“Take Me to Church” (Hozier)

A lot is made of the fact that Hozier’s lyric cites Christopher Hitchens citing Fulke Greville’s “Chorus Sacerdotum” from 1554 regarding the Christian predicament: “Created sick— Commanded to be well.” In this way, it’s been possible to understand singer Andrew Hozier Byrne as a Hitchens’-style fellow traveler: an anti-Christian secularist and atheist. But the purpose of Hitchens’ appropriation of Greville (in Letters to a Young Contrarian [2001]) was to highlight the problem of Christian sacrifice and salvation: “I didn’t ask for it, and would willingly have foregone it, but there it is: I’m claimed and saved whether I wish it or not.” Hitchens calls this structure of sacrifice “totalitarian” and “worse than a Big Brother state.” Hozier Byrne, however, actually doubts the doubter. Rather than announcing the end of sacrifice, he both transports it back in time, and makes it personal in present-tense scenarios of affection: “If I’m a pagan of the good times, my lover’s the sunlight. To keep the Goddess on my side she demands a sacrifice.” In a way, then, “Take Me to Church” doesn’t believe that we are done with sacrifice, and doesn’t accept that it can be finished by fiat. If even love has a sacrificial structure it is likely that we remain firmly embedded.


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“Thrown to the Wolves” (Death Angel)

JoAnna Russ’ narrator in We Who Are About to . . . attempts to practice ars moriendi while her companions on a possibly uninhabited planet are preoccupied with the survival of civilization. While she doesn’t realize that her antagonists are also practicing the art of dying in a modern way, there is the realization that either option demands extreme violence. Analogically, different iterations of the christian guidebooks—or, currently, “best practices” manuals—to ars moriendi, at times, rehearse familiar debates about the propriety of innovation. This trax, from the album Ars Moriendi, exploits this tension by refocusing. The “pack” coming for you values “no compromise,” and managed banishment is their praxis. You won’t be left alone. The assault is constant and demands ritual sacrifices of whatever type of family you’ve culled together. There are no future decisions. One remains “hiding,” “choking,” and “beg[ging]. The key is that you’ve been “betrayed,” as there once was a promise since withdrawn by the state. What can be picked from the remains? Here, it’s the interruption of “worth” and the “dignity” of it all.


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