"We were lamenting one year how they have these amazing conventions like ComiCon, but there's not really a venue that existed to explore those ideas from a Christian point of view," he said. "For so long, Christians were told from both sides that these worlds can't mix."
In his experience, he said many Christians can be distrustful of some elements of science fiction and fantasy, or discount an entire genre because of problematic elements within one book or show. Meanwhile, many fans of these works try to prove they're the "smartest person in the room," by promoting explicitly atheistic readings of various stories or themes.
This apparent disconnect between sci-fi fandoms and Christianity is all the more concerning given the genre's audience, he pointed out. "The majority of people consuming fantasy fiction and sci fi are like the rest of America: they're Christian."
Daniel Silver, another one of Doxacon's founders, said the presumed tension between fandom and faith is part of what inspired him to help put the conference together. Growing up in an Evangelical Christian home, "I had been told by my church that these genres were not for me." After converting to the Orthodox faith, he discovered that "there are other people like me who enjoy these things who are geeks and nerds" – but also devout Christians.
Silver said that the conferences have also been an opportunity to both share some of the life of the faith as well as to reach out across denominational lines. Since its inception, the group has brought together speakers and attendees from a variety of Christian traditions: Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant.
Still, Silver added, the conference makes sure to incorporate elements of the Orthodox tradition its founding organizers.
At the beginning of the conference, attendees gathered to sing an Akathist prayer: a chanting song of praise focused on the goodness of God and of all creation. The melody resounded in the main dining hall, a reminder that God has already enchanted this world and blessed it with an abundance of beauty and goodness. Before dinner at the end of the conference, the busy schedule was stopped so that everyone could gather to pray Vespers: one of the traditional hours of the Church and a marker of time in both the Eastern and Latin Churches. These two breaks for prayer bookended a busy schedule of discussions and debates.
While prayer was a core of the convention weekend, so was discernment. One of the keynote talks by Catholic writer Leah Libresco focused on the idea of brokenness within different magical worlds. In the "Young Wizards" series by Diane Duane, magic is used to help heal the brokenness and chaos in this world – an analogy for the Christian approach to sin that Libresco said was a helpful touchstone during in her conversion. Meanwhile, in "The Magicians" series by Lev Grossman, magic serves as an extension of its characters' pain, hurt and anger, and Libresco heartily encouraged all to stay away from the series.
Stephanie Subu, another one of the conference organizers, said that this kind of differentiation of themes within seemingly similar books is also an important aim of the conference. She admitted that not every story is appropriate for Christians to engage with – some stories have elements that promote worldviews or actions that challenge Christian faith and life. "There's stuff out there that yes, really is not good to read and unless you have the tools and the spiritual eyes to know the difference."
Several talks at the event aimed at parents and children continued this conversation, focusing more explicitly on what themes and examples of goodness to look for in good fiction and fantasy – and how to know is something is worth putting back on the shelf.
Still other attendees appreciated the philosophical depth and seriousness speakers brought to these stories – some of which can be brushed off as fanciful or even childish.
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Felix Miller, an attendee who heard about the event from a friend, said that it was this seriousness he appreciated the most.
"I really liked the idea of fantasy/sci-fi/pop culture and more rigorous philosophical and cultural considerations. One of the things I've liked is that the presenters have done a really good job of not presenting the conversation in a shallow way."
"They're doing a really good job of taking the texts seriously and engaging with them in a theological bent," he told CNA.
Miller said he hoped some of what he heard this weekend could lay the groundwork for further discussions about some of his favorite shows and books after Doxacon.
"People are dealing with a lot of these same questions, but maybe aren't dealing with them in the same way with careful philosophical distinctions," he noted.
Erin Gillaspy – who wore a shirt emblazoned with the words "Ask me about Space Catholics" – also appreciated the opportunity to talk about philosophy and theology – as well as the chance to discuss the difficulties of setting liturgical calendars for astronauts.