Monday, October 21, 2013

Feeling Like an Outsider Because of My Faith: This Year's Con Experience

This past weekend was the Necronomicon science fiction, fantasy, and gaming convention. If you've been following my blog for a while, you know I go to this every year. It was my first con as an attendee, and my first con as a guest author. It's been great fun every year...and I'd have to say that this year was the best yet!

The people who run the Necro work so hard, all year long to prepare, and it shows. They are awesome people, as are the attendees and other guests. There were some amazing costumes this year, too! And I took lots of pictures that I will post in another blog post. (If you are friends with me on Facebook, however, go look up the album I have there.)

And while I could spend this entire blog going on and on about how much fun I had participating in panels and selling books and meeting people and people-watching and dancing and cheering...that's not going to be the focus of the post. Not because I want to be negative--believe me, I don't! I never, ever want to give the slightest negative impression of this con because it is near and dear to my heart! But there was this one panel....

You see, as an author I get to participate in writing panels, as in being on the panel of guests. Here is the schedule I had this year:

Friday2:00 PMSALON AWriting Basics–Creating Anti-Heroes, Rogues, and Villains
Friday5:00 PMSALON GSocial Media and the Author
Friday8:00 PMSALON CHow to Keep Writing in the Face of Adversity
Saturday4:00 PMSALON BReligion in Science Fiction and Fantasy
The first three were massively fun. Even the social media one, which I was nervous about because I feel for the most part that I'm stumbling around in the dark when it comes to social media. The general consensus, though, from the panelists was that we all feel that way, and everyone was just so supportive of each other. 

But the last panel, the one I was both really looking forward to and also a little nervous about because I wasn't sure what direction it would take, nearly broke me down.

Let me take this moment to point something out: There has been much talk in the news lately about "harassment" at cons like these. But they focus mostly on women wearing revealing costumes. Or women, and I suppose some men, of larger sizes wearing costumes some would deem appropriate only for skinny-minnies. And there is a lot of effort to show acceptance to LGBT guests. All of which is wonderful.

Notice, though, that there is nothing in there about guests of religious faith. 

I blogged about this a few years ago regarding this same con. In my first post, I mentioned some rather uncomfortable moments that stemmed from an attendee's t-shirt that mocked Jesus' resurrection, and that year's guest of honor slamming Christians who write sci-fi. The following year (two years ago), though, my experience was nearly a 180-degree change, as I met several guests who were open about their Christian faith. Last year there was one small instance where an attendee made a joke at the expense of Christians - to me - and I simply gave her a look that included a smile, but that made it clear I didn't find it funny. 

I've let this all slide. I've never said anything to anyone at the con about it all. I figure you're going to meet people who differ from you, and sometimes people say things without thinking, and we ought to just forgive and move on.

However, when you are sitting in front of an entire room of people as a guest on a panel about religion in science fiction and fantasy, and you are the ONLY one on that panel that is NOT an atheist***, and the other panelists are speaking rather frankly about how they consider all religion to be myth and fiction...

And then when an attendee speaks up and shares his "clever" remark for "dealing with creationists"--a remark that includes calling our God "stupid"...

I nearly walked out.

But I couldn't. For one, it would simply be unprofessional. Also, it would just fuel the fire. 

Fortunately, that attendee asked why authors aren't "addressing" the issue of the stupid-god worshiping creationists in fiction, and I explained to him that writing fiction with a message and agenda like that, whether it be Christian in nature or atheist in nature, is considered "preaching at the reader" and ignores story and should not be a part of fiction.

He said no more during that panel.

I thank God that He was there with me through that hour. That I had the words to answer that attendee. And that I found through looks and comments an attendee that obviously shared my faith and with whom I spent some great quality time talking after the panel. I'm not sure my nerves would have survived if not for her, to be honest. 

