Jaclyn Glenn is an increasingly popular YouTube presence who has made videos on everything from vegetarianism to atheism to feminism. She also has popular Twitter and Facebook pages along with her website, where she sells secular T-shirts. She spoke with Johnny Monsarrat for this interview.
RDF: You’ve got 180,000 subscribers on YouTube, and most of are from the last 12 months. Is that overwhelming?
Jaclyn Glenn: I get many messages from people on YouTube, but unfortunately, I don’t have time to read all of them. I wish I could, but it is fairly overwhelming. The recent American Atheists conference was the first I attended, and a lot of people came up to me. It was pretty amazing, but something I am definitely not used to.
RDF: That is interesting, since you have not been a part of the secular movement for very long. I recall that you started making videos on vegetarianism and came out as an atheist recently.
Jaclyn Glenn: I started off as a vegetarian, and that is what motivated me to make videos in the first place. I wanted to speak out on behalf of animals, but as I stayed on YouTube and kept making videos, my attention turned to religion. I was starting to give a lot of personal attention to it. I was very Christian. I grew up catholic and then became both protestant and what most people would call a “bible thumper.” I was preaching in people’s faces and trying to guilt them about certain things. Eventually, I just didn’t feel right about some of the things I was saying and my family made me think differently about many social issues.
Jaclyn Glenn: These experiences made me a more liberal Christian and from there I started making videos from a Christian perspective. I said things like, “as a Christian, I do not like it when other Christians are homophobic. I do not like it when other Christians are against women’s rights or when other Christians are extremist in any capacity.” So my very first videos on YouTube are me saying things from a Christian viewpoint, which is interesting because you can watch me change into an atheist. People know that I was like just like any other Christian. If I can change my mind—having been so extreme—then hopefully other people feel like they can change their minds.
RDF: You say your change to Atheism was a slow process, was there an interaction that stands out? Alternatively, a milestone?
Jaclyn Glenn: It was a slow process. I started off as agnostic and started watching the Amazing Atheist’s political videos. I watched and agreed with all of them, but got offended whenever I watched his videos on religion. The thing that bothered me—it was a gut reaction—was that he was bringing down the religion I was a part of. However, I had no reason to be offended. As I continued to watch his videos, I thought, “I have no reason to disagree with what he is saying. Everything that he is saying is right, I am just personally offended due to indoctrination.” A lot of YouTube videos helped me and then I read Richard Dawkins The God Delusion, and that was the final straw. Out of all the things Dawkins says, there wasn’t anything I could argue with. Another thing that was a big catalyst for me was the realization that Christianity is plagiarized. Many gods before Jesus have stories too similar to ignore. I realized that I had to be an atheist because I did not have enough evidence to believe what I had been taught. I was mad. I felt lied to, but I feel free from Christianity now. It is a good feeling.
RDF: I’ve seen a number of your videos, and they often take a talking-head format. Do you see yourself making videos in which you conduct interviews or do something musical? I understand your Dad is a Christian songwriter. Are you also a performer?
Jaclyn Glenn: I play piano a little bit, and I sing. I have a few singing videos out—one is called Amazing Science, and one is “Our God is an Awesome God,” which I re-wrote to make it funny. I have not made a CD yet, but I’ve been thinking about it. As far as interviews, I interviewed many people at the recent American Atheists conference. You’ll see videos on my channel soon where I interview prominent atheists and get their opinions on things.
RDF: Who’s more frustrating to talk with, meat-eaters about vegetarianism or Christians about atheism?
Jaclyn Glenn: I would say Christians about atheism. Whenever you talk about eating meat, people make jokes. It is not usually a heartfelt issue. However, if you insult somebody’s religion, you are insulting them. You are insulting their intelligence, moral character, culture, inheritance, and so many things that they take personally. What I always say is that insulting a religion is not insulting a religious person. It is not that I do not like religious people; I just don’t like religion.
RDF: Where do you fall on the spectrum between friendly atheists and confrontational atheists?
Jaclyn Glenn: That is hard for me to answer because people who are religious view me as “extreme”. I am uncensored, unfiltered, and I do not sugar coat things. Since religion is such a controversial issue, you are labeled “extreme” for even bringing it up. However, within the atheist community, I feel close to the center of that spectrum. I’ve talked to many atheists who are in-your-face and call Christians idiots. I would never do that because I was a Christian. I was a Christian for most of my life, and I was not stupid, I just hadn’t thought critically about it before. It was just something I grew up with, and I am not going to insult people for that. I was in the same situation. Leaving religion is uncommon, so to judge everyone who hasn’t is ridiculous. However, I am also not going to have a discussion with a homophobic Christian and say “I respect your point of view, but…” No. I do not think you have to respect the point of view to respect the person.
RDF: There’s much comedy in what you do. Do you find that helps you get your points across?
Jaclyn Glenn: I try to make it fun. Many atheists on YouTube are very serious and talk like they are giving a lecture. What I am trying to do is reach people who are younger and maybe haven’t thought about religion before. When they see me on YouTube joking about things, hopefully they’ll be more inclined to watch. It is like a friend talking to you instead of a professor lecturing you and it makes it easier to talk about religion.
RDF: Richard is perceived by some as a professorial stereotype who’s condescending, but you have a more girl-next-door ethos. Do you think that is part of your appeal?
Jaclyn Glenn: Absolutely—I am trying to relate to people. Given that atheists are among the most distrusted Americans, it is important that people learn to not think atheists are bad people. I am trying to eliminate that stereotype so people can see that atheists are normal, nice, and moral. Making things fun and casual reaches a broader audience and opens up people to discussions that they would not normally have.
RDF: What’s your advice for YouTubers who want to follow in your footsteps?
Jaclyn Glenn: The more, the better. The more people out there speaking their minds, the less it will strike people as strange. My advice for YouTubers would be to plan out your arguments and be passionate. When I first started, it was hard to show passion. I was passionate, but it was hard to convey it through a camera. It is hard to sit by yourself and stare into the lens like it is an audience. It is an awkward situation that takes getting used to. Just to look into the lens, be passionate, and pretend that there’s an audience watching you. If you are passionate about it, you’ll be more convincing. You also have to be patient. Recognition does not happen overnight.
RDF: Do you have any future projects planned?
Jaclyn Glenn: I have a couple things on the backburner; one would be an album of me singing funny songs I’ve written about religion. I also might start work on a book, which is something people can look for in the future.
RDF: Great, thanks for speaking with us Jaclyn.