Beards maketh the man
A belief is common within some parts of our movement that hold beards are compulsory for men. It is not an uncommon belief for a religious person to take. In Islam shaving is generally considered haram (forbidden) or makruh (undesirable), depending on one’s position, on the basis that the prophets of Allah sung the praises of beards and their associated manliness. In Sikhism, growing a beard is a central tenant of the faith. Hair, being a creation of God, is regarded as sacred. So sacred are beards considered that in 1699, the Sikh spiritual leader Guru Gobind Singh declared, “My Sikh shall not use the razor. For him the use of razor or shaving the chin shall be as sinful as incest”.
There have been similar sentiments in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Ancient Israeli art depicted Israelites as having beards, while the hated Philistines were clean-shaven. In the Bible, the Ammonites humiliated the emissaries of King David by shaving their beards. This Judeo love affair with the beard did not cease in antiquity, with Orthodox Jews banned from shaving, to what extend depending on their level of Orthodoxy. The Hasidic Rabbi, Aron Moss gave the beard a mystical essence. He said, “The beard is hair that grows down from the heard to the rest of the body. It is the bridge between mind and heart, thoughts and actions, theory and practice, good intentions, and good deeds. So, we don’t cut the beard, but rather let it flow freely, to open a direct flow from the ideals and philosophies of our minds into everyday lifestyle”. Just how a beard did this was not, to my knowledge, extrapolated, but the point was made, nevertheless.
Christianity has had an on and off again relationship with the beard. Around 1000 A.D, it was stated in the Canons of Edgar, “Let no man in holy orders conceal his tonsure, nor let himself be misshaven nor keep his beard for any time, if he will have God’s blessing and St. Peter’s and ours”. The Franciscans however disagreed. For them, “The Friars shall wear the beard, after the example of Christ most holy”. The Franciscan constitution praised the beard as “something manly, natural, severe, despised and austere”. The debate then was not settled in Christendom, however, I did stumble across a blog dedicated to Christian men’s beards and, unsurprisingly, it was full of incredibly handsome men which, though this was not their intention, nevertheless provided a very positive contemporary argument for the beard.
Unlike our Christian brothers, the pagans have had no such quarrel with the beard. One such pagan in the US Army was allowed to grow his beard due to it being an essential component of his pagan, Norse, beliefs. While I would never condone, and neither would HRM, the practice of pagan beliefs, if one where to practice such a belief, it would of course be prudent and moral to urge them to grow a beard as no Viking worth his axe should ever be without one.
Within our movement, the issue has again not been so clear cut. Many have adamantly denied that free flowing locks of male face hair are required by God, while others have taught that men, particularly men that lead congregations, must, at all costs, grow their whiskers to magnificent manly lengths in obedience to the Torah. Having spent zero time examining this issue in any substantial detail, and yet invested in it due to my own possession of a beard, I found myself turning to my own lived experience, and that of my father’s, to settle this most pressing issue.
My atheist father over the years mirrored the Christian relationship with the beard – while he has for the most part of his esteemed life had a beard of varying degrees, at times he did not. What I found upon my deep reflection on this matter was not shocking, in fact, it was quite mundane. I found that the quantity of facial hair my father graced the world with had no impact on his manliness or moral character in general, and that he remained the same man who could out drink anyone, made things and fixed things around the house, loved football (the AFL – the only type), and at times, displayed his physical prowess through the odd show of strength when dealing with drunk, rude supporters – which in my younger days going to the football in the western suburbs of Melbourne was not at all uncommon. In this I learnt that there was no correlation between a man’s level of manliness and the degree of beard he adorned.
To some, this conclusion may be shocking, but there is more evidence that suggests there exists no such correlation between manliness and beards. The argument that the beard maketh the man was dealt a severe blow with the rise of the hipster. The hipster male emerged from the city fringes somewhat in response to the general repulsion many men and, importantly, many females felt towards metro-sexual men when they were a thing. While the hipster sought to reclaim some sense of masculinity via the power of beards to attract females, this attempt was only surface level and driven purely by lust. These hipsters would in fact adorn beards while still adopting certain ideologies contrary to the Bible, for example, that gender is fluid. This then proved that one could possess a beard and not necessarily consider oneself male, despite all the evidence to the contrary.
Noting that the above findings where not arrived at via a proper research methodology and neither not peer reviewed by any relevant authority, it is still proven, to some degree at the least, that the presence and or absence of a beard has no demonstrable bearing on a man’s inherent manly qualities and whether he can or cannot fulfil his duties at home or at work or leading a congregation. We can of course debate the theology – but in this instance I think we shouldn’t, after all, it is just a beard.