We need to hear Baldwin today just as much as in the 60s.
Baldwin, famously in the second essay, rejects Christianity as a solution to what he calls the "racial nightmare." Whereas it had promised faith, hope, and love, it offered only "blindness, loneliness, and terror, the first one actively cultivated to deny the other two." How could such an institution change the world? Christians are still guilty of this, I am guilty of this.
When the Church forgets herself, falls asleep, or neglects her mission, the world enters a nightmare.
When the defining characteristic of our religion is not the living saints we are to be producing, but our racism, our classism, our tribalism, our stingy affluence (Lord God, send us another St Francis!), then the world -- those desperately needing the healing love of Christ, those trapped most keenly and often most ignorantly in demonic snares -- suffer. And the name of Christ, the only name by which healing can come, is blasphemed.
Here's the rub: all violence leads to the Cross. All the hatred, and injustice, and malice, and cruelty -- Ferguson, Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Nigeria, Ukraine, Russia, Israel, Gaza, the Holocausts of the last centuries (Jewish, Ukrainian, Armenian, aborted children), the wars, the terrorism, the everyday contempt and hatred -- are focused on the true human and true God. Why? Because we've turned our hearts towards self-destruction. We abhor idols, especially those that oppress us, and who is more oppressive than ourselves? As St Augustine said, "what am I but a guide to my own self-destruction?" Having made ourselves gods, and then having failed at the task, we loathe ourselves and desires to smash the idols we have made. Depression runs rampant, suicide becomes an everyday occurrence, war becomes absolute and everlasting.
What is needed is not killing ourselves, nor others, but sharing in the death of Christ. Yes, we need to die, but not in the bio-physical way (that will happen, alas, all on its own); rather, our selves -- now embroiled in pride and vanity and lust and malice and covetousness -- must die in Christ, to be able to speak the words He spoke to those who spat on Him, mocked Him, tortured Him, and crucified Him: "forgive them, Father, they know not what they do." No one ever does: no matter how good we get at economic prognostication or psychic Tarot reading, we never know the future, especially the future created by our own actions. We know not what we do. So we not only need forgiveness, but have the essential need to forgive all others. We need healing, but it can only come from joining Christ's crucifixion and allowing Him, the all-merciful One, to dispense justice.
It is long past time for a thorough examen: where have we contributed to the oppression, to the violence, to the terror of our world? Are we willing to join in the Cross, sharing the sufferings, forgiving everyone for everything, so that the world might find peace, find true justice that heals rather than destroys further?
God, help us and give us Your divine strength.