“Take Me to Church”: A Christian Review

Hozier_Take_Me_to_ChurchTake Me to Church,” by the Irish artist Hozier, is a global hit, reaching the number one slot in 12 countries and the top 10 in 21 more. It has gone triple platinum in the U.S. Here’s the opening verse:

My lover’s got humor;
She’s the giggle at a funeral,
Knows everybody’s disapproval,
I should’ve worshipped her sooner.
If the Heavens ever did speak,
She’s the last true mouthpiece.
Every Sunday’s gettin’ more bleak,
A fresh poison each week.
“We were born sick,” you heard them say it.
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.
I was born sick, but I love it;
Command me to be well.
Amen. Amen. Amen.

(Rabbit trail which, I promise, will return to main road:) Those last two lines are a reference to a Christopher Hitchens piece in which he criticized the Ten Commandments:

One is presuming (is one not?) that this is the same god who actually created the audience he was addressing. This leaves us with the insoluble mystery of why he would have molded (“in his own image,” yet) a covetous, murderous, disrespectful, lying, and adulterous species. Create them sick, and then command them to be well? What a mad despot this is, and how fortunate we are that he exists only in the minds of his worshippers.

For all my appreciation for the late Hitchens’ considerable wit and intellect, that’s a sophomorically bad misreading of the Torah, one skipping over a rather prominent passage, Genesis 3. God did not create us sick. We did that ourselves. And something else we did ourselves is on sad display in those lyrics above: we have worshiped the creature rather than the Creator (Rom. 1:18–31). And what has that got us?

The yawning nihilism/erotic existentialism of “Take Me to Church.” I have picked up the habit of grabbing swords people swing at me (like the serpentine suggestion, “If the Heavens ever did speak…”) and, at least in my mind, swinging those swords back at the original swingers. It’s not enough to tear down my worldview—you’ve got to offer me an alternative. And what Hozier offers, at least within the limits of this popular song (and his comments on it), is an only-sex-is-real-ism I don’t want. There are no absolutes in his church (um, absolutely no absolutes?) except this one: sex feels good.

[There are] no masters or kings when the ritual begins;
There is no sweeter innocence than our gentle sin.
In the madness and soil of that sad earthly scene,
Only then I am human,
Only then I am clean.
Amen. Amen. Amen.

Conservative Christian pop music voyeurs are not, perhaps, very practiced in the art of pop music hermeneutics. But if I’m reading him right, I think he’s saying that illicit sex is the moment when he feels most like himself, and the moment when his burdens—yea, even his guilt—fall away. The sexual act is the closest thing Hozier has to transcendence. But not one that gets him very high above six feet: it only makes him “human”; nothing more.

I’ll take my worldview over yours, man. I’m more than merely human; I bear the image of God. And I’ll take the cleansing Jesus offers me, because it really lasts. It’s not over when the worship high is. And one day I’ll get a permanent worship high, and a permanent cleansing. I still get tastes of heaven in the bedroom, but they’re called “foretastes” because sex is not the only heaven I get.

You can’t know in advance the effects of your own sexual choices. Every one of us trusts to some sort of worldview to help us decide which choices will best further our goals. We even rely on our worldviews to give us the best goals. So Hozier is a bit hypocritical to complain that religious institutions are squelching people’s sexuality. “Take Me to Church” is, ironically, taking a God’s-eye view and telling us the best way to a fulfilling life.

But at what cost? My church has absolutes in part because I need to be told to deny some of my impulses out of love for others. My church tells me to protect my children by being (absolutely) faithful to their mother instead of to the impulsive ideals of eros. How permanent is Hozier’s worship, I wonder? I’m guessing—and I say this sadly, not triumphantly—that his “Personal Life” section on Wikipedia will be longer than mine when he reaches my age in ten years, let alone when we stand before the Absolute Person.

If people made “Take Me to Church” the top album of 2014, perhaps they did so because they do desire to feel human, and to feel clean. These are good desires, planted there not by random genetic mutation or by ancient astronauts but by our Creator, who gave us our moral feelings (Rom. 2:14–15). He made us for Himself, and our hearts will be dirty until we find cleanliness in Him. We won’t truly be human until we see Him as He is—because we were made to reflect Him.