Anyway, my point is not to bash anyone from the con. Or, as I said, to focus on negativity there. Because 99% of my experience this year was phenomenal

I just needed to get this out there. I felt harassed for the first time at a con. Not directly--no one came up to my face and called me names--but the comments were said with such a strong assumption that sci-fi cons are just not a place for Christians

Yes, the panelists were more diplomatic, although as I said, they made it clear that they find religious belief...naive. A few of them did step in and remind the audience that authors need to be careful when touching on religion because their readership may very well include someone of the very faith they are including in their fiction in a negative way. I did appreciate that. But the hurt is still there. The sting still felt.** 

The other thing felt was the irony of the situation, being that those of non-religious belief are free to fill their books with religious reference, yet those of us with religious belief are expected to keep it under wraps.

And speaking of irony--there was another instance, although no one in the room (other than me) was aware of it. There were six panelists including me. I was the only Christian. Those that are not tend to point at science as the "proof" that there is no God, or at least the measuring stick on which they lean in that assumption--and yes there were comments in that area. Yet, I was also the only one on the panel with a background, much less a college degree, in science

Still, as I said, the other 99% of the con weekend was pure awesomeness and ended with many hugs and "see you next year"s. Maybe I'll even see you there!

**I hold no one--no one--that ran/worked the con or participated as a guest responsible for this feeling. Just so you know. My utmost respect for the con crew in every way.

***I am adding this clarification based on some comments I've gotten--the panel did talk about religion as mainly myth, and I did take that as the rest of the panelists being atheists. Only two of them outright said they are atheists. The other three never said specifically, and may have some kind of spiritual beliefs, but my impression was that their spiritual tendencies were...deity-free. 


RebeccaPMinor said...

Good for you for hanging in there, and I'm glad you had an answer in the needed moment. I can't imagine how I would hold up in that scenario.

I'm glad you were able to enjoy the other 99% of the con...though maybe, if they ask for your feedback, you could ask the con organizers to represent a better spectrum of worldviews in a panel about speculative fiction and religion if they hold it again? Wouldn't a panel with a whole group of Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Atheists, Agnostics, Christains and Jewish folks be a little more effective in addressing the topic?

David Berger said...

Kat, first, let me say that I definitely understand where you are coming from. As a devout Jew, I sometimes hear things at sci-fi/fantasy conventions that scoff at G-d and religion in general. (I typically wear a yarmulke full time, but not at Cons). I'm as open-minded as they come, whether it be toward varying faiths, atheism, agnosticism, Wicca, Pastafarianism—whatever the belief system, as long as it doesn't preach hatred or harm to others, I'm cool.

But, I take offense when people make comments about religion that it's myth or fantasy. Someone in a panel I was in commented about the "Christian myth," and I was offended (and I am not even Christian). I don't think the comment was intended with malice, but more so to say that beliefs in gods (Greek, Roman, etc.) seemed to foster a connection to a "mythology" of a sort. I knew what was meant, but I think instead of mythology, the term "stories" would be more appropriate. The Bible, Torah, and the Quran do tell stories, but for people like you and me (as well as others), these stories aren't simply allegory.

That being said, I'm sorry that happened (yes, I know that I didn't have anything to do with it, but my "sorry" is my way of understanding). Openness to QUILTBAG/LGBT ideas is wonderful, as well as to other political ideas, at Cons, but people need to remember that religion plays a significant role in people's lives, and to dismiss something like that is insulting and, quite frankly, unprofessional.

*huge hugs*

Kessie said...

Dang, talk about entering the lion's den! I think God totally gave you the answer for that one guy. That was inspired.

Your remark about being the only one with a background in science made me laugh. Good for you!

Kat Heckenbach said...

Becky, I actually am composing an email about the topic to send to the con organizer. She is the sweetest person, and I would bet she'd be open to the idea of a panel that is more representative.

David, thank you! If I'd not had that one Christian attendee come to my table right after the panel to talk, I was going to come to you for some moral support. I know you have strong religious beliefs and would be able to relate. Your support is much appreciated!

Thanks, Kessie. I am so glad we were able to get the discussion back on track--and I fully attribute the answer to God's intervention.

Gretchen E.K. Engel said...

