered is if it is understood, and therefore I believe God is aware of us - each and every one of us as 'pieces' to his plan for the world. In my view, a true holistic order requires an extremely high comprehension (infinite?) of conscious aware beings.
Warm regards, Harv