Becoming Skeptical of Skepticism – Matthew Sabatine’s Story

Feb 2, 2024

Side B Stories
Side B Stories
Becoming Skeptical of Skepticism - Matthew Sabatine's Story

Former atheist Matthew Sabatine journeyed back and forth between faith and disbelief until he finally landed on a view of reality that best explained the universe and his own life.

Matt’s Resources:

Resources Mentioned by Matt

Conversations with God by Neale Donald Walsch

Episode Transcript

Hello and thanks for joining in. I’m Jana Harmon, and you’re listening to Side B Stories, where we see how skeptics flip the record of their lives. Each podcast, we listen to someone who has once been an atheist or skeptic but who became a Christian against all odds. You can hear more of these stories on our Side B Stories website or YouTube channel. We welcome your comments on these stories on our Facebook page or through our email at We love hearing from you.

A faith journey is often not straightforward but is filled with twists and turns, moving to and fro, towards and away from God and then back again. We are sometimes taken in by the lies and influence of intellectual or moral or cultural authorities, presuming that the truth and life are to be found apart from God. Those who reject faith often seem to know more about what they’re against than what they’re for, more about what they’re rejecting than what they are embracing. But it’s much easier to tear down Christianity than to embrace a Godless reality. We can become captivated and persuaded by ideas and ideologies that appear good and true on their surface, but on a closer look, are empty and even dark. They crumble under the light and weight of scrutiny. It seems easier to tear down faith, to deconstruct Christian belief, to step into a life we thought would bring life, only to find that it doesn’t deliver its promises. All that glitters is not gold.

Once someone begins to understand and live out a worldview and a world without God, they can begin to see things a little more clearly, to become dissatisfied, to become skeptical of their own skepticism. They began to realize that the grass was not greener after all. Ideas have consequences, and the explanations for and implications of atheism can and do come up short when someone takes an honest look. Perhaps the best answers to life and to the universe are in God after all.

In today’s story, Matthew Sabatine was willing to leave faith behind as an antiquated childhood superstition and embrace agnosticism and the seemingly more mature atheism. But he found that nihilism was a difficult way to live, causing him to rethink his beliefs and come back and look for something more. His dissatisfaction of a godless world set him back on a journey to eventually find a much deeper and richer faith in God than the one he had left behind. I hope you’ll come along to hear his story.

Welcome to Side B Stories, Matthew. It’s great to have you with me today.

Hi. It’s great to be here. How are you?

I’m doing great, especially now here that I’m with you. Let’s start by introducing yourself. Why don’t you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself, maybe your podcast?

Okay, so my name is Matthew Sabatine. I am the author and editor of a blog called The Common Caveat. My picture is behind me. I started the blog in 2020, September of 2020, and I became a Christian in 2022.

Okay. Okay. Well good. I’m looking forward to finding out perhaps a little bit more about that blog and that podcast as we go along.


So let’s get started with your story, Matthew. Let’s start back in your childhood and your home and your home life. Was religion or Christianity or God any part of your world growing up? Was it a faith of your family or friends or culture? How did faith or religion look like, or what did that look like in your childhood?

Well, growing up, I grew up in a charismatic evangelical background. There was Pentecostalism in there.

And I tried to get into it myself, and I had a significant struggle with doing that. And it was something that made my relationship with God difficult, and I think that was one of the big things that really contributed to me later losing my faith.

When you say Pentecostalism, is it very emotionally driven, kind of? It’s not like a quiet, liturgical kind of worship. It’s a more expressive, emotional, I guess spiritual experience, a very experiential kind of worship.

Yes, definitely. It definitely was not liturgical. It was not quiet. It was very enthusiastic, loud, very expressive. You used the term emotionally driven, and that is exactly how I would describe it. And I struggled to connect with those practices, because I was not feeling my mouth or my tongue being overtaken by the Holy Spirit to speak gibberish that I didn’t understand. I mean I tried to do that. I really tried to imitate what I saw other people doing. But I could not put myself in the same state of mind that I felt that they were in. So the people around me, they would often tell stories about miracles they were experiencing in their lives. They were getting a word from God. They were having answers to prayer that were, how could I say it? Like unusual. The kind of stories that they would tell definitely would violate the laws of physics and biology and chemistry. And I always found that to be strange, because I was never experiencing anything like that. but I was always confused as to: When should I do it? How should I do it? How should I feel? I was always confused as to how I should feel about things.