T. David Gordon has said that “pop music, largely created by and for commercial purposes, resist[s] serious analysis…. Commerce, then, has an enormous interest in our not taking such questions seriously” (26). What, indeed, do faux-deep pop songs like Mumford and Sons’ “The Cave” mean? Not much, Munson and Drake argue in a take-down of that song in this excellent book. You can hardly make sense of a lot of indie rock lyrics, they say. And I (and commenters on lyrics sites, at least implicitly) agree.

But Hozier managed to say something with some clarity to it, even in the brief space of a pop song, and he issued that something as a pretty direct attack on my spiritual family and my God. And he just won a Grammy. So I thought a little answer was in order.

Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

8 Comments

  1. Mark Ward on February 16, 2015 at 1:26 pm

    For my own files:

    Rock’s excessive sexual preoccupations pose a much more fundamental question: Is rock’s eroticism (especially in its most excessive forms) not only immoral but idolatrous? Is sexual pleasure made into a false god? (151) —Ken Myers, All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes



  2. Jordan Hartley on February 17, 2015 at 4:43 am

    My wife brought this song to my attention because she happened to like the musical style. She asked me if the lyrics were blasphemous as we started watching the music video for the song. I couldn’t really tell until a scene glorifying the sin of homosexuality came up. I shut it off at that point and that was our confirmation that the song was no good.
    This article really put things into perspective for me and I plan on sharing it with my wife tomorrow. Thank you for taking the time to write this well thought out, brief apologetical analysis.



  3. Mark Ward on February 17, 2015 at 9:51 am

    Glad to be of service.

    Yeah, I watched part of the video, too, and stopped when, in my skimming, I saw a gay kiss. The actual lyrics are about heterosexual immorality, but Hozier said in an interview that the song grew out of his frustration with the Catholic church’s teaching on homosexuality: “The song is about asserting yourself away from that and finding a new thing to devote yourself to.”



  4. . Susan Stutz on June 4, 2018 at 5:54 pm

    Wow! I am happy that there are Christians out there besides me that think there is a serious problem with this song. I am a musician of more than 30 years so I was attracted to the music as it stood out very different and draws you with its repeated moving minor baseline. So, I pulled up a you tube of the song on my phone. Like you all, I was also horrified when I saw the gay kiss, but out of curiosity as I knew the words were not good I tried to watch the rest of the video. It was horrifying. There is an inference of the KKK that is extremely disturbing and the use of a Molotov cocktail is just evil even though used against a homosexual. As Christians that is not what we would ever do even though we disagree with Homosexuality. The gay man was then drug and then abused, etc. It is so sick I can’t even write what all was on that video. I believe, after a brief view and study of this song and video that this song is extremely blasphemous and Sacrilegious. To say that you might as well just worship during sex in an adulterous relationship is the height of evil. God is not mocked. We as Christians need to be aware of the onslaught of evil around us that continues to reach to the lowest depths of evil. We need to be a light in a dark world. If we do not make it clear to those around us that this type of sick entertainment is poison for the soul, we could be in danger of some accountability for the demise of our Christian nation and the destruction of families and brokeness. The Bible says that friendship with the world is enmity with God. For me, I have recently had an awakening that for me to enjoy a song like Imagine, is in my view hypocrisy on my part as it speaks lies and glorifies the idea of no God and no heaven. Anyone who dreams of a world like that is both anti God and anti man. Humanism is a huge snare as it steals our value as human beings that is God given. This song, Take me to Church also steals our dignity as human beings and belittles us to below the level of animals. There is great danger in such thought and teaching. We as Christians need to stand strong against the wiles of the devil. He is roaming, seeking who he may devour. I pray that the writer of this song, Take me to Church will come to Christ and repent of the evil that he has shared with the world in the name of musical accomishment. The only place for this song is in the Pitt of hell. Dear God have mercy on us all.



  5. Anonymous on February 29, 2020 at 1:01 pm

    Take me to Church is a valid criticism of Christianity especially Catholicism. If you still believe homosexuality is a sin, I can tell that you’ve never read up on research done by the Vatican labs. It’s been proven time and time again to be something built into a person.
    Maybe you should have watched the full video. People like you and thoughts like this are what lead to the murder of so many LGBT people across the world. Many are murdered by “Christians.” That doesn’t even include the number of kids kicked onto the streets or those who are pushed into suicide or those who endure conversion torture, often called conversion therapy (another tactic proven to not work).
    This song rightfully calls you and people like you out. It tells you that what you’re doing is harmful.
    That “blasphemous” video showed you what you are endorsing. A man was murdered by Christians in that video and you call him the sinner?
    May God have mercy on your hateful soul.



