There is a famous debate between the Rambam and the Ramban about the purpose of the קרבנות. The Rambam feels that they were a concession to human nature:
The implication is that the קרבנות are not the ideal way to worship ה׳. Presumably the Rambam would argue that a more “intellectual” (or philosophical) approach would be better, but the Jews of the time the Torah was given were too steeped in idolatry to handle anything that abstract.
Rabbi Moshe Shammah brings the suggestion that the origin of the Rambam’s statement is in the Midrash:
But what about now, in more “enlightened” times? The Rambam to my knowledge never goes this far, but most assume that he would hold that we should not try to re-establish the sacrifices, since we don’t need them now. That’s pretty radical; it implies that he would take our hope for the rebuilding of the בית מקדש at least in part allegorically: (מלאכי ג:ד) וערבה לה׳ מנחת יהודה וירושלם כימי עולם וכשנים קדמנית. This idea is not explicitly in the Rambam, and I would argue that he would assume that in the days of משיך we would still need קרבנות. They are a concession to human nature, not human history. We need some kind of physical representation to feel close to הקב״ה, which is why the ancient pagans used that mode of worship.
It is kind of like the argument of the Seforno that before the sin of the Golden Calf, there was never supposed to be a physical building to centralize the service; everyone would be a מקום שכינה. But now that it is necessary, the requirement will not go away. We never really get more “enlightened”.
Nonetheless, the Ramban objects strenuously to the whole concept:
He then goes on to add an explanation “על דרך האמת”, with kabbalistic overtones, that the act of sacrificing in fact brings us closer (the literal meaning of קרבן) to הקב״ה and serves to unite the “higher worlds”. That sort of thing in above my pay grade, but the underlying idea that the קרבנות are not some kind of concession to human nature but the ideal method of worship. Prayer and study, while worthwhile, are the concessions to the reality of the loss of the קרבנות.
That idea is appealing to those who yearn for the reestablishment of the בית המקדש, but then why don’t we bring sacrifices now? Establishing an altar does not require a בית המקדש; there is explicitly a concept of a במה, an altar that is allowed when there is no central מקדש. The משך חכמה addresses this, and brings a new perspective to the argument between the Rambam and the Ramban, by arguing that both are right:
And this concept, that the במה was a concession to human nature, has application to contemporary הלכה as well. There is another concession to human religious sensibility ; a mechanism for effectively creating our own הלכה: the נדר.
So now we understand why we do not have a concept of במות today. We don’t have the kind of spiritual drive that makes us want to bring קרבנות, so there is no longer any need. Why don’t we feel that drive? In the days of תנ״ך it was overwhelming:
Which brings up one of my favorite sugiyot in the gemara:
אגרא לא איהו בעינן ולא אגריה בעינן—we do not want the reward and we do not want to pay the price. The “price” is the constant temptation of עבודה זרה. What is the reward that we are giving up? The גר״א explains that the יצר הרע for עבודה זרה is the desire for spirituality and the ability to feel the divine in all of creation. Lacking this, we have no need to worship “sticks and stones”. But we lose the ability to feel spirituality at all, and this leads to the loss of נבואה. זכריה was the last prophet. After this incident, the אנשי כנסת הגדולה had removed the sin of idol worship but had removed our ability to communicate with ה׳. This was the “reward” that they felt was worth losing, in order to have a chance of preventing another חורבן.
Rabbi Jeremy Kagan, in his book The Jewish Self, connects this loss of spirituality with the rise of rationalism that we associate with Greek philosophy (specifically Aristotle). Whether we take the gemara literally, with יצר הרע leaping like a fiery lion from the קדשי הקדשים in response to the prayers of the אנשי כנסת הגדולה, or a historical development as humanity discovered the underlying rules of the universe, it is a fact that in this time period we lost נבואה along with עבודה זרה.
So we have no יצר הרע for עבודה זרה today, with the price that we have no great yearning for closeness to הקב״ה. I won’t decide whether it was worth it; it is the reality. The concept of קרבנות really is alien to us. Our mode of communication with הקב״ה is through prayer, and this is what we say before the עמידה:
So part of what we pray for when we pray for the restoration of the בית המקדש is the restoration of the feeling that the בית המקדש and the קרבנות are important and relevant to us.