Yeah. I think that could be kind of confusing, especially, and a little dismaying when you see all these people around you behaving and responding in certain ways, and you just weren’t feeling it.


So it makes you question, I presume. Is this real? Is it manufactured? Is it something organic? Is there really a spirit? Or is there some pretense? Because I would imagine you would, in a sense, feel a bit like an outsider if it was happening to other people and not happening to you.

Right, right. I definitely felt like an outsider. Because I would confront adults, and I would ask hard questions, and I would tell them about what I was feeling, and they would often give me vague answers, such as, “Well, you need to have more faith,” “You need to pray more,” “You don’t want it enough.” And I would always come back with something such as, “Well, yes, I do want this. I’m trying to get this, because you tell me that I should want this, but I don’t know how to want it any more than I already do.” So I was very confused about those things, yes.

So I would imagine that would be a little bit hard, to be in an environment where you didn’t feel like…. Whatever was happening to other people wasn’t happening to you, and yet you were asking good questions, but you weren’t getting good answers or solid answers. How long did you stay in this place where it sounds like you were a little bit uncomfortable and questioning, becoming skeptical?

Correct. My family and I stayed in that particular church until I was roughly seventeen or eighteen. So we had started in that church when I was, since I was born, and so we went from my birth until I was about seventeen or eighteen. And I tried talking to my parents about it, and they did their best to understand. Yeah.

So did it cause enough questioning in you that you wanted to step away or step back from at least this kind of faith tradition? Did you try any other kinds of churches or other expressions of Christianity?

No. I really couldn’t because at that age I was so young and unexposed to the world. I was unaware of my alternative options.

So when you were asking questions and not getting good answers, did it cause you not only perhaps to question your own expression of faith, but did it cause you to question, say, the existence of God? Or was it more that you were questioning yourself?

It was a combination of those things. I was questioning myself. I was questioning my perception of reality. I was definitely questioning God, and I remember there was a distinct time in which I experienced my first significant doubt about the existence of God. I think I was in sixth grade. I had to be nine or ten years old. And I remember telling my classmates about it. I told my teacher about it. It upset me enough that I cried. I told my mother about it. And I remember distinctly my mom saying to me, “Matthew, I think God is allowing you to endure this because He’s preparing you for something.” And being ten years of age, you kind of know what that means, but at the same time you don’t.


You don’t know, “Okay, when is God going to step in. I need Him to step in now, so that I feel safe.” Because at that time, we were…. I was raised fundamentalist. I was raised in an environment where we were taught to interpret scripture literally. That’s what I mean by fundamentalist. So we believed in a literal hell. We believed in literal fire, hell, damnation. If you don’t accept Jesus Christ as your Lord, Master, and Savior, you’re going there. So to be a young person who is developing, to be a person who is unfamiliar with doubts, and all of the many different variables that can happen with your thoughts and emotions, all of that was very overwhelming for me, and it was very hard for me to deal with the possibility that I could suffer eternally in ways that are unimaginable to me. So yeah, that was very troubling for me at that age.

Yeah. I would imagine it would be hard to have doubts, hold doubts, and even perhaps step away at eternal risk, in a sense, to your soul.


And that’s a really hard place to be, but yet you were struggling still not getting answers, I guess. Or things weren’t satisfying or settling for you at that point, but it sounds like you stayed there through the time that you were seventeen and eighteen, you just stayed in that environment?

Right. Yep. I also realize that it’s important to mention that, when I was in third grade, I was diagnosed with ADHD. And if you know anything about ADHD, people who have that, their nervous systems are wired differently, so we see the world differently. We interact with the world differently. We process information differently, and it can make social interactions difficult and challenging. So maybe you can imagine how that would impact conversations about God and religion and definitely when you’re trying to process moral dilemmas, moral quandaries, moral questions, you find yourself in situations that are very difficult to deal with, that cause you to question yourself. “Am I a good person or am I a bad person? I don’t know.” So for somebody who has ADHD where you tend to fixate on things that maybe you shouldn’t and you’re not putting your attention where it ought to be, maybe you can imagine all of the different avenues that my brain and body wants me to go down, but I can’t exactly focus on what everybody else wants me to focus on.

