Nobody loves a good God-in-pop-culture reference likes pastors do. The inverse is also true: nobody hates a throw-away, faux-philosophical divine reference as much as pastors. By which I mean: Grammy nomination or no, I’m not fond of Hozier’s hit song “Take Me to Church.”
The song is painfully slow, and every time I hear it on the radio it drags and drags and drags…. I change the dial eight times, and it’s still playing. Maybe this is artistic genius, making it as slow and dull as a poorly sung hymn (it’s Sunday morning, not a Tuesday afternoon funeral). I’ll give the song points for that one, but it’s downhill from there.
As a commentary on LGBTQ relationships, the music video pulls the heart strings, but it’s all a little bandwagoning. Hozier, as much as I can tell, identifies as a hetero ally–and that’s great–but if you want a hetero ally song, go back to Macklemore. All the criticism leveled against him can also apply to Hozier. The first verse is clearly about Hozier’s hetero relationship, and the second verse only alludes to GLBT alienation from church. Why is Hozier trying to stuff this love anthem into a neoliberal social issues music video? It worked–it was a viral hit making Ferrari. But it’s bad exegesis. Are you really going to complain about poor biblical interpretation when Hozier so clearly eisegeted his own song? Token LGBTQ reference + token vitriol against the church = armchair activism hit-making.
My main beef with the song, though, is the old, worn out romance-as-religion metaphor. It may be that the metaphor works better in his home country, Ireland, where religious identity is tied to secular/ethnic identity and disillusionment with church is a devout belief. But… even so, it seems like grabbing for low-hanging cultureal fruit. Turning your lover into a god is cliche, weak, and most of all, a bad fucking metaphor. I get it: sex is transcendent, and religious experience is also transcendent. Calling sex–or calling your relationship with your lover–a religious experience is a fair metaphor. But lots of other things are transcendent. Calling a relationship your religion is pathological. (Side note: calling your lover a drug is also cliche and unhealthy.)
Look: I’m glad that your lover affirms you and offers you some wholeness and redemption. I believe in incarnational theology, that human sensory experience is not sinful, flesh is not a binary from the spiritual, but a window into the spiritual. BUT. YOUR LOVER IS NOT A RELIGION.
Religion is, inherently, communal. God, the Christian God, is not a bimodal relationship, God is in a trinitarian relationship with Godself. That’s the whole Father, Son, Spirit thing. There’s something incomplete in a bimodal relationship, especially when you are worshiping another human. The function of religion is that it brings people into interdependent relationship with an awareness of the divine. The church is concerned with salvation as a continual, daily practice. To apply religion as a metaphor for your romantic relationship is to put your lover on a pedestal–your lover cannot sustain the daily practice of saving you. If you treat your lover like a religion–that’s codependency. That shit’s not healthy.
Hozier has said of the song, “”I found the experience of falling in love or being in love was a death, a death of everything. You kind of watch yourself die in a wonderful way.” That’s deeply poetic. It also seems deeply troubling. Falling in love is a crumbling of your identity as you know it. But it’s also an insistence on your own identity–healthy love is not losing yourself in someone else’s bigness, but to find in the collision of your two identities an infitieness of spiritual connection.
In my relationships, the relationship between me and my other is important, very important. But the point when I’m most confident that we are thriving is when we are together in public and enjoying ourselves, all of us. When we are with friends, able to incorporate them into our romantic connection. One person cannot meet all your human needs–that’s why we go to therapists. (That’s also why we don’t have sex with our therapists.) Hozier: I know you wrote this song after your break up, but if you were truly treating your lover like a religion… no wonder it didn’t work out.
The metaphor is flawed. Your lover may take you to church a few times a week, but you weren’t wired to stay in that cathedral alone together. You need to figure out how to see the other people standing in the cathedral–that salvation doesn’t come from an individual, it comes from the whole community.