Recent anecdotal evidence suggests that someone in the bowels of Church headquarters has launched yet another installment in the periodic holy war against masculine facial hair. A new member of our stake presidency was instructed by a visiting Area Authority Seventy to shave his beard. He was told by the Seventy that there was no scriptural or doctrinal basis for this instruction, but that it is currently an “unwritten policy.”
At about the same time, several acquaintances of mine who volunteered to serve as veil workers at, respectively, the Oakland and Saint Paul temples were informed that they could do so only by becoming clean-shaven. While no one has yet quite dared denude the temple representations of the Father and the Son of facial hair, given that Moroni seems to have lost his beard in Church art representations over the past hundred years, perhaps it is only a matter of time.
Coming from a profession where beards are relatively common, the contrast in attitude is rather striking. Several years ago, an acquaintance of mine accepted an academic position at a university in Ohio; at the time he was clean shaven. But when I next saw him after a year of teaching, he sported a very dapper goatee. After complimenting him on his new appearance, I asked what had prompted the change.
He confessed that he had felt rather uncomfortable teaching, as he realized that he was not much older than his students; indeed, some of his students were older than he, and he feared that he would not be take seriously as an instructor.
“Then,” he said, “I remembered a scene I had watched from Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound.” Hitchcock fans will recall that Spellbound, starring Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman, employs Freudian psychoanalysis as a plot device (and includes a memorable dream sequence with sets designed by Salvador Dali).
My friend continued: “In a scene where Gregory Peck is being psychoanalyzed, he describes a recurring dream in which he sees a man with a beard. ‘Ah yes,’ says the analyst knowingly. ‘The man with the beard is always the authority figure.’”
So, wanting to become an authority figure, my friend grew a beard.
My wife and I decided to test the “Spellbound” beard hypothesis at our recent ward conference, where the newly-shaven stake counselor taught one of the sessions. Gauging as best we could our own mental responses, we concluded that we did in fact instinctively give his pronouncements less weight now that he resembles all the Church’s other dark-suited general authority clones, than we had previously when he spoke as a Freudian authority figure.
Which leads us to speculate that the current tonsorial jihad is perhaps a deeply thoughtful stratagem out of Salt Lake to deter the membership from placing undue credence in the statements of Church leaders, doubtless designed to motivate us to seek our own inspiration from the Lord.
Or, perhaps not.