For instance, I would tell people about my fears about hell and damnation, and I would fixate on that. And when I would express this to people, I would say, “Hey, I’m really feeling this. I’m really doubting my salvation. I just keep having these intrusive thoughts about God punishing me for eternity.” And people would give me the run of the mill answers. “Just read your Bible more,” “Just pray more,” “Just have more faith. You don’t have enough faith. You’re not taking God at His word.” They would give me those run of the mill answers instead of really getting deep into the scriptures with me in ways that would affirm my identity in Christ, to really affirm for me that, “Hey, there’s nothing in this world,  there’s nothing that you can think or do that can undermine your salvation in Christ.” I think that I didn’t get that deep counseling, that deep affirmation that I needed.

That can be very unsettling. And it sounds like you lived with this sense of unsettledness for quite a while. So what happened then? You’re seventeen, eighteen. Did you go to college? How did that affect your view of God or faith?

Well, I had entered into college at around 18. I originally wanted to study political science and journalism. I wasn’t able to finish, because I had gotten into a car accident in 2012, and that prevented me from going back to college. But while I was there, I had encountered classes on the history of religion, psychology, general psychology, but we talked a lot about the psychology of religion. We also discussed…. I had taken a class in sociology, well, a bunch of classes in sociology, and definitely philosophy. When I took philosophy classes, they probably had the hugest impact on me, because we got into discussing all of these moral, different moral situations, moral ideas about dilemmas, and it really made me question moral reality. And I felt like I got better answers in those classes than I ever did in church. And I felt like those classes really gave me the affirmation that I had been wanting for a long time. Now, I realize that it really was the wrong affirmations, because those affirmations taught me that God doesn’t exist and there’s nobody constantly monitoring you to hurt you or to punish you for imaginary sins. That’s the kind of language that I was taught.

And it was in that period of my life when I got exposed to real unbelief, real atheism. During that time, I started picking up books like books written by Richard Dawkins. I picked up The God Delusion. That was very profound in converting my belief from believing in an all-good God Who cares about us to believing in a universe that is blind, pitiless, and indifferent to our suffering. And there’s really no consequence for anything good or bad that I do outside of social reality, because it was explained to me that everything in religion, especially in Christianity, all reduces down to social, natural phenomena. So there’s no divine punishment for any kind of sin I commit in my mind or with my body physically, so there’s nothing to really worry about, aside from what humans, other humans, can do to me.

So this was convincing for you?

It really was convincing. Yes. It was convincing to believe that God doesn’t exist, and I think, looking back on this, I really wasn’t able to come to grips with this until I came back to Christ in my thirties. But back then, I think that what really convinced me was the relief from the anxiety and the guilt and the shame that I felt like my early Christian environment didn’t… they didn’t try to impose it on me intentionally. They were doing the best that they could as leaders and as church people, theologians, pastors. They were doing their best, and I don’t I don’t blame them anymore, but back then I realized that my relief from all of that anxiety and the constant paranoid thoughts of God punishing me, when all of that went away, that’s what really helped to solidify my unbelief back then.

So it gave you a sense of freedom.

It gave me a sense of freedom.

And so you really embraced the atheist identity, at least intellectually, and it sounds like almost emotionally, too, if you were able to sense that real freedom apart from this, I guess what Christopher Hitchens would say, a cosmic authority of some sort.

Cosmic dictatorship, yeah.

Yes. That’s what he said. Cosmic dictator. So you were released from that.


And you found some sense of relief and freedom. So how long did you live within this atheist identity? And it gave you these positive ways to view life that were again relieving for you, but were you able to also look at the implications of a naturalistic worldview during that time?

Well, at first, I didn’t become an atheist. I became an agnostic.


