The Message Behind Hozier’s "Take Me To Church"

A few weeks ago I had never heard of Irish recording artist Andrew Hozier-Byrne. However, as I was riding in my car scanning through radio stations one day, his song Take Me To Church caught my attention. I stumbled across the song right before the chorus, and Hozier’s haunting and compelling voice sang “Amen” several times before belting the line, “Take me to church…”

I was immediately intrigued because the song was playing on a secular station. Had a Christian song crossed over? I couldn’t understand the rest of the lyrics clearly so I googled it when I got home. There is a strong message behind his song and video, but it is anything but Christian. In the song, Hozier reimagines religion—his object of worship is his lover:

My lover’s got humour
She’s the giggle at a funeral
Knows everybody’s disapproval
I should’ve worshipped her sooner
If the Heavens ever did speak
She is the last true mouthpiece
Every Sunday’s getting more bleak
A fresh poison each week
‘We were born sick,’ you heard them say it
My church offers no absolutes
She tells me ‘worship in the bedroom

The only heaven I’ll be sent to
Is when I’m alone with you

I was born sick, but I love it
Command me to be well
Amen. Amen. Amen

Take me to church
I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies
I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife
Offer me that deathless death
Good God, let me give you my life…

…No masters or kings when the ritual begins
There is no sweeter innocence than our gentle sin
In the madness and soil of that sad earthly scene
Only then I am human
Only then I am clean
Amen. Amen. Amen[1]

You may be asking yourself, “Why should I even care about this song? There are thousands of songs with secular messages played every day. Why look at this one in more detail?” The song and its accompanying video reveal an approach to religion and sexuality that Christians must not ignore.

Take Me to Church was actually released back in 2013, but since the September 19, 2014, release of Hozier’s self-titled album here in America that included the single Take Me to Church, he has been receiving a lot of attention. His song hit number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in November. Hozier was nominated for the “Best Song with a Social Message” by the European MTV Awards, and he has been nominated for “Song of the Year” for the 2015 Grammys. Nevertheless, it was his performance on Saturday Night Live on October 12 that served as a catalyst for his popularity in America. Rolling Stone’s review of his SNL performance proclaimed that Hozier “delivers the gospel” and that “he managed to transform 30 Rock into a perfect setting for a gospel sermon.”[2]

What “gospel sermon” is Hozier preaching, exactly? In an interview, Hozier explained:

“Sexuality, and sexual orientation—regardless of orientation—is just natural….An act of sex is one of the most human things. But an organization like the church, say, through its doctrine, would undermine humanity by successfully teaching shame about sexual orientation—that it is sinful, or that it offends God. The song is about asserting yourself and reclaiming your humanity through an act of love.”[3]

The accompanying video depicts a homosexual couple that is brutally assaulted because of their sexual orientation. The video was actually released over a year ago coinciding with rulings against homosexuality in Russia. Hozier says the video:

“…references the recent increase of organized attacks and torturing of homosexuals in Russia, which is subsequent to a long, hateful, and oppressive political campaign against the LGBT community. The song was always about humanity at its most natural, and how that is undermined ceaselessly by religious organizations and those who would have us believe they act in its interests. What has been seen growing in Russia is no less than nightmarish.”[4]

In another interview about the video, Hozier hedges by saying he really isn’t singing about religion. Instead, he is “indicting” any institution that undermines humanity by denying what is most natural to a person:

“I have strong opinions . . . I wouldn’t like to think of it [the video] as an indictment against religion or an indictment against institutions . . . It would perhaps be an indictment against institutions, specifically in Take Me to Church, institutions that would undermine some of the more natural parts of being a person, undermine humanity in some way, shape, or form.”[5]

The “gospel” Hozier is preaching is that men and women should be allowed to pursue whatever comes natural to them. His “church” offers no absolutes (hello, postmodernism!). A church that does teach things like moral absolutes is, according to Hozier, only teaching shame.

Hozier does get something right. His song does depict humanity at its most natural. The Bible teaches that all human beings were born sick; that “sickness” is sin (Rom 3:23). At our “most natural” we are enemies of God. Yet, our God, while we were still His enemies, made a way for us to have a relationship with Him (Rom. 5:8). He loves us enough to know what comes “most natural” to us often leads to our own destruction.

It may be easy for someone reading this to think, “Oh, there is just another Christian bashing alternative lifestyles.” However, that is not the case. I agree with Hozier that violence against a LGBT person is something that must be stopped. Any Christian harming another person for this reason is sinning—there is no other way to state it. However, for me to call homosexuality a sin is actually showing love. Often the most loving thing a person can do is tell the truth. I am afraid that the sermon preached through Hozier’s song that every person should just be allowed to do what comes natural is in actuality a very deadly sermon. In an effort to empower and “free” people, Hozier is actually contributing to their destruction by leading them astray.

At the end of the day, Hozier’s religion is hedonism—the pursuit of pleasure as the highest good. He “worships in the bedroom.” Just like Paul pled with the church in Galatia not to be so easily swayed by a “different gospel” which is no gospel at all (Gal. 1:6-8), I pray that men and women will not be swayed by this “false gospel” proclaimed in Hozier’s popular song.

[1]For complete lyrics, see http://www.metrolyrics.com/take-me-to-church-lyrics-hozier.html.

[2]See Rolling Stone’s “Hozier delivers the gospel for breakthrough SNL performance” at http://www.rollingstone.com/music/videos/hozier-delivers-the-gospel-for-breakthrough-snl-performance-20141012.

[3]http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=32921

[4]http://state.ie/features/video-premiere-hozier-take-me-to-church

[5]You can view an interview of Hozier discussing the meaning behind his song Take Me To Church here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zKzwZnyvLcE. However, I recommend just listening to the audio and not the video because of the graphic images from his music video that are including in the interview.

Photo Credit: NYMag.com