If you know anything about last year’s very popular singer-songwriter, Hozier, you’re already aware of his, shall we say, ‘low view’ of Christianity—that he will not go to church unless you take him, and that if you do take him, he’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies. He’s pretty vocal about his postchristian perspective, telling the London Evening Standard: “I still wouldn’t define myself as an atheist—it’s too absolute. But I don’t have any faith. I think faith is an absurd thing, but I’m ok with that.”

Hearing all this, I’m sympathetic: after all, faith is an absurd thing.

Here’s where he loses me: “There are no answers because the universe never asked a question in the first place.” He talks a lot about his personal incompatibilities with the Catholic Church in an interview with Vanity Fair last year, denouncing it as an “organization of men—it’s not about faith. I don’t want [“Take Me To Church”] to be considered an attack against faith, but when you have people feeling ashamed of themselves because of sexual orientation or putting themselves at risk by people telling them what [not] to put on the end of their penis, well, you wouldn’t tolerate that from a company, or a government.” So. Our suspicions are confirmed: he’s definitely not Catholic.

The weird thing about him, though, is that his music sounds spiritual. He explains, “I was always drawn to gospel music and the roots of African American music. It’s the foundation of rock and roll.” So while his worldview might be sort of depressing, his style is classic, immovably rooted in a spiritual history.

Here’s where things get interesting: Unexpectedly, Hozier actually zeroes in on a couple very spiritual themes, like the body, and love, and death, and often he uses the same images to circle back to those themes during different songs. Love and dead bodies—what better music could a Christian want? That’s what our whole thing is about—dying and love—a zombie romance. Despite all his ‘shrine of lies’-ness which may (helpfully) threaten our good sense spiritual rightness, some of Hozier’s songs nevertheless seem to come straight from the Holy Spirit.

A Theology of Smooching: from Hozier and Pope John Paul II

In Hozier’s songs, kissing comes up a lot; it’s a symbol for sex in a greater sense. Sex, according to both Hozier and Pope John Paul II in his Theology of the Body, is intimately tied to the revelation of identity. The pope points out that in Genesis 2, the man is the only one of his kind, but when he see the woman—“This is now bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh”—he sees himself for the first time, through her, and begins to understand himself better. “Therefore…the two become one flesh.” Edenic union results from a more complete sense of identity.

We see a similar idea in Hozier’s “To Be Alone,” when he sings, “Honey when you kill the lights, and kiss my eyes, I feel like a person for a moment of my life.” He too is tying themes of sex and identity, but here, identity is tied to sight. Similarly, the pope writes: “As if it were only at the sight of the woman that he could identify and call by name that which makes them in a visible way similar, the one to the other, and at the same time that in which humanity is manifested” (TB 164). Her kiss illuminates their shared humanity.

But if you think that’s an interpretive stretch, hold your breath: “Work Song” is a song for the cursed man tilling his land in vain, when his only motivation to continue is his “baby.” He will work until he dies, singing: “When my time comes around, lay me gently in the cold dark earth. No grave can hold my body down. I’ll crawl home to her.”

We begin to see that even if Hozier doesn’t have any kind of absurd faith, his songs certainly do—they are convinced first and foremost that love is stronger than death, that it will continue beyond the grave. In “Work Song” and “Like Real People Do,” two songs buried deep in the middle of the album, Hozier talks about the dead narrator’s lover meeting him in the afterlife.

“Work Song” continues: “If the Lord don’t forgive me, I’d still have my baby and my baby would have me.” Obviously, for Hozier, “the Lord” isn’t a loving do-it-all-for-you kind of thing—it’s more likely a cultural word representing a distant judge with an exceptionally heavy gavel. Hozier doesn’t want “the Lord” after he dies; he wants a passionate lover who will come find him no matter how deep in the earth he is—an image which might be more biblical than the former. The pope reminds us of Mark 12 in which Jesus says that God “is God not of the dead, but of the living.” He says that you can only accept this if “one admits the reality of a life that does not end with death” (TB 384). He later describes that the face-to-face “beatific” experience of God cannot be attained merely through intellectualism, but that man—the whole man, body and soul—will experience the triune God through grace above all things.

“Work Song” gives way to “Like Real People Do,” which begins with the narrator’s lover digging him up out of the ground:

The bugs and the dirt
Why were you digging?
What did you bury
Before those hands pulled me
From the earth?

I will not ask you where you came from
I will not ask and neither should you
Honey just put your sweet lips on mine
We should just kiss like real people do.

Hozier doesn’t want his lover to ask him about his previous life, his previous sins—he wants what is at the core of the human heart: absolution. No talk of former lives and lovers, just togetherness. “Sex expresses an ever-new surpassing of the limit of man’s solitude” (TB 167). This new union provides a greater sense of completion, and identity, which brings them to a fuller sense of self—a more real sense. They aren’t ghosts—they are embodied beings, risen from the dead. Simone Weil, who likewise struggled to accept the Catholic Church, weighs in: “A test of what is real is that it is hard and rough. Joys are found in it, not pleasure. What is pleasant belongs to dreams.” Dirt, bugs, earth, flesh, kissing. All of this is hard and rough, nothing is flighty.

Hozier’s “In a Week” touches on the same themes: death as the way to life: “After the insects have made their claim, I’ll be home with you.” We know that this works in a Christian sense, in the way that the pope suggests we will be in communion—“intersubjectivity”—with God, and in the way that St. Paul suggests that the sting of death will give way to the music of life: “For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality…then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory’ ” (1 Cor 15:53-54).