I felt more comfortable with agnosticism because I could never boldly tell anybody to their face that God doesn’t exist. I could never prove God’s non-existence. So I was more comfortable being an agnostic. It took me a long time to really process the implications of all of that. So I started getting into things such as nihilism, and I realized that the best way for me to continue supporting my relief from my prior anxieties with evangelical, pentecostal Christianity, in order to continue supporting that, I had to accept a nihilistic framework, which is to say that there’s no intrinsic value, no intrinsic meaning to life or reality, and there most definitely is no objective meaning or value to morals, especially the morals that are taught by Christianity. And the implications of that is really I fell into a different kind of depression or anxiety. And this made conversations difficult with people because, how am I supposed to act like I don’t have any intrinsic value or meaning? I say, “I don’t want to kill anybody. I don’t want to steal from anybody.” Why shouldn’t I, then? Because if I find myself in a moral situation where it’s almost necessary for me to do those things, what’s going to stop me? I could never really figure out the answer to that question, and nihilism, moral relativism, all of the philosophies that deny objective moral reality, they didn’t really give me a solid answer. So that was very troubling, and these were the kinds of things that kept me awake at night. But I continued trying to find ways to stay in that territory of non-answers because I knew that there were other things that I really wanted to hold on to, particular sins that I wanted to hold on to, so that I could keep this up.

And one of those things was I wanted my freedom to engage in premarital sex with whoever I was dating. I definitely did not want any God, or any human for that matter, telling me that I couldn’t engage in consensual premarital sex. I mean, “What’s wrong with it? We’re both consenting adults. We do what we want.” And what are the consequences to having premarital sex. As long as I do not get anybody pregnant, I should be allowed to do what I want. And I guess I fell into that because I could never really find an atheistic, nihilistic morality that could teach me how to be a good sexual human being that could avoid bad decisions in that realm.

So yeah. I mean, there are a lot of philosophies, secular philosophies, out there that discuss sex. There’s a lot of good science out there about it. But I’ve gotten to the point now where I’ve questioned all of it, like what is it really teaching us on how to be a good healthy sexual human being? So I think that was one of the things that brought me back to Christianity, was realizing that there’s that safety in Christ.

Yeah. That’s interesting. So you left the anxiety that kind of laid upon you through the demands of a God Who was just looking for you to mess up, in a sense, and you left that for the freedom of kind of agnosticism. It made more intellectual sense to you. And you enjoyed the moral freedom that that brought to you.


So you were in your twenties during this period of time. So how long were you in this phase? Did this give you the life that you were looking for or that you wanted? You felt like it was more intellectually honest to who you were?

Yeah. It was more intellectually honest to who I was at that time. I felt like I had more freedom to think what I want. If I’d have angry thoughts, if I would have sexual thoughts, if I would have immoral thoughts, that would be fine, as long as I did not act upon it. And I wanted my freedom to think all of those thoughts without fear of divine punishment just for thinking it. So I always lived my life in that area of, “It’s fine if I think it. As long as I don’t do it, nobody should judge me.” But I thought that being a Christian was all about, “Okay, I have to be this superhuman and not ever think these things.” It was always difficult for me to make the mistake of thinking those things without associating divine punishment happening to me.

Yeah. It sounds like, even when you left that behind you still felt some kind of moral imperative upon you. Upon whatever you were thinking or your actions or whatever.


That’s a little bit hard to escape. So take us on from there, then. So you lived in this kind of phase of your life where you had left God behind, but you said that there were some things that made you start to question. Maybe this wasn’t the right place for you.

Right. So in 2014, I had a spiritual experience in my favorite bookstore. I was just sitting beside the window nearby. I was just looking out, and all of a sudden, I just felt this sudden indescribable peace wash over me. And I couldn’t explain it. I felt like I was hearing from God, not audibly. I didn’t hear any audible voice. It was just a very strong emotional mental impression put upon me that everything in life is going to be okay. It was weird, because later I tried to chalk it up to just some kind of mental experience of euphoria rooted in some kind of serotonin/dopamine experience. So I started picking up books on New Age, and I tried to get into that for a while. I started dabbling in Buddhism and Hinduism. I started visiting Buddhist monks, I meditated with them. I went to a resort area in West Virginia, back in 2014. It was a Hare Krishna community. I stayed with them for about a weekend.

So there was that time in 2014 when I was dabbling with both Hinduism and Buddhism, back and forth, before I eventually started going back to church, I guess because Hinduism and Buddhism were very, very attractive, but it still was not satisfying a void. I had a couple more spiritual experiences after that which involved Jesus Christ.

