Perhaps pagan, apparently agnostic, undeniably unchristian—whatever category you apply, Hozier’s music is fundamentally religious. Rather than divorcing faith from art, Andrew Hozier-Byrne, who performs under the stage name Hozier, brings religion to center stage. He wrestles with God in both of his albums, inviting his audience to actively contemplate the afterlife and critically analyze the nature of worship alongside him. His disdain for institutionalized Christianity, particularly the Catholic Church, colors his analysis of religion; in “From Eden,” he characterizes himself as the serpent in the garden, carrying “a rope in hand for your other man to hang from a tree.” Similarly, in his infamous debut single “Take Me to Church,” he worships the human rather than the divine, begging to “worship like a dog at the shrine of [his lover’s] lies” and claiming that he is made “clean” by the “gentle sin” they commit together. Even as Hozier rails against the idea of worshipping the Judeo-Christian God, his lyrics reflect an innate human desire to worship and love a higher being with whom a personal relationship is possible. It seems that despite his poetic assertions to the contrary, Christianity could fulfill the very desires he believes alienate him from traditional faith.
To the casual listener, Hozier’s nihilistic lyrics might suggest mere atheism. Taken out of their contexts, the lines “There’s no plan, there’s no kingdom to come” and “There’s no better love / That beckons above me” certainly seem to support that theory—particularly because they come from two separate songs, released years apart. However, the context of those lines reveals that Hozier’s certainty in his lover overcomes his skepticism towards a higher purpose. Ultimately, he affirms a belief in something which transcends material reality. For this reason he sings, “There’s no plan, there’s no kingdom to come / But I’ll be your man if you got love to get done.” Similarly, in the first verse of “Better Love,” he states that he may be “Blind to the purpose of the brute divine,” but can still find solace in his lover: “But you were mine.” Add the fan-favorite “Work Song”—where he vows, “No grave will hold my body down / I’ll crawl home to her”—to the mix, and Hozier’s lyrics depict him seeking a love which will endure through life and beyond death.
For the Christian, Christ provides such love; for Hozier, however, hope for eternity rests on the shoulders of his deified lover. This deification directly stems from the singer’s complex relationship with religion. Although currently a skeptic, he was raised by parents who left the Catholic Church and became Quakers. In one interview, Hozier described Quakerism as a doctrine which taught him during childhood “to look for the God in each person” and “the spark of the divine that’s in every individual.” In particular, Hozier seeks this spark in his lover.
Hozier’s desire to find divinity in a mortal person, however, cannot be fulfilled. Although mutual respect and love can exist between equals, worship cannot. It must flow from an inferior to the superior who receives it. An imbalance of power—and indeed an imbalance of natures—is required. As a result, in order to find divinity in his human lover, Hozier must degrade himself to something sub-human. This degradation seems to be the motivation behind the phrase “I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies” within “Take Me to Church,” as well as his choice in “Sunlight” to describe himself as a moth drawn to his lover’s light, life, and vitality. Perhaps most vividly, this degradation clarifies his purpose in comparing himself to a feral beast who ought not to be tamed in the often-overlooked song “It Will Come Back”:
Don’t give it a hand, offer it a soul. . .
Don’t let me in with with no intention to keep me
Jesus Christ, don’t be kind to me
Honey, don’t feed me, I will come back
Within each of these songs, Hozier’s willful self-degradation directly enables his lover’s power; because he is like a wild beast, his lover’s humanity seems divine and can even “offer [him] a soul.”
The couple’s jointly-rejected humanity is a key theme in several other songs. For example, in the song “In a Week,” they are described as corpses decomposing in a field together, and in “Shrike,” Hozier assumes the identity of a war-like shrike and compares his lover to a thorn, upon which shrikes impale their prey. Most notably, “Like Real People Do” includes the lines, “Honey, just put your sweet lips on my lips / We should just kiss like real people do,” explicitly confirming the pair’s rejection of humanity for otherness. Their double abasement in these songs shows a carelessness towards death and disregard for judgement, enabled by the belief that their love can endure beyond the grave. These songs indicate that—anticipating a time when “St. Peter loses cool and bars the gates”—Hozier alternates between superimposing godhood on a mortal person, to create a savior, and jointly rejecting their humanity for abasement, to ensure that “[i]f the Lord don’t forgive me,” he can find security in the fact that “I’d still have my baby and my babe would have me.”
However, even while attempting to affirm his lover’s power and reject traditional religion, Hozier finds himself seeking the eternal certainty which his mortal lover cannot provide. Although he nominally rejects God, his soul is nonetheless drawn to the idea of a benevolent being whose love satisfies a desire for eternal interpersonal communion. The mercy Hozier receives from his lover is merely a microcosm of the absolute grace he seeks, just as his present experience of erotic love causes him to cry out for an eternal love capable of transcending death in “Work Song.” Thus, Hozier’s claim that there is “no better love / That beckons above me” does not sound like a confident affirmation of the truth, but like posturing. Like a man whistling past a graveyard to deny his fear of ghosts, Hozier sings about Heaven’s gates to deny his fear of the God that rules over them. Yet the denial does not, and cannot, silence his anguished spirit. Despite Hozier’s reverence for his lover, he still must “[confess] a longing—I was dreaming of / Some better love.” This song, like so many others in his works, is a loud cry to muffle his soul’s murmuring for redemption, rather than degradation, and for a personal relationship with God, rather than worship of a deified human.
Hozier is not alone among modern artists in grappling with God. Vampire Weekend’s frontman, Ezra Koenig, sings the following in “Ya Hey,” a title which puns on “Yahweh”:
Through the fire and through the flames
You won’t even say Your name
You say, “I am that I am”
But who could ever live that way?
Ut Deo? Ut Deo?
Similarly, Matty Healy of the 1975 implores Jesus to “show Yourself,” describing himself as a “broken and bleeding” man who is “begging for help” to cure “a God-shaped hole that’s infected.” Although all three artists are secular singers, their music reveals a readiness to be vulnerable about spiritual anxieties and a fundamental longing for worship. Although such worship feels distant and even “foreign” to these singers, as Hozier describes in the song “Foreigner’s God,” the overpowering impulse to seek religious certainty captures the spirit of this skeptical Irish singer-songwriter even as he praises his lover. Ultimately, the heresies he amasses across his discography mask, but do not mute, his soul’s longing for a personal relationship with a loving, merciful God. Beneath his irreligious subversion of the image of a church service, Hozier’s plea “take me to church” rings true.
Ceanna Hayes is a junior staff editor studying politics and Latin.