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Mormon Scholars Testify: Regina Schaunig
|Title||Mormon Scholars Testify: Regina Schaunig|
|Publication Type||Web Article|
|Year of Publication||2010|
|Series Editor||Peterson, Daniel C.|
|Access Date||2 April 2018|
|Last Update Date||May 2010|
|Publisher||Mormon Scholars Testify|
|Keywords||Education; Faith; Philosophy; Prayer; Scripture Study; Testimony|
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After the Second World War, my parents came from southern Steiermark (Styria) to Kärnten (Carinthia) and settled in a small village not far from the border. The area where they had previously resided fell in 1945 to Yugoslavia. They left, despite many risks to their lives, in order to preserve their political freedom and their cultural identity. This liberal spirit also expressed itself in the way they raised their six children and in their religious attitude. My mother loved books and recited poems, my father played several instruments and was a wonderful singer, but they took an open-minded and skeptical approach to churches and religions. Thus, I grew up with books, but without an example of faith. Nonetheless, a “religious predisposition” became noticeable in me at a very early age. When my grandparents died and were laid out at home, the neighbors of the village came and kept vigil; they prayed the rosary, and I tried to follow along with them. From that point on, I used every opportunity to attend worship services, funerals, or church activities and be among these devout people. Even before I learned to read, religious books interested me—most of all prayer books with ornamented capital letters and hymn texts. I carried such books around with me so much that I could actually decipher them. (I had the spirit of a researcher!) I sensed that these things were bound up with the great questions of life. Often, I would read only a few sentences and reflect on them. Among these were passages that I learned by heart.
Sometime later, my father bought a large family Bible, in which I immediately immersed myself. I researched in it from the time I was twelve years old, because, with the help of the text and a few maps, I wanted to find out where the Garden of Eden had been. By the time I turned fifteen, I was a bit more modest and devoted myself to a search for the original human language. Almost daily, after school, I went to our bookstore and, forgoing afternoon tea or sweets, ordered paperbacks and even a few expensive books like Johann Gottfried Herder’s Abhandlung über den Ursprung der Sprache [“Treatise on the Origin of Language”]. With the passage of time, my reading became more and more philosophical. Until I began to read the works of Friedrich Nietzsche. I wasn’t consciously aware of it, but, up until this point, I had a childlike faith. But now, this inner bond was severed, and the words “God is dead!” hammered in my head. And how very much this alleged “truth” hurt! Suddenly, I had been thrust out from any safety and security. I expressed my inconsolable feelings in dark, despairing poems. Naturally, I read further—for example, in Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, Ernst Bloch, and the like—but they failed to convince me. Instead, rather, they seemed to emanate confusion. So I turned away from philosophy, to poetry and linguistic research. My adopted direction resulted thereafter in my choice of German literature and comparative philology as areas of study.
Despite a very successful student career and subsequent scholarly and journalistic positions, the loss of my faith remained an open wound in my life. Finally, it became clear to me that I had to pose the question of God once more—namely, the question whether he exists. I can still remember the enthusiasm with which I began to assemble books in order to revisit the whole matter, this time, from the perspective of natural science. And, in fact, from this angle there was at least a one percent chance! This one percent was enough, though, for me to ask, as a next step, “If God existed, how and where would he allow himself to be found?” My answer was: In the testimonies from ancient times, in the religions and churches, among mystics, and so forth. However, I didn’t want to limit myself to merely reading about him. Rather, I was determined—if he really exists—to find him, even if doing so required me to sacrifice everything. This determination must have reached the ear of the Lord because, from then on, a whole new feeling came over me. It seemed to me that doors of understanding that had previously been closed now began to open. One day—in my study of religions, I had just arrived at Manichaeism—an old professor, a historian, said to me that it was all “humbug.” He himself had, just shortly before, been given a book bearing the title “The Book of Mormon” that spoke of descendants of the Israelites who had broken into the city of Jerusalem by night in order to fetch brass plates with holy scriptures on them! But, at that time, he said, the city walls of Jerusalem had been insurmountable! I didn’t know why, but I said, “I must, without question, read this book!” He promised to bring it, but he seemed always to forget.
In the meantime, in my study of religions, it was Christianity’s turn and a reading of the Bible was unavoidable. This time, I began directly with the New Testament. But already, after only a few pages, something extremely unusual happened: I was so inwardly moved that, for several hours, I was unable to let the book out of my hand. The words of Christ penetrated deep into my heart. It was almost as if I could feel his voice. He was so near, and so living, to the point that, suddenly, I received a certainty that I can never afterwards deny—that Jesus Christ speaks the truth! That he cannot lie! I knew that if there was anybody at all in the world I could trust, it was he. Thus, at one blow, three questions were answered for me: 1) Yes, there is a God. 2) Christianity is the right religion. 3) The words of Christ are reliable and true.
Instantly, it became clear to me that, in accordance with my newly reached faith, I had to live by his commandments. In that regard, though, my efforts were limited by the fact that I was completely dependent upon myself, that I was without the requisite community of believers, the “members of the body of Christ” of whom the Bible speaks. Once again, I visited the worship services of various Christian churches, hoping to feel, somewhere, the same spirit that I felt in reading the holy scriptures. But in vain. Roughly two years passed in this way. Then, one beautiful day, missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints knocked on my door. I was working at that very moment on a research report that urgently had to be finished, and I really had no time. But, as I opened the door and the young men said, “We come from America. We’re Mormons,” I was overjoyed and I cried out “What? You’re Mormons? Do you know where I can get a Book of Mormon?” They had one with them, and they gave it to me along with a list of suggested readings, and they came again the next day.
Fortunately, I was humble enough to learn from these young missionaries! Because they taught me, and I listened to them. While they spoke, I became aware, in my spirit, of the passages that I had learned by heart as a child: “Except ye become as little children . . . ” At the same time, I read in the Book of Mormon—just as I was professionally accustomed to do, with pronounced skepticism. Naturally, I doubted its authenticity, compared it critically with the Bible and with other ancient records. Plainly, it was written in a different style than that of the gospels and the Pauline epistles! But its assertions agreed with them. Then they taught me to pray! It was very difficult, because I had never yet spoken directly to God. Finally, they invited me to church.
As I sat in the Sunday School and listened to the teacher and to the comments of the members, I thought to myself: This is the way the “body of Christ” had to function, and I congratulated the brother who had explained the scriptures so very well. Then began the sacrament meeting. But already by the opening hymn that was sung, I could no longer hold back my tears! I knew, simply, “I’m home!” I only felt more gratitude. It was the answer to my last question: Which is the true church of Jesus Christ? Truly, this was it! Only a week after my baptism, I was called to serve as an Institute teacher, and I hurried to read the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price, so that I myself could become a teacher in the gospel. And with the study of all of these scriptures, I achieved a testimony of the Book of Mormon and of its special purity and clarity.
Dr. Regina Schaunig (formerly Regina Baltz-Balzberg) is a scholar of German literature and digital editing, with special focus on the work of the Austrian modernist writer Robert Musil (d. 1942). She is a member of the academic staff at the Robert-Musil-Institut of the University of Klagenfurt (Klagenfurter Literaturhaus/Kärntner Literaturarchiv). Among her publications are Primitivität der Moderne 1895-1925 (Königsberg/Taunus: Hain, 1983); “Antidekadenzmoral bei Musil und Nietzsche,” in Josef Strutz, ed., Robert Musil—Theater, Bildung, Kritik (Munich: Fink, 1985); “Musils ‘Rezept: Organisation’: Zur Klagenfurter Nachlass-Forschung unter Karl Dinklage,” in Josef Strutz, ed., Robert Musils “Kakanien”—Subjekt und Geschichte: Festschrift für Karl Dinklage (Munich: Fink, 1987); “Musil-Archäologie: Zur Klagenfurter Edition der Avant-texte-Romane Der Spion und Der Erlöser,” Musil-Forum: Studien zur Literatur der klassischen Moderne 30 (2007/2008); and “‘Das Unfertige and das Ungeratene’: Musils Vorstufen zum Mann ohne Eigenschaften in digitaler Edition,” editio: Internationales Jahrbuch für Editionswissenschaft 23 (2009).
Translated by Daniel Peterson
Posted May 2010
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