Yeah. So, again just to give context to this experience you had in the book store, at that point, would you say you were seeking or you were contemplating? And this experience that you felt, this surpassing peace, did you feel like that was from God? Is that why you started looking more towards other religions, to try to recapture what you had found in that moment?

Exactly. I was trying to find some way to recapture that moment, re-create it again. And I thought that maybe I could find it in New Age spirituality, because it was so extraordinary and it was so intense. I had never experienced something like that in the church before. So I figured, “Well, if I’m getting this while I’m not in church, then it must not be of church, so it must be from elsewhere.” So my first thought was, “Okay. Let’s go to the New Age section and find some New Age books.” And that was when I found this book called Conversations with God by Neale Donald Walsch, and I opened it up, and I started flipping through the pages, and I felt like the first few pages were written for me, which was weird. That was a weird thought to have, because of course logically speaking, Neale Donald Walsch did not write the book with me in mind. So it was funny that I got that thought, and I started wondering, “Okay, is this God or is this just me?” So even though I was having a very peaceful experience, a very euphoric experience, I was still going back and forth between Jesus, other gods, and myself.

You were trying to figure it out. Yeah. There’s something ironic, too, about the fact that you had longed for some kind of spiritual experience while in church. You didn’t receive it.


And now you’re in this agnostic state of mind, and here it comes. So you’re trying to figure it out. But you said that you experienced something of Jesus in a spiritual experience? Tell us about that.

Okay, so at the point when I kind of lost interest with Buddhism and Hinduism, I got the feeling that I should go back to church, and there was a night when I was just driving out, and I decided to walk into a church, and I met the pastor there, and he was very inviting to me. So I found these people to be really nice, and I thought to myself, “Okay, I’m want to start going back to church.” And there was another night when I was out driving again, and I decided to go visit this Catholic basilica. It’s kind of like a Catholic church building, but it just has the pews, and it has the cross, the crucifix, in the middle. It’s gigantic. And I guess this is a place where Catholics just go to be alone and to pray to God. I walked through the doors. I dipped my finger in the holy water bowl, and I did the sign of the cross. And I decided to walk to the front of the building. And I sat down in the pew right there in front of the crucifix. And I said to God, I said, “God, I don’t know Who You are. I don’t know if You’re Jesus Christ or if you’re some other God, but will You just give me an answer? Because I need an answer now.” And I got this strong impression, saying, “God is Jesus Christ.” And I was like, “No, no, no. You can’t be. But are you?” And I went back and forth with this for an hour to two hours, just trying to question. I was trying to get rid of the thought of Jesus in my mind, but at the same time, I also wanted to know if I was wrong about Jesus.

So as I was having this conversation, I ended up praying my way into a blissful experience, and I just felt the presence. I felt a strong, peaceful presence come over me. And it gave me that strong mental and emotional impression saying, “God is Jesus Christ.” And again, I did not hear an audible voice. It was just an impression. And I left the basilica feeling intense clarity of mind. For the first time in my life, I felt really validated.

Yeah. So then you became drawn, I would say, more towards the Person of Christ and that God perhaps is real?


Through these experiences. So then did you begin to reclaim your Christianity again?

Yep. I reclaimed my Christianity in 2015, and then from 2015 until 2018, I was a Christian. But I became an atheist in 2018.

You moved from agnosticism to Christianity to atheism.

Correct. Correct.

So why or what… or how did that happen?

So, in 2015, I started getting involved with these online debates, where we would talk about the philosophy of religion, the psychology of religion, and I got into these arguments. The Kalam cosmological argument, the moral argument for God’s existence. I started reading from philosophers such as William Lane Craig. And I was trying to convince atheists of the existence of God from 2015 until 2018. But it was hard. It was a struggle, because every day that I would encounter atheists, we would just get into these really difficult conversations. It was hard to convince them. And I felt that it was morally incumbent upon me to convince atheists of God’s existence. And I felt that if I couldn’t accomplish that, then there’s something’s wrong with me. Maybe I’m just not a good debater. I’m just not informative enough. And I think that that struggle that we had eventually led to my recantation of the Christian faith again in 2018.

