I was raised as a Mormon, and to this day I'm still looking for a testimony of the church.
I have often felt confused about the meaning of certain words and phrases used in religion--words like "holy", "sacred", and "atonement". Recently I decided that my lack of understanding was no fault of my own, but had a logical explanation.
What does "abject" mean? Until today, I had seen this word used in only one context: "abject poverty". Somehow I feel that "abject poverty" means either "extreme poverty" or "undeniable poverty", but how can I be sure? It's logical that I cannot. We learn the meaning words by seeing them in a variety of contexts. We naturally develop ideas about what words mean, like I have done with "abject"; but we need to see words in multiple contexts, and see them compared and contrasted to other words, in order to build a clear picture of their meaning. Therefore, I cannot have a clear idea about the meaning of "abject" if its only incarnation is "abject poverty", or "sill" if its only incarnation is "windowsill".
It is the same with religious words. The words "sacred" and "holy" are associated with other words, like "spiritual" and "divine" (try Google Sets for more examples), and I know some examples of "sacred" and "holy" things: baptism, the Holy Bible, holy lands, sacred oil, a sacred building, a sacred ordinance. Clearly, "holy" and "sacred" have something do with religion and God. But what, exactly? Do these words mean nothing more than "God related"? If you look in the dictionary, there are so many definitions that "God related" sums it up pretty well. Yet this definition is unsatisfying to me, because in my church I have seen sacredness or holyness used as a justification for action or inaction. Why is it good to go to a temple? Among other reasons, because it is a "sacred place". Why should we not engage in masturbation? or tatooing? Because "our bodies are sacred". But with the meaning of these words being so vague, I find them unconvincing as a justification for anything. Should the Jews have invaded Palestine because it was a "holy land"? Should terrorists kill people because there is supposedly a "holy war" going on?
And what is the difference between "holy" and "sacred"? Why are some things sacred and others holy? If someone declared "this object is holy because blank, but it is not sacred because blank", I could begin to see the difference. But since no one ever contrasts them, I cannot see the difference. And indeed, if no one knows the difference, then effectively there is no difference. But if a difference was known when the scriptures were written, then we have lost a source of understanding for the scriptures. I often wonder how much knowledge we have lost. Incidentally, Esperanto uses one word, "sankta", for both "sacred" and "holy". I guess the designer didn't know the difference either.
The atonement is the sacrifice Jesus made, and may include both what happened in the garden of Gethsemanie and upon the cross. So what do "atone" and "atonement" mean? Since these words are defined by one act in all of history, I question whether they have any meaning beyond merely that of a name, like "Wall Street" or "Henry" or "Jesus". Yet that would make ideas like an "infinite atonement" just as meaningless as "infinite Henry". How can one understand words so ill-defined as this?