Skip to main content

The Illusion of Idolatry: A Lesson Sponsored by Hozier and Jane Eyre

by Uyen Le (ACE 29, Jacksonville)

Hozier Concert

I know what you’re thinking: How could Hozier, an agnostic musician openly critical of the Catholic Church, possibly be any good for your faith life? As an ACE teacher, I seek to integrate the three pillars of teaching, community, and spirituality in my life. Though I’ve had my fair struggles with all three, cultivating my spirituality has been the most challenging. When I got to Jacksonville, many of the spiritual reinforcements from undergrad at Notre Dame were gone, and I had to figure out how to maintain my relationship with God. As life became busy, I could feel my old routines fading — I would arrive at Mass later and later each week, and I would forgo prayer night after night. Though my spirituality was slipping, I reasoned that living my life in service to my students and community members was all in dedication to God — did it matter that I did not allocate time for religious rituals? During my first year, as my relationship with God took a toll, I began to worship my job and my community. My mood purely depended on the people around me; I lived off of my students and community members’ approval of me. This people-pleasing mentality proved unsustainable, as I felt an accelerating burnout with this self-inflicted, and ultimately selfish, burden of keeping everyone around me happy, at the expense of my well-being. I would turn a blind eye to misbehavior in the classroom because I wanted my students to like me. I would absorb jabs from community members with a smile because I didn’t want to make them uncomfortable with my hurt feelings. I have now come to view my first year in ACE through a lens of idolization, which I had mistaken for love. This realization was not entirely self-generated, so I must pay credit to two of my favorite artists: Hozier and Charlotte Brontë. 

Hozier concert

This past week, I attended a concert by Hozier, an artist I have adored since high school. An Irish musician, Hozier grapples with his own struggles with religion and provides biting commentary on Ireland’s history with Catholicism. Throughout his music, he invokes religious imagery, particularly when he sings about romantic relationships. In his popular song, “Take Me to Church,” he paints his growing rejection of religion: “Every Sunday’s getting more bleak / A fresh poison each week.” Instead, he places his worship in his lover: “I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies,” implying that his love for her is enough to fulfill him, despite their love being based in sin. When the ennui of religious routine settles in, he turns to idolization of his lover, though he knows that too will hurt him. 

Similarly, in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, the titular character teeters on the line between love and idolatry when she falls in love with Edward Rochester, experiencing intense feelings of pleasure and joy that she previously had never found in the divine. Because Jane sees God primarily through His creation, she must grapple with whether her love for Rochester leads her to or away from God. Rochester, who has little regard for the divine, places his worship in Jane, both idealizing and idolizing her as his savior from his debaucherous life; as a result, he threatens to drag her down into his life of sin. Spoiler alert: when Jane discovers that Rochester has been hiding his mentally ill wife in the attic on the day that Jane and Rochester are to marry, she makes the toughest decision of her life. She decides to leave the only person by whom she has ever felt loved because she recognizes that to enter into a bigamist marriage means to make a false idol out of Rochester and reject God, her true Savior. 

Jane Eyre and Edward RochesterThough Hozier and Brontë write about idolization in a romantic context, idolization can be confused with any form of love. Idolization and love are separated by a thin line. We are called to love our neighbors. We are called to recognize God in others. However, the “love” I was giving to my students and community members was not purely selfless. I thrived off of their affection, and would sometimes compromise my own morals to keep it.  But if our fulfillment hinges only on promoting others’ enjoyment without consideration of God’s plan for us, then we have made false idols of those we are meant to love purely. The love God calls us to live requires fortitude and discipline. Love looks like reprimanding a student for disrespectful comments, even if it means he refuses to talk to me for the rest of the day. Love looks like saying “goodnight” after a long day to community members, even when they plead for me to stay up to watch one more episode of reality TV. Love looks like standing up for myself and my beliefs, and setting high standards for how I deserve to be treated. With a bit of help from my friends Hozier and Charlotte Brontë, I have grown in overcoming my idolization of others and am concentrating that energy on reinstating consistent spiritual routines to strengthen my relationship with God.