So you became more convinced by the atheists than they became convinced by you. Is that what happened?

Correct. Yes. I believe so.

So they basically deconstructed your faith, even through the use of apologetics.

Correct. Yes. Yes.

Wow. So that’s really a tough place to be, especially if you’re intellectually minded, and your yourself have been personally convinced and were so ardent about trying to help others see that truth, but yet you ended up moving their direction. So tell me what that phase of your life was like.

So you want me to talk about 2018, when I became…?


So I became frustrated with Christian apologetics, thinking that they didn’t really have any good, substantial answers to questions from skeptics and atheists. I thought there was no real, substantial evidence for God, because I figured if there was substantial evidence for God, the skeptics and the atheists, they would recognize it. They would see it. If it was objectively true, we would all be able to look at it together and agree, “Okay, this is evidence.” So in 2018 I became so frustrated with Christian apologetics. I just gave it up completely. I stopped reading about religion almost completely really, and I just tried to focus on reading about psychology, just human psychology and secular thinking. I tried to do it for a while, but I ended up slipping back into discussing apologetics again, but I was trying to defend atheism then. And I was trying to debunk Christianity at that point.

And that’s why I started The Common Caveat in 2020. So at that time, I guess I thought that there must be this conspiracy in Christianity, this conspiracy of fraudulent people trying to defend Christianity without evidence, and they’re trying to convince the public that we should adopt Christian principles again, so that that they could raise up this fascist regime that would rob women of their rights and just control everybody. So that we could have this gigantic patriarchy and go back to the Bronze Age morality. That’s what I thought of Christianity at that time. And I was really convinced that evolutionary theory is not just a theory. It’s a fact. This has been proven over and over again. This is this is the best science that we have, and there’s no evidence for an intelligent creator. There’s no evidence for intelligent design. The people who defend intelligent design and creation, they’re just making it up. There’s no real scientific evidence for it. So that’s…. On a daily basis, I felt like it was morally incumbent upon me that I convince Christians that they should forget about religion, because the progressive agenda is that we’re moving forward in society. Christianity is outdated. We should forget about it. It’s hindering society in general from achieving a better morality, and if we go back to Christianity, we will see the erosion of our human liberties and freedom to do what we see is best for us.

That’s interesting, considering, you know, in your first bout with agnosticism, and you were talking about Dawkins, that we live in a blind, pitiless, indifferent universe and there really is no real right or wrong or really any objective morality, but yet, as an atheist here later, you’re using very strong moral terms of progress and things getting better and making moral judgments on who the Christians were. Did you ever see that your position there was a bit self-refuting?

Yeah. When I was an atheist, I had concerns that I was being self-refuting, but I tried my best to conceal and suppress those concerns. I figured those just must be my old religious impulses trying to come to the surface. That’s just my old indoctrination. That’s my old indoctrinated Christian voice trying to find its way back into my surface level consciousness again, but I just need to forget about that, because I’m pretty sure that everybody is dealing with this old trauma, from our abusive pasts, having been indoctrinated into Christianity from the time we were young until adulthood. I just need to fight that. I just need to forget about that. These concerns about being self-refuting, I’ll work through them eventually. I just need time. And science needs time. Humanity needs time. Secular society needs time to grow out of this, because it’s only been two hundred, three hundred years since the enlightenment. So, before then, humanity was completely ruled by religion all the time. So we need more time to evolve beyond those old, outdated religious impulses. So just we need time. That’s it.

No. It didn’t sound like you were quite convinced by the atheistic perspective, but you were taken in by it.

I guess, on that front, I wasn’t totally convinced. Yeah. There was another narrative going on there, I guess, that I wasn’t totally aware of. When I did become aware of it, I would just try to stuff it down and just forget about it.

What was that other narrative?

Just the narrative that was telling me that secularism in the twenty-first century is self-refuting. And we’re hardwired to believe in God. That was another narrative that was trying to poke its way through. Because even though I was defending atheism on my blog, I guess at some point I started to see the health benefits, mental health benefits of being a Christian, or being spiritual in any fashion.

Yeah. Because certainly the data suggests that, right? The social scientific, psychological data suggests that if you’re religious then you’re generally happier or whatnot, but that.

