Regarding the song, Take Me to Church by Hozier, Taylor Marshall writes a line-by-line commentary in his blog post, Take Me to Church Lyrics and Meaning, A Christian Analysis and Critique:
The God throughout the song is a girlfriend… revealed religion is cast into doubt… “they” [Catholics] teach original sin… So unlike Catholicism, there are no moral absolutes – only relativism… the liturgy is sex. It’s the place of union between him and the “god”/girlfriend… acknowledges original sin – but he loves it… remember, “Church” here is sexual reference in this song… he hands over his life to her the “god”… the god/girlfriend is also a goddess… egalitarian ritual – sex… hey, at least he knows it’s sin – he’s Irish!… a reference perhaps to leaving earth into the “heavenly bliss” of sexual embrace… he ends with a reference the sexual completion as a kind of baptism or absolution…
Marshall summarizes the meaning of the song:
It takes rich Catholic sacramental language but re-signifies the imagery as a sexual encounter. And that’s the so-called “genius” of this song. […] The devil doesn’t needs a league of heavy metal Satanists. He’d almost prefer to have people mocking the Christian sacraments and ritual.
Finally, Marshall concludes:
I know it’s a catchy song. There’s a part of me that likes it. But seriously, this is probably one of the most sacramental songs every popularized – and it sacramentalizes the wrong values.
The following quotes come from songfacts.com:
Speaking with The Irish Times, Hozier said about matters of the heart: “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, and you experience for the briefest moment – if you see yourself for a moment through their eyes – everything you believed about yourself gone. In a death-and-rebirth sense.”
Hozier attracted further attention with the release of the song’s Brendan Canty directed music video, which criticizes the repression of gay people in Russia. “Growing up in Ireland, the church is always there – the hypocrisy, the political cowardice,” Hozier told Billboard magazine. “The video has the same theme – an organization that undermines humanity.”
Hozier added that the song is not an attack on faith. “Coming from Ireland, obviously, there’s a bit of a cultural hangover from the influence of the church. You’ve got a lot of people walking around with a heavy weight in their hearts and a disappointment, and that s–t carries from generation to generation,” he explained. “So the song is just about that – it’s an assertion of self, reclaiming humanity back for something that is the most natural and worthwhile. Electing, in this case a female, to choose a love who is worth loving.”
So why is there such a glaring disconnect between Marshall’s perception of the song and Hozier’s stated meaning? I would blame the disconnect on the idea that Marshall never checked to see what Hozier said about the song, but apparently he did. Marshall quotes Hozier in his blog post:
In an interview with New York Magazine in March 2014, the artist Hozier stated:
“‘Take Me to Church’ is essentially about sex, but it’s a tongue-in-cheek attack at organizations that would… undermine humanity by successfully teaching shame about sexual orientation — that it is sinful, or that it offends God…
But it’s not an attack on faith… it’s an assertion of self, reclaiming humanity back for something that is the most natural and worthwhile.”
Hozier’s lyric-writing method reminds me of the way I went about writing this poem, that is, taking two ideas that seem to be totally unrelated and weaving them together to create layers of meaning.
The pulpit dressed in subway wall tiles
mural people crowding-working-playing St. Crosswalk Chapel
Where the windblown lady tries to pass
the four-dog-walking denim man on a cell phone isn’t off
To one side. Avoiding cracks in deference, PLEASE NO
Loitering-smoking-spitting-radio-playing to the altar.
Dreadlocks beating on a Catholic drum under NY
It isn’t a yellow cab lectern saying
DON’T WALK DON’T WALK DON’T WALK
Wheeled onto the stage of the sun bleached sun
when the Christian rock band sits down, as it is.
No standing any time. But sometimes people do stand
out of the dust. They cry twisted metal tears and press painted nondenominational hands to banners covering high wrought-iron fences that keep the mega-churches safe from God Bless America.
Ascend every Sunday to the large imposing wooden Central Park where the new yellow leaves
die over and over like Gothic cathedrals,
the old guard
preaching, “Return to the days of John Lennon!”
even though entertainment forgets.
Wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy NY Times, the sign says, not knowing
how the statues lost their color to the stain glass windows.
And suddenly, there’s spiked hair and leather reading a book and eating an apple.
Take a picture and think deeply, precisely,
seriously, before you are cool again.
I think that interpreting song lyrics is like interpreting poetry (or scripture for that matter). The interpretation one constructs can say more about the intentions of the interpreter than the intended meaning of the original work.