The role religion plays probably differs family to family and place to place.
I've only lived in 3 locations- NY state, Northern California Bay Area and now Fukuoka, Japan. I've met many Catholics, Jews, Protestants and Buddhists, some Muslims and HIndus. Most have been very flexible with their beliefs. They tended to have personal views that did not always coincide exactly with the mainstream views of their faith. That's one reason "new age" ideas like reincarnation are so widespread now, imo.
In the 1980s the Power of Myth series with Joseph Campbell was really popular, at least in NY and California. It was shown over and over again on PBS. Most of my friends and family have seen it. His whole point was to examine religious beliefs for deeper symbolism, common metaphors.
I've only bumped into a few people who believed that the teachings in the bible should be accepted as literal truth. So, i find myself more aware of commonalities then differences, usually.
The most striking thing for me has been how having faith in God is very much like going for refuge. People find great strength in their faith. Especially in NY, after 9.11, I felt this was true.
"As Buddhists, we should aim to develop relationships that are not predominated by grasping and clinging. Our relationships should be characterised by the brahmaviharas of metta (loving kindness), mudita (sympathetic joy), karuna (compassion), and upekkha (equanimity)."
~post by Ben, Jul 02, 2009