You can tell James Baldwin started out as a preacher. He proclaims fearlessly and with utter clarity on hatred, love, war, race, justice, and speaks so eloquently and with such conviction that we have to listen.
The book starts gently however, with a short tender piece, a letter to a newborn nephew named after him, which is a beautiful form for thoughts about the past and future, personal and political. Then a return to the pulpit for impassioned polemic on the legacy of slavery, racial injustice, and the poison of Christianity and the moral bankruptcy of the church, writing in the aftermath of the Second World War and the Holocaust, and in the context of racially segregated America. He’s writing at a crucial point in history, and knows it, and he rises to the occasion.
My admiration for Baldwin grows with each work of his that I read, and this was no exception. (On a personal note, it also made me consider the effect of my own loss of faith, which I’d swept under the carpet long ago as an embarrassing episode in my life best forgotten. But it left a huge gap and a scar that I’ve only just really started to reflect on, decades later. Not to compare myself with James Baldwin in any way I hasten to add, but the church and the Bible and Christianity are constant reference points for him long after leaving it all, which made me think.)