Have you heard “Take Me To Church”? I can’t get over the fantastic sound of this song. It’s one of the very few recent hits that I listen to all the way through every time I come across it on the radio. Here’s the problem: when I first heard it, I thought it was a metaphor for a cruel lover–someone who demands worship and sacrifice, but who’s so alluring that he can’t leave her. Then I saw the music video. The relationship in it is not depicted as twisted at all–it’s loving and mutual. But it’s homosexual, and the video ends with a gang hunting down and viciously beating one of the gay men. Oh well. Apparently the “church” Hozier is referring to isn’t the singer’s unnatural obsession with his lover, but the Catholic Church.
Hozier is a well-spoken and intelligent-sounding guy, and I can surely understand his bitterness against the Church, because he grew up in the mess that is Ireland. I don’t think it’s worth getting into a long refutation here, other than to say that his basic premise–that “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”–is obviously wrong. (The quote is from his interview here.) The Church’s actual teaching is that homosexual orientation is not chosen, and not sinful. It is engaging in homosexual acts that the Church considers disordered, though she demands love and respect for homosexuals in any situation. (Please see the Church’s teaching in the Catechism at the end of the post.) It’s a sad fact that there are many Catholics who don’t understand this themselves, and who engage in acts of hate against gays; but that doesn’t justify attacking the Church herself.
Anyway! What I’d really like to talk about is the way Hozier conveys his message. I don’t think it’s my fault that I misinterpreted the lyrics at first. They’re very ambiguous! He seems to use “her” and “church” to refer both to the homophobic people who tell him he was “born sick,” and to the lover he “should’ve worshipped…sooner.” “My Church offers no absolutes. / She tells me, ‘Worship in the bedroom.'” Is this a protestation against the Catholic Church getting involved with what people do in the bedroom? Or is it referring to his private religion of true love? (“The only heaven I’ll be sent to / Is when I’m alone with you.”) If so, why use “she,” when the video depicts a male relationship? I’m having a hard time pulling out lines to analyze, because the themes are so interwoven. (Here are the lyrics; what do you think?) So I don’t think it’s really fair for him to pull out the blatant music video and explain “here, this is what the song is about!” (Watch the video here, but be prepared for some disturbing content.)
If you want your song to be considered a form of art, the essential meaning should be accessible through the lyrics, even if it’s subtle and you have to dig pretty deep. I’m pretty sure it’s just cheating to cram it all into the video. It reminds me of T.S. Eliot, writing footnotes to his own poetry.
It’s one thing to be esoteric, as a natural result of the profundity of your art; but it’s another thing to purposely be ambiguous, just so you can hit people over the head with the explanation. Personally, I enjoy “Take Me to Church” a lot more than “The Wasteland.” At least Hozier didn’t include any ancient Greek.
From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,141 tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”142 They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.
2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.