I would imagine, for someone like you who’s very intellectually driven, you’re still saying, “Okay, well, if it works for someone, that’s good, but that doesn’t necessarily make it true.”

That’s what I told myself.

Right. And so were you wrestling with this idea of, “Yes, religion works, but it’s not true,” or, “Religion may work. Perhaps it is true. And that’s why it works.” I mean, there are a lot of different ways to kind of manage that. But you were evidently drawn back towards the possibility of belief?

Yes. So I was having thoughts that there are mental and emotional benefits to religion, but I figured that’s only pragmatic. That doesn’t reveal that religion is true. So, of course, people who are religious, they can be happier because they’re ignorant. But then I started having doubts about that, and I started to realize, “Okay, well, would it be possible for a Christian to not be ignorant, but yet still keep their spirituality and be happy?” So there are so many different ways that we can go with this: The science, the data behind this phenomenon that we’re seeing in Christianity and in a lot of religions, too. People who meditate experience the mental and emotional benefits of meditation. So I figured… I grappled with this by saying, “Well, it makes sense that if you imagine an all-good, loving being, whose identity you give to it. If you imagine that being loving you all the time, of course you’re going to experience enlightenment. You’re going to experience a positive mood. You’re going to experience more positive actions. Things of that sort. You’re going to have more resilience against disease. You’re going to have more resilience against sickness. You’re going to have a greater immune system.” But all of that is…. I guess, throughout time, I started to see that as just a little bit too coincidental.

In science, we often talk about correlation is not indication of causation. But why is this happening? In a universe that is blind, pitiless, and indifferent to our suffering and fortune, why is this happening? Because, if religious people have the advantage on this, if they have the mental and emotional advantage on this, what are secular people going to do? How are secular people going to be able to withstand loneliness when a loved one dies? How are they going to withstand anxiety and depression when they really feel like they don’t have anything to live for?

And that’s what started me on the path of thinking that, “Okay, nihilism’s not good for me. What am I going to do when I lose my parents? When I lose my dog?” So, yeah.

Yeah. So it opened you up, again, towards reconsidering?

Yeah, it opened me up again, and I guess maybe I can use this now to segue into… because a lot really happened in 2022 to really bring me to Christ again. It happened very fast because I was dating a woman at that time. I thought she and I were going to get married. She ended up breaking up with me. That was hard. That was very, very hard. I had a best friend who I lost back then. That was very hard. I was making a lot of money back then, and then there was a month when I just started losing it all, and I really saw myself on cloud nine, with thinking that, “Okay, I’m this atheist. I’m making a lot of money with my sales job. I don’t need God.” And then all of a sudden I started losing it. And I got to a point where I was drunk one night and I was feeling suicidal. And as I was struggling with that, I felt like I felt something within me say, “Matthew, how are you going to do this without God?” But then another part of me said, “Well, we’ve got to resist that. We’ve got to fight through because we’re intellectual. We’re not stupid. We’re not delusional. So we’ve got to push through this somehow.”

But I got to the point where I felt it would be better for me…. “I don’t want to take a chance here with these suicidal thoughts. So I’ve got to do something.” I called my mom, and I said, “Mom, I need you to do something with me that I have not done in a really, really long time. Can we pray?” And my mom was shocked because, from 2018 until 2022, my parents and I, we would argue all the time about religion. We would argue all the time about God and Jesus Christ, and I would always call them crazy and ridiculous, and I would say, “You’re conspiring with the patriarchy to try to take control of society and oppress people.” But here I am saying to my mom, “Mom, will you pray with me?” And when we prayed, I prayed a prayer of repentance with my mom.” So I started going back to church, and I started realizing, “Okay, if I want to get out of this mental and emotional trap that I’ve put myself in, I need to reach out to God,” because I feel like God is saying to me, “Hey, Matthew. It’s all right that you don’t have everything figured out. You’re not going to have all of the intellectual answers for people. People are going to dislike you for believing in Jesus, but you’re thirty-three now. Let’s stop worrying about what people think about you, because people are going believe in whatever they want to believe in.”

So I started going back to church. And then there was a day when I was in my apartment. My girlfriend had just broken up with me. I lost my friendship with my best friend. I’m standