Sheehan ends his Representations (2009) by noting the cost of privatizing sacrifice, and with it religion: “The modern ethic of sacrifice denuded of utility, unhinged from exchange and divorced from law, bears virtually no resemblance to its early modern incarnations. Now sacrifice stands sheltered inside the individual, protected from challenge by the screen of subjectivity. And the privatization of sacrifice should be seen, I think, not as the condition for an autonomous secular, but rather a necessary occasion for its betrayal. Before the secular, sacrifice stood as a powerful figure of thought for understanding relationships of mediation, of power and authority, of the competencies of religious claims, and yes, one’s ethical posture toward the state. It was also, just as importantly, an invitation to polemic, to argument, and conflict. Rather than hiding religion from public critique, shielding it from the human sciences, sacrifice kept both law and religion in play, as subjects of practical investigation and devotion. Its move inward, by contrast, deprives us of a key figure of thought used both to analyze and critique religious, political, and legal competencies . . . . Stories of sacrifice made the problem of violence, both religious and political, intensely visible, and thus open to the most stern critique.”

Religion privatized is religion protected. Religion in public must acknowledge and accept its vulnerability to public criticism.

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