  6. Mark Ward on February 29, 2020 at 7:59 pm

    It is true: I did not finish the video. I don’t condone murdering anyone.

    But I don’t agree either that because desires are inborn they are moral or that conversion of homosexuals—or of any sinners, including me—is impossible. I take a standard orthodox Christian view.



  7. Scott on March 1, 2020 at 7:08 am

    Dear Anonymous,

    Thank you for having the courage to post something on a blog which is clearly in opposition to your own views. Your frustration and angst comes through very clearly.

    Mark Ward responded already but he seemed rushed, and I’m not sure you even understood what he was writing to you. I would like to respond as well.

    At the essence of this discussion is who defines the concepts of what is “right” and “wrong.” And at the center of that discussion is whether or not there is a God Who created and sustains us. Hebrews 1:1-3 from God’s word tell us that all things and people were made and are sustained by Him through the Second Person of the Godhead, the Lord Jesus Christ. But the Lord is rejected willingly today, which leaves truth dead in the street, justice far away, and our society wrapped up in the lies and tangled webs we weave (see Isaiah chapter 59). Those lies and the willing rejection of the Lord are our society’s attempts to supplant the Lord. Instead, the “consensus” is god, and enabling crowd-sourced morality.

    Where the rubber meets the road is that you would like to take crowd-sourced definitions of right and wrong and use them as the objective standard against which to judge other people’s thoughts, words, and deeds. But your standard relies on a relative truth. One thing is true about relative truth…it will change and often with the wind.

    There was a song in the early ’70s by Bachmann Turner Overdrive called “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet.” I remember it as a teenager in the Classic Rock genre. One of the lines of the song offers that common, crowd-sourced definition, “Any love is good love, so I took what I could get.” In this song, “love” is equated to a mixture of “lust” and “sex” and that is where the culture often leaves the definition. It also often recognizes a kind of romantic love and occasionally an altruistic style of love. But when someone is chanting “love is love,” typically that’s a mixture of the main definitions.

    The Lord defined three different kinds of love in His word. There is an unconditional kind of love, a heterosexual romantic style love, and a brother- or sister-hood love. Notice the difference between the BTO definition, even coupled with the wider culture, and the Lord’s definition.

    Who’s standard should we then use? If we acknowledge the Lord, we must follow what He has defined or we deny acknowledging Him. If we do not acknowledge the Lord, then we are left with our own concepts which lead us further and further astray. But either way, it is difficult to even have a conversation with someone who disagrees, such as in this case, because there is no common definition of what we are even talking — or writing — about.

    Much to the consternation of the LGBTQ crowd, the Lord has defined sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage as sinful. He has also defined torture, failing to properly support family members, and murder as sinful as well. Pride, greed, and gossip are also sins. We need not list them all…it would take the rest of the day.

    I challenge your assertion that homosexuality has been scientifically proven to be a “normal” manifestation of human sexuality. There have been many attempts to suggest this is the case, but no outright test or truly blind study has proven it. In fact, it has been shown that many of the suicidal actions taken by members of the LGBTQ+ community were the result of an underlying mental illness.

    LGBTQ+ manifestations are, instead, like any other sin. Hebrews 12:1, which calls Christians to run directly toward the Lord Jesus, says that in that effort we are to cast or brush aside those sins which so easy ensnare us. In Old English, they are said to “beset” us.

    Have members of the LBGTQ+ community been sinned against? Certainly. Evidence shows that at least some of this community “are the way they are” because someone sinned against them, particularly as children, in a sexual manner which then bent them toward a homosexual expression. Was that right? Absolutely not!

    But the Bible, God’s word, also tells us that we all have sinned and need to be rescued. Christians are no different. Sin is something each of us has with us all the time (1 John 1:8-10). There is a solution, not in bad treatment, but in the Lord Jesus. He with the Father and the Holy Spirit alone have the ability to address the sins of any of us, cleansing them from us and changing our hearts and lives. It is a faithful saying, said the Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 1:15, that Jesus came into the world to save sinners. That’s all of us, no matter what tribe or class we wish to place ourselves. And the result of that saving is that the Holy Spirit will lead us out of many of our sins of which we will finally be free in heaven. For those in the LGBTQ+ community who have put their faith and trust in the Lord Jesus, many have found freedom from their homosexual attractions through the Lord’s word in their lives — check out what they have to say. Moreover, the hate you suppose in your closing was actually broken down by genuine faith, for as the Lord reconciles Christians heavenward or vertically, He also reconciles horizontally between tribes, peoples, etc. — see Ephesians chapter 2.

    Truth rests in Jesus and proceeds from Him through the word of God, the Bible — not via the Vatican or our cultural consensus. As Psalm 100 says, “We are the sheep of His pasture. He made us and not we ourselves.” He sustains all of us even in our sin…but not forever. Please accept my invitation to turn to Him today in faith and trust. Please pray for us as we pray for you.



  8. Susan on March 1, 2020 at 7:34 am

    Dear Annonymous,
    I would like to share more with you as first, there is more to the song than it trying to reveal what horryfing ways some people have treated homosexuals in other countries. If the song is exposing the evil perpetrated against homosexuals than on that topic I am happy the song is doing that as awareness can help us to fight for and protect those who are being wrongly treated, however, graphic imagery of violence can be misunderstood and potentially can encourage mentally ill people to do what they saw on the video, or for me, the sick imagery is upsetting and disturbing, and not my view of entertainment. The thing that was first appauling about the song “Take me to church” is that it is saying, that for him, going to church is an adultorous sex act in the bedroom. I grew up going to church and I am a church musician. I have great respect for going to church and I believe that we need to meet together at church to worship God. In fact, there is scientific proof that going to church to pray and worship is healing to the body physically because we have a creator who desinged us to need to commune with Him and worship and glorify Him. Any song that describes going to church as a sex act is simply evil. Adultery is sin. The lyricist uses a sinful act and calls it worship. That is the height of evil. I believe in God and I believe in the Bible. I believe that God’s word tells us how to live because God cares about us. It is clear that if you look at the 10 commandments, that includes “Thou shalt not murder”and “Thou shalt not commit Audultery” in the same list, both are evil, and both have huge consequeses. Encouraging people to not do things that will be hurtful to them is what I like to do, as I care. I think the lyrisist is a very damaged individual. So sad. I wish I could help him. I wish his words were not out there potentially leading others down a bad path in any way.

    As for how homosexuals have been treated, if violence has truely been perpetrated against them, that is a horror and those people doing that should be punished. I believe that anyone that harms anyone is doing something evil or sinful. I have a friend from High School that I grew up with who is homosexual. I agree with you that homosexuals may have an in born leaning in that direction as I believe that is the case with my friend, but I think it is the result of a fallen world caused by sin that is the reason for some to have a homosexual leaning. If you think about the outcome for homosexuals and that often thier relationships don’t last a life time which can cause them to be alone later in life, that is truely not a happy situation, and they can’t have thier own biological children, which is sad as children are a huge blessing, and so in the end of the homosexuals life they may not have loved ones as they age or a family member to give them a helping hand in their most desperate hour. I don’t believe the homosexual is purposely doing something wrong. As for Christians murdering homosexuals, I have never heard of that. None of the Christians I have known would hate a homosexual, and they would never harm them. If anything they may try to help them. For me I care about homosexuals including my friend Curtis who is homosexual. I also think homosexuals are very kind and caring and loving people. Anyone who hates them because they are the way they are is truely wrong. People could try to lovingly help them as a heterosexual relationship can be amazing, as clearly two people of the opposite sex has anatomy that clearly works together well. This is an interesting topic and I realize one of much debate, and homosexuals have felt hurt for a long time for which I feel bad about.
    But, for me, the huge offensiveness about this song was the Title, “Take me to Church” when he was talking about worshipping in a bedroom in an adulterous sex act and not talking about going to church at all. That is blaring wrong. That song sound be banned until the words are changed. We live in a nation under God. God sees and knows the sin that is rampant in this land. We need to pray for healing in our land and pray that we as a nation will know God and make Him known. Dear Lord, Please reveal yourself to those in our nation who need you Lord and long for a relationship with You. We are a nation in desperate need of You, and in desperate need of healing. I pray that You will protect all of us from harm. In Jesus name, Amen



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