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There’s a widespread idea amongst political commentators that mere persuasion can amount to coercion. It’s nothing new that leftists have fallen prey to the postmodern trap of subjectivism, and it’s surely this pitfall that helped coin the now tired line, “don’t impose your views on me.” Subjectivism ties opinions so closely to persons that it is hard for subjectivists not to see disagreement as a form of personal abuse or mental coercion. Sadly, things are not getting any better. Confusion about real and imagined coercion has reached a point at which the very art of persuasion is being critiqued as unjust.

The Huffington Post headline reads, “ Do Catholic Bishops Run the United States Government? ” If the bishops actually did—which, I’m told, is their ultimate goal—the story would be different. But the HP editors’ definition of governance reveals the true extent of the bishops’ power-grab. Among the outrages are the bishops’ “ratcheting up the heat” by sermonizing on conscience clauses in those ubiquitous “conservative parishes” and their equally preposterous speaking terms with members of congress. The USCCB’s requests for accommodation of pro-life consciences, HP would have us believe, amount to nothing less than a “theocracy . . . with your tax dollars.” It’s hard not to view this as complimentary to the bishops, whose persuasiveness is so powerful it somehow amounts to force.

Is this really coercion? Chris Matthews thinks so, and suggested responding to the bishops’ influence with an even greater measure of force: censorship. “The clergy should stay off Capitol Hill,” he blurted, later noting that USCCB representatives there were staffers, not the bishops themselves. To be safe, though, we should probably recalibrate the Capitol Police’s metal detectors to detect pectoral crosses. MSNBC’s Nancy Synderman feels the same way. After remarking, “the Catholic bishops appearing and having a political voice seems to be a most fundamental violation of church and state,” she advocated that the IRS investigate the bishops for violations. Once again, the coercive power in the response greatly outweighs the potential offense. It certainly seems that the sound waves would be noticeably tranquil if political pundits held to the standards they expect of bishops.

But is it possible that the bishops might be more experienced at being pushed around than their thin-skinned opponents? It would seem so. In an instance of true coercion, the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington has been forced into an intractable set of choices. With a new same-sex marriage law threatening the Church’s ability to self-govern, the state has forced the Church to choose between two repugnant options: The Church can either forfeit its integrity by violating its own moral law, or it can cease all charitable social services that might open it to government censure. Now, how does this real, material stricture placed on the Church not generate the kind of outrage the bishops did with their mere persuasive words? Until the outrage emerges, we’ll just have to call the pundits’ rage intolerant and the bishops’ overtures comparatively soft.

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