Dear Hozier,

Your overtly theological song titles lured me in. “From Eden”? “Take Me To Church”? Once I read some of your anti-Church comments, I girded my theological loins for a smackdown; I didn’t want to like you. But, as it turns out, I think you’re really good. Your sound is hypnotic, many of your lyrics poetic (comparatively speaking). I like the fusion of blues, jazz, pop, and gospel. There is a pulse and a crackling sparseness and a dark beauty to many of your songs. I’ve had your album on repeat on Spotify for the past week, despite myself. You’ve stirred my lingering desire to become a singer-songwriter—nearly enough for me to pick up my guitar.

But we need to talk about this hit single of yours, “Take Me to Church.” You have said, “the song, to me, is about what it is to be a human, what it is to love someone as a human being, and organizations that would undermine that, and undermine the more natural parts of being a person . . . electing a person in the place of an organization, like the church, as something that is worth worshipping and something that is worth loving, something tangible and real.”

That’s some powerful stuff. With lyrics like, “My lover’s got humour . . . I should’ve worshiped her sooner” and “My church offers no absolution . . . She tells me, ‘Worship in the bedroom,’ The only heaven I’ll be sent to . . . is when I’m alone with you,” you’re saying that sex is more freeing, more real, more human, more worthy as a site of worship than any church. Religion is stifling; sex is liberating. That’s the neat dichotomy you think you’ve set up.

But I think your lyrics betray you. You say, “Every Sunday’s getting more bleak . . . A fresh poison each week. . . . ‘We were born sick,’ you heard them say it. . . . My church offers no absolution.” Behind that disappointment in faith is an expectation—a hope—in its promise. “Command me to be well,” you implore. You even throw in a desire for salvation: “Offer me that deathless death, Good God, let me give you my life.”

So you acknowledge that you are somehow unwell. You even acknowledge that God is the one who can help you; your lyrics slide into a prayer for a moment. But then, when it comes down to it, you say that you love your brokenness too much: “I was born sick . . . but I love it.” You are comfortable in “gentle sin” and so you choose to stay in it rather than answer to a “master” or a “king.” Your song, then, is ultimately less an anthem of sexual liberation and more a faint echo of St. Augustine’s famously conflicted prayer in his Confessions: “Lord, grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.”

Perhaps you’d say that I’m reading too much into your words. Well, then, you shouldn’t use such symbolically pregnant language with such abandon. I’m all for poetic license, and for using theological themes—but only when they sort of make sense.

You deserve to be big, Hozier, but not for this song. You’re either being careless and frighteningly ignorant or you’re far more conflicted than you let on. And once you decide whether or not you actually want to go to church, let me know. We need another baritone in the choir.

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