Kat - All I can think is what an honor that you were able to bring seeds of truth. You have no idea who you touched that day. I love the irony that you, the Christian were the one with the science degree. My answer to evolution versus creationism/intelligent design is that it has nothing to do with my faith. It simply doesn't make sense. Without God, it's like dumping out a box of Legos and expecting a house to build itself.

Carol A. Strickland said...

Wow, I'd have expected something called, "Religion in Science Fiction and Fantasy" to have an overwhelming majority of theist panelists. If this were, say, an RWA conference, the entire panel would be theists. Glad you found some support from the audience.

Kat Heckenbach said...

Gretchen--oh, how appropriate your comment is! The remark the attendee made had to do with Legos--he said he always says to Creationists, "I'm sorry your god is too stupid to know how to play with Legos..." and I'm not sure of the rest because I was so floored by the fact that he said it at all. Also, it makes no sense to me. My God *created* the "Legos" out of nothing and wrote all the instruction books on how to build everything in universe with them.

Carol, thank you for saying that. I would have expected it as well. I mean, if one considers atheism a theology, then sure, but it would have been nice to have other representations.

Unknown said...

Yeah, weird that a panel with that title would be such a hate-fest...

But not surprising, really. Sci-fi fandom is a place that's totally in the dark, spiritually, and there's such a hate for God there. As a sci-fi fan, and a Christian, I feel a burden for these people. We can talk about Star Trek and such, and have an awesome time, but whenever God is mentioned, they turn on you like a pack of wolves.

Kat Heckenbach said...

Aaron, I wouldn't consider it a hate-fest--other than that one attendee. The others ranged from very diplomatic to subtle in their disregard of religious beliefs, but I still felt "outside" among them.

I try really hard not to judge groups by their extremists--and the examples I've given in this blog and the others I linked to were the extremes.

I just want to bring light to the fact that harassment isn't just in areas of dress and such at these places. And that tolerance is a two-way street.

Unknown said...

Excellent response, Kat!

I know how uncomfortable that was for you, but I think it was a matter of the right words at the right time which needed to be brought our in the open. As Christians, we've agonized and debated among ourselves and have been vilified by others for the preachiness issue, but few want to address how it applies just as much to other beliefs.

And how very ironic you were the only one with a background and degree in science. So many folks want to think science disproves God's existence yet won't remain open-minded enough to allow that the scientific method is incapable of proving or disproving a great many things including His existence. When I was in grade school, we had a class assignment to examine the theory of evolution (yes, it was still called a theory then) in the light of what we'd been taught in science. Interesting conclusions. Evolution (as in "change") does observably occur, however, it couldn't happen as stated in the theory for the following reasons:
Inorganic material cannot give rise to life.
Mutations which cause a significant change in a life form are not self-sustaining without outside intervention, either because the mutation is a weakening one or because it is isolated (can't be reproduced and so dies with the one possessing the mutation).
While changes (mutations) can and do occur within a species, one species cannot jump the barrier to be another species. (How long would it take to change a cow into a cat? And of course, being kids, jokes were inevitable: gosh, I'd hate to scoop that litterbox!)

Not bad for a bunch of public school 6th graders from all kinds of backgrounds and beliefs. You don't see that kind of openness in the schools anymore, never mind in other venues.

Cheering for you, gal, for the courage to speak what needed said even at the expense of your own comfort.

Kristen Stieffel said...

Becky stole my comment; that a panel like that should be inclusive of all faiths, not a bunch of atheists and a token Christian.

Tolerance as a two-way street is a theme we need to keep playing. I understand that anti-Christian sentiment is partly a backlash against the dominance our faith had over culture in this country for so long, but that doesn't alter the fact that we have as much right to tolerance as anyone else.

Kat Heckenbach said...

Thank you--and what a great story! Yes, I don't see the logic in evolutionary theory (and it still is a theory even if it's not called such anymore), and I was so, so glad the discussion didn't degrade into an evolution/creation debate. I will say that in the past at this same con, there have been instances where things could have done exactly that in science panels, and the panelists reined it in never let things go there.

