Monday, September 24, 2012
Beard or no beard...
Now my beard is a beard and not the glorified stubble that passes for a heavy 5 o'clock shadow so popular today. And my beard has changed -- though mostly in color. A bit in shape but not much. So it was with great interest I read Peter Berger's take on the relationship between beards and faith. You can read it all for yourself but I have clipped a bit if it to this blog post so you get a flavor for it all. If you pass through the portrait gallery of the LCMS historical display at the International Center you will find a few beards, a few mustaches (ala Harrison though not as Teddy Roooooosevelt as Harrison's), and a host of various mutton chops and other strange facial hair shapes and designs. I would suspect most of it was due to fashion, personal taste, and what you could get away with and little of real theological significance.
There are significant differences between Latin and Greek Christianity. Bearded priests have become the norm in Eastern Orthodox churches; in the Roman Catholic Church, while there are some monastic orders whose monks wear beards, secular priests are normally clean-shaven. I don’t know whether there are “grooming regulations” in either case, nor do I know of any in Protestant churches. Mormons stand out: Young men going out on their two-year missionary stints must be clean-shaven, as must students at Brigham Young University. Beards have become the trademark of Orthodox Judaism, though the Torah does not command them directly (Leviticus only has rules for shaping the beard). I would imagine that there are different deductions from these rules in the Talmud. Jews in mourning, while “sitting shive”, don’t shave and let the stubbles sit during this period. Sikhs are very intent on their luxurious beards. Many Hindu ascetics have beards, but that is not so much a symbol as the result of their having no possessions, not even a razor (they do beg—is there no pious barber who can donate a free shave?). I have no knowledge of Buddhist attitudes to facial hair. But of course we are most aware of the role of beards in contemporary Islam. Beards are the male equivalents of female headgear. If young men in Turkey come out of the closet as Islamists and consequently drive their Kemalist parents crazy, their young sisters achieve the same result by covering their hair with the scarves that signify Islamic modesty. As far as I know, there is no commandment to wear beards in the Koran, though there is an authoritative tradition (hadith) according to which the Prophet Muhammad did issue such a commandment.
Apparently I am not the only one touched by this thought. Read Gottesdienstonline. For an in depth article, click here. As for me, I close with Peter Berger's words again: As to beards, often they symbolize nothing beyond themselves—as Freud did not say, but might have said: Sometimes a beard is just a beard. Beards have carried all sorts of symbolic freight. In the area of religion, it would be nice if beards symbolized moderation and tolerance.