There seems to be a sort of rule about ritual:
When viewed as effecting some indirectly related end, say, the coming of the Messiah, the practitioners tend toward:
1. Explaining the failures of the ritual to bring about that end by blaming the folks doing the ceremony, either the “priests” or the “parishioners”:
Perhaps the Priests have lost their magic power (fallen into apostasy, lost the keys!), or the Parishioners are not pure or faithful enough (apostates!).
In either case, some abstract invisible energy or essence — its absence or presence — is believed to explain both the efficacy of the ideal ritual, and also the failures of the actual practices. At no point is the ritual understood as a test of the reality of such an invisible energy, and whether it indeed exists.
2. Such explanations (and failures) tend to generate more elaborate rituals with even more rules and more priests and practitioners. We spiral back to (1), and splinter groups or new priests emerge. But don’t think the original is the right one, just because you haven’t joined the splinters. They are both wrong.
Such is the logic behind what we call “cargo cults,” for example, and apparently behind gambling addictions.
The obvious outcome is a growth of the ritual, rather than a test of its effectiveness. With ritual comes a spiral priests, and with priests, taboos. With taboos we have new resources for explaining the failures of the ritual, for some one must’ve broken a taboo, and thus, we need to priests to ensure the purity of the parishioners. Surveillance becomes a mandate of the priests, and eventually they may speak of their deity as an All-Seeing-Eye.
When we add market incentives, or political office and prestige as assuring us the power is indeed present, we can assume that the ritual will begin to take on additional energy. Indeed, we may begin to say that the power itself is embodied in the priests/parishioners, regardless of the results of the ritual: they have the power regardless, because only they officiate, and that is the power they have. Perhaps one might even speak of the “end” or “goal” of the ritual as not anything real or tangible, but as “symbolic” or “personal,” such as, for example, insight into the mystery of the ritual itself, into what it represents, which is now spoken of as what it does: it represents, symbolically.
Now, step back and ask yourself: “If someone said I could have their car, if I performed certain actions, I would expect that car, or call them a liar or a fool. But if someone promises me an intangible, invisible energy as a result of performing certain actions, should I also be satisfied if I have no evidence of receiving that energy? Finally, should I simply change what I mean by “evidence”? Or blame myself for failing to receive the energy?”
If we don’t start off with a good definition of what the magical invisible energy would do, if we possessed it, than we can be sure we will simply redefine whatever is, as itself evidence of its existence or of our possession.
Now we come to doubt:
Often when priests or parishioners tire of the ceremonies, calling them “dead” for example, having realized that one can only speak of “symbolism” for so long before everyone realizes they could get the same symbolism in any other way; rather than stop spiraling, they have learned to seek out some other priest or ritual which runs exactly the same way, except this time, you know, we really have the magic invisible power and the right crop of faithful / pure parishioners. If you look at Mormon history in 1830, this is what the Church of Christ claimed, against other churches of Christ. The logic of Restoration runs on this foolish program, it does not alter it. See Volume One of the cultural history for more evidence…
Do we find the Book of Mormon justifying such cargo cults?
Individually: Jesus reportedly appears to Jacob, Nephi, Mormon, and others. We don’t know why he did. None of the men say, “I did X, and that brought Jesus around.” What if Jesus visits whomever he wants, just as you might do? What if like you he has people he visits for reasons other than to gratify his own pride and vanity, but instead for reasons related to his purposes, or to do good? Do you only visit one kind of person, the really pure? Or have you visited the sick, the prisoner, the aged, the impure, and so on, whom perhaps you would not personally call “friends”?
Among your friends, are there some you rely on for some things, but not others? Are there some who are not quite as “good” as others, or who might have eccentricities, or vulnerabilities perhaps you’d like to help them with? Do some bring you joy, for various reasons? Does Jesus deal with the same crop of people, or with people who are either simply pure or impure? D&C 76…gives us reasons for being better people, but we must look elsewhere for guidance on what “better” looks like, to the Lord. Perhaps his visits or absences among us come more from, say, thinking, “I don’t want to hang out with Mr. X, because we just don’t jive, and he seems unwilling to see my point of view,” than it is like, “I don’t want to hang out with Mr. X, because he isn’t pure enough to be around me, and I am unable to purify his invisible essence.”
If we open up the category of people visited by Jesus to include the sick, the aged, the sad, those needing healing, his friends and so on, we find ourselves without any rules for bringing him about. Are there rules for bringing you to my home, in addition to directions and an invitation being necessary conditions? Perhaps it is an error to think of Jesus as like a Dominos delivery boy, or the ambulance.
Collectively: Rather than the Messiah showing up to ratify their righteousness, he appears and explains to some survivors of calamities that they are simply not as bad as the dead. Nothing they did, no magic they possessed, brought him to them. Indeed, he seems to delight in befriending the most stiffnecked people.
When Christ visits them at the temple the second day, he brings his own bread and wine, but not because the people had some magic. When he shows them miracles, it is because of their faith; but their faith was not the cause of the miracles, it being apparently necessary but not itself sufficient.
Unfortunately, we don’t have a good definition of “faith” as used in this context. If we did, man, we could create processes for acquiring it, distributing, and indeed, make an economy of faith that promised to bring about the magic of the Messiah, for those possessed of the right amount of some intangible energy.
The cults, rituals, priests and parishioners who believe some invisible intangible energy can be mobilized in such and such a way rely necessarily on idols, and if Jesus indeed showed up, he would it seems be treated as an idol, not as their creator and benevolent friend.