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The Good Book

Many dogged conservatives who dismiss the commons as insignificant should take a second look. It may be at the core of all their beliefs.

For many people, it seems only natural to locate the commons somewhere on the left side of the political spectrum. After all, it’s an idea that challenges right wing declarations that private property and the market are the only adequate method of organizing human endeavor.

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Yet many of the most dogged conservatives in the U.S. hold the commons at the heart of their political and social beliefs. They draw guidance, sustenance and even policy directives from a source that no one owns, and which everyone is free to use in their own way—the Bible.

The Bible cannot be policed the way Walt Disney Studios controls Mickey Mouse. Sacred texts of all kinds (including the Koran, Talmud, Tao Te Ching) belong to everyone. Of course, there are many people from Billy Graham to Pope Benedict to Desmond Tutu willing to explain what the Bible means in terms of morality and revelation.

Rev. James Dobson, the fierce founder of Focus on the Family, can tell us the Bible condemns homosexuality and requires all who believe to fight against homosexuals. Meanwhile Gene Roberts, the Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire who is no less versed in the Bible, is gay himself and finds sustenance and meaning in the scripture for his personal life.

Since it is not locked up under copyright, no one can claim control over how it is produced, distributed or interpreted. Thomas Jefferson, for instance, edited his own personal version of the Bible, focusing on the philosophical rather than mystical passages.

This helps explain why a book, compiled almost 2000 years ago, exerts such power in our modern age. Recognizing the unquestionable influence of the Bible, Koran and other religious texts ought to remind us—especially conservatives who might dismiss the importance of things owned in common—about the value of the commons and the need to maintain it.