In our age Satan need not bother. Who among us has a soul left to sell anyway? America, the greatest country ever founded, is today foundering as its original ideals are eroded through a culture of suffocating soullessness. Pope John Paul II's warning that America is in danger of surrendering to a "soulless vision of life" is an understatement. America, the only country in the world to have G-d stamped on its money-not even the Vatican or Israel have it-is being laid low by mind-numbing materialism, vapidity, and vulgarity in a culture that increasingly resembles a soulless corpse.
The Declaration of Independence affirms the dignity of every human being and asserts their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
But where is the dignity, and where are these rights, in modern-day America? Is it dignity that we see when men eat bugs and women have sex with complete strangers on reality TV as they lust for the attention of the camera? Is it dignity we witness when young women-who are paying tens of thousands of dollars to educate their minds-lift their blouses for the "Girls Gone Wild" videos so that some vulgar pornographer can become a millionaire? Is it dignity we witness in a culture of serial dating among professional young men and women that rarely culminates in commitment? How can we have forgotten even how to fall in love?
And where is the second promise of the Declaration-liberty! Is it liberty we witness today in a culture where we all feel imprisoned by the latest need-to-see movie? Are we really free when we feel the incarceration of working to the bone in order to keep up with the Joneses, even as our children are neglected and raised by TV? Are we really so free if we don't even have time to call on neighbors and grandparents go unvisited while "Shrek" rakes in half a billion dollars at the box office? Are teenagers today really free when they seem so imprisoned by their hormones and slaves to peer pressure?
The soul allows us rise above the needs of the body. But is it liberation of the body that is being exhibited in a culture where men and women spend hours a week at the gym but rarely ever read a wholesome book? Is it liberation that we witness in America among a generation of individuals who have enough time to check every email but not enough time to recite even a single daily prayer? It is liberation that we feel in America as our hearts become smaller while our cars become bigger?
Oh yes, the pursuit of happiness. Is it happiness that we see in America today in a culture that boasts a 50 percent divorce rate? Can we really speak of soulful celebration in a country where one out of four Americans is on an antidepressant? Is it a celebration of life that we are witnessing across America as shopping malls have replaced parks for Sunday family outings, and the impulse purchase has replaced churchgoing for a weekly feeling of satisfaction? If our kids are so happy, why are they numbing themselves with marijuana and thrilling their underdeveloped bodies with sex?
The Jews taught the world of the existence of G-d and alerted the earth's inhabitants to the existence of a fragment of the divine that lurks within each and every person. And that community held steadfastly to G-d through torture and persecution for more than two-thousand years. So why did so many decide to let go when they finally experienced emancipation? Why are the Jewish community centers-with their swimming pools, bowling alleys, and gyms-filled on Sundays while the synagogues remain unfilled on Saturdays?
The great Martin Luther King Jr. brought nobility to the African-American community by calling on the words of the Hebrew prophets: Let justice flow like a river, and righteousness like a mighty spring. Is that spirit of soulful majesty evident today in a community that has allowed out-of-wedlock births to mushroom to over 60 percent? The black community invented soul music and liberated their spirit, even while in chains, by singing the grand old spirituals. But is it soulfulness that we are witnessing in this music's successor, the rap culture, with its misogyny, deadly guns, and thick gold chains? Meanwhile, middle-class, suburbanites boast a TV in every bedroom, as if what their kids really need is a celluloid stranger rather than Mom and Dad reading them a bedtime story. Their kids get cars at 16, which usually just speeds them down the road of expecting everything and earning nothing. Parents have forgotten how work and effort are themselves soulful. Grapes need to be pressed in order to produce wine. But our kids are like a different kind of grape: spoiled, and many don't know how to treat even their own parents with respect. If all our children-of every ethnic group and religious background-were conditioned to understand that they had a spark of the divine within them, they would be far less prone to wasting their lives.
Evangelical Christians and religious Catholics, whom I so admire, exhibit a profound attachment to G-d and country that is rousing and inspiring. But an attachment to G-d must breed a distinct humility. Being in touch with one's soul must lead us to experience the soul of the other and acknowledge the divine worth of every human being. So homosexuality can be opposed. But homophobia has no place in religious life. The right to life may be affirmed. But using any kind of violence against those who perform an abortion is itself an abortion of one's own soul, and an abomination against G-d's law. Yes, even we religious people can experience a spiritual renewal in America.
The secret of recapturing soulfulness lies in recapturing the spirit of sacrifice. Unlike the body, with its constant needs, the soul is prepared to give up unimportant things in favor of important ones. One of the places that we witness true soulfulness today is in the U.S. military, where men and women give up lucrative jobs to serve, and where courage inspires men and women to risk their lives so that others might live. It is no coincidence that the U.S. military boasts a disproportionately high number of men and women of deep religious faith. Yes, they have to take orders from superiors, and yes, they have to dress according to a strict regimen. But compared to us, they are truly free because they are liberated from the most incarcerating and soul-destroying cage of all: the prison of the ego.
We don't have to sign up for military duty to experience this soulful rejuvenation. Rather, we need only put service before selfishness and the interests of others on a par with our own.