As for the comment, I had an attendee contact me privately and say it was the highlight of the panel as far as craft goes. That makes me feel that it was all worth it :).

Kat Heckenbach said...

That above comment was for Glynda, btw--forgot to address it :).

And Kristen, I added an edit above. I wonder if there was intent to present a theistic side to things. only two panels actually said outright that they were atheists. The others though seemed to me to be possibly spiritual, but didn't really show any indication that any deity was involved in those beliefs.

Sparks of Ember said...

That's a tough situation to be in but I'm positive God guided your words to that attendee.

I was in a slightly similar situation once but the saddest part was I was surrounded by Christians who were doing the discriminating. It was a class at my Christian college - we were learning the various end-time views. And the professor was mocking "the idiots" who believe in Amillennialism. He managed to get several students to join in. And I lost all respect for him in that instant. I just wish I'd had a bit more self-confidence back then to tell him I'm an Amillennialist and I didn't appreciate his attack on a perfectly valid view.

The next day I had a different class with a different professor and he touched on the subject. But he did so in a way that didn't reveal which position he held. I had to tell him afterwards how much I appreciated his unbiased instruction.

Kat Heckenbach said...

Katherine, great point about the discrimination going both ways. I'm frustrated by Christians who feel the need to mock and ridicule. I don't like cartoons that mock atheists or people of other religions. I will have discussions with Christian friends and say I don't understand atheist reasoning, or point out how many times discussions have degraded into atheists calling Christians stupid--but I don't see atheists as "stupid" and don't go around bashing them personally for not sharing my views.

And I'm sorry you had to go through that, but am glad you had that second prof to make up for it.

Fred Warren said...

Wow, proud of you, Kat. You didn't merely stay on the high road, you owned it. There's always someone in the crowd who needs to let everybody know they sit at the cool kids' table. Whatever.

Professionalism and dignity? Hey, that might just catch on...

And what an incredible missed opportunity for the con organizers...this is a topic that screams for diversity of faiths on the panel (including a seat for the atheists) and might have yielded some fascinating discussion. Nothing is more boring than "conventional wisdom."

Kat Heckenbach said...

Thank you, Fred. I sure hope I came across professional and dignified. I was trying to be, despite shaking hands :).

And I've sent my email to the con organizer, and mentioned the idea for a faith-oriented panel. May not be terribly well-attended at first, but you never know!

Lelia Rose Foreman said...

Agree that panels should have more representation of varied peoples, but I would like to point out that the cons on this side of the U.S. rely on volunteers. So if only one Christian volunteered to be on that panel, that's what you get. I have suggested topics that I got to speak on, and no one else volunteered to be on the panel, so it was me alone talking about alien landscaping your home and the aliens among us (autistics, and yes, I am one). Shared panels about future medicine etc. And panel on creating realistic aliens gave me the main character in a trilogy. That one had lots of volunteers. So, Christian writers, Volunteer!

Kat Heckenbach said...

Good point, Lelia :).

Alan Loewen said...

I understand completely. I'm involved in Capclave every year and I will say most of the people are incredible and very tolerant.

Yes, there are a few who make it miserable, but I focus on the majority who know how to behave in public.

Focus on your fans and stay professional which you have clearly already demonstrated.

Kat Heckenbach said...

Thank you, Alan. Yes, the vast majority of the attendees are fabulous. Most of the time, this kind of thing is not even brought up. I've even seen discussions that had legitimate reasons to lead into the creation/evolution debate get sidelined at cons out of respect for a diverse audience.

And I actually think, even though the other panelists were obviously not Christian or creationist, that the only reason they didn't say anything in response to the one comment is that they were as floored as I was.

Carole McDonnell said...

such a great post.

Kat Heckenbach said...

Thank you, Carole.

Dan Trosper said...

It's amazing that the speculative world that is supposed to be so open minded can be so intolerant. When tested, you showed great courage when you could have stayed silent. Something to be proud of.

Kat Heckenbach said...

Thanks, Daniel, although I was feeling anything but courageous at that moment.