I saw this song being featured on iTunes, but it wasn't until a friend tipped me off to it that I paid it any real attention. Irish singer Andrew Hozier-Byrne, who goes by Hozier, rocketed to fame with his hit "Take Me To Church."
Now my friend jokingly marketed it to me as a song advocating Mass attendance; but when I gave it a listen, and followed up with cursory research on the song and the artist, I experienced mixed admiration, irritation, and shame.
Admiration, because I like Hozier's warm and full voice. The song is growing on me, too. "Church" is a dramatic, almost maudlin ballad with its pulsating beat and haunting background voices. It's very serious. I wonder if he's the type of person who can enjoy a chuckle; and if not, I'd like to sit him down to a Three Stooges or Monty Python marathon and see how he does.
I admit, however, that it could just be the aura necessary for this piece. After all, we're not allowed to act up in church! But tell that to his funeral-mocking lover, whom he seems to admire for her humor.
Hozier was born in 1990, around when most of my high school students were born (I taught between 2004 and 2006). Since my days as a teacher I have begun to take note of "his generation," and of generations in general--their differences, the way that other generations perceive them, etc. I don't at all style myself a theorist on these matters, but that's never kept me from theorizing, yea, even with curmudgeonly notes.
Millennials and younger sense that they are living in a moral and doctrinal wasteland. At once they object to it and wallow in it, precisely in songs like this. Hasn't that been the way of artists, though? I have to give it to millennials. They've been holding up all right, given the circumstances of their age.
Irritation and shame are of a piece. The Church has proved for Hozier and many of his generation woefully insufficient, what with its allegedly homophobic and frigid teachings alongside its abusive and elusive representatives. Besides the dearth of sound modeling, there's also the drought of catechesis and devotion. Can we therefore blame him and his generation for turning to idols? Theirs isn't even a defection; they never really came to know the Way, the Truth, and Life at all! We've been fiddling while Rome's been burning.
Hozier alludes to a line of "New Atheist" Christopher Hitchens: "Born sick, but commanded to be well." If I understand this line (admittedly ignorant of its context), he posits a conflict between the Church's doctrine of original sin and her demanding moral teachings, especially with respect to the "pelvic issues" of the sixth and ninth commandments.
Hozier declares that his religion "has no absolutes," but he would fain fashion his lover (or how he feels about himself when he's with her) into an absolute. We've heard that contradiction before: "How can you say there is no absolute truth? Isn't that very statement an absolute?" One's own will or whim becomes the absolute, the standard. But worship we will--and the object of one's worship will, as he notes, "demand a sacrifice," even if it be one's own understanding and freedom.
He is right to say that there are "lots of starving faithful." While some of the Church's leaders were on their alleged "high horse," his generation has been starving for rich fare. Spare no doctrine! Spare no liturgical beauty! But only when mired in his brand of madness, free of "masters and kings" (oppressive hierarchy? oppressive everyone?) does he style himself "human" and "clean." It's hard to get any headway here, because madness consumes.
Our worshipper is not asking for pity. He is declaring his righteousness and piety before everyone. What more can be said? Yes, he is promoting the (hedonistic) worship of his "lover," a "goddess" who "demands a sacrifice." In the absence of the God of revelation, eros seems to be a trusted place to hang one's hat--trusted in the sense of typical, expected, and accessible.
Fulton Sheen and others spoke often of how we are hard-wired, geared by nature, to worship, to outpour ourselves. If the object of our worship is not God, then go with whoever or whatever else offers ecstasy, escape of oneself. But substitutes soon prove fatally flawed, and soon betray the sad fact that their slaves (dogs, he calls them!) are really worshipping the image of themselves that they see in the other. A human being is a fine wine that cannot be made into a reduction.
We have far to go with the evangelization of this generation. One place we can start is the sense of bleakness that people rightly experience amid the surfeit of earthly desires. Someone can satisfy!
This task, this responsibility, this mission--"Let it begin with me." How else will it continue?