Contemporary Confessions: Hozier’s Ecclesiastical Confusion

Architecture, church, theology

But in this lay my sin: that I sought pleasure, nobility, and truth not in God but in the beings He created, myself, and others.”
                                                                                                        -St. Augustine, Confessions Book I ch. XX

In this recollection of his adolescent heart, St. Augustine reflects the truth Apostle Paul described in the letter to the Romans: “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator”(1:25). This reality of sin and the human longing to worship anything besides God is apparent in our society and, if we’re honest, in our own hearts. Apparent as it is, this reality is often left unrecognized and without personal admission. Augustine was able to discern this truth retrospectively, looking back at his heart as a person awakened by the Holy Spirit and freed to find pleasure, nobility, and truth in God. At the described point of his life though, this longing led him to “sorrow and confusion and error.”[1]

Just as the consequences of sin manifest themselves in the soulful lamentations of Augustine, so too do the stirrings of error still present themselves in the voices of contemporary society. Yet not many know where to even begin searching for solutions, and the reality is that the Church has lost its status as a valuable or desirable provider for many. Perhaps this is why hearing the words “Take me to Church” on the radio caught my attention:

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

My suspicion that Hozier, a rising Irish musician and author of the song “Take me to Church,” was not asking to join me for a Sunday morning service was accurate. At first, realizing the recipient of Hozier’s request is his lover and the church he longs so desperately to attend is their bedroom, the song seemed to be just another fist thrown toward religion, an ironic use of Christian language at best. The popularity of the song and the frequency with which it was played on the radio gave me an opportunity to listen more closely to its lyrics.

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—

What struck me as especially compelling about Hozier’s track was its saturation and familiarity with the religious jargon and spiritual allusions. The way he employs Christian concepts such as worship, original sin, human love of evil, everlasting life, and devotion is astonishingly precise. Hozier’s cynical and critical attitude towards the church is easily detectable, to which he admits in a recent interview, “It hasn’t been a good few hundred years for the Church.” [3] Yet the song is not an indictment against religion, he affirms. The indictment is against institutions that undermine the most natural parts of being a person, and, according to Hozier, the Church unfortunately fits this category.

Hozier justifies the use of this spiritual language on the grounds of the failure of the church. Though filled with irony, the simple fact of this language being present in pop-music and applied correctly to deep spiritual realities is in my opinion an opening of an important door. It would be a loss of a fantastic opportunity for a good dialogue if the Christian response to this song and these assertions was marked by dismissal and annoyance. Hozier’s self-awareness – the recognition of his ‘sickness,’ his need to worship, and perceiving that as the most natural part of the human being – should be an encouragement and an opportunity for a dialogue the Church cannot miss. Not only is this an opportunity for the Church to initiate the dialog, but also, an opportunity to admit that there is much room for improvement in the way this dialogue is held.

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

These final lines of the song parallel precisely the sense of penitence found in Augustine’s own confessions. The difference between them is that Hozier’s is a statement rooted in cynicism, not, like in the case of Augustine, a confession rooted in contrition. The skeptical attitude might create a contrast, but the initiated vocabulary creates a similarity. In this similarity, in this ‘common language,’ lies an opportunity. Hozier at once seems to recognize his love of sin and admit to his pursuit of pleasure not within God, but in the beings He created. It is here that alongside Hozier’s cynicism appears an occasion for a move toward a search of something more genuine – a Divine helper who cannot be found in his current place in life. It was the same recognition that played a crucial part in Augustine’s conversion.

We need to continue this conversation and agree with Hozier that the most natural part for a human being is precisely what he recognizes – the need to worship. Instead of pointing fingers and stating opinions about the wrong object of his worship, rather, the Church should admit this most natural human reality, and humbly, yet with confidence, point to the object of Christian worship. It seems to me that in an era in which the Church’s role has become more and more remote to the daily lives of individual’s today, a lesser presence will respond to the vague invitation to offer ‘wellness’ to Hozier. My hope is that it will be the Christians, who have experienced the only One able to command the human heart to be well.

 

[1] St. Augustine, Confessions,
[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zKzwZnyvLcE&feature=youtu.be

 

Sonia Blank is currently pursuing her MLitt in Bible and Contemporary World. These two objects included in the description of her major are reflective of her passions, of which expression Sonia also pursues through music, dancing, and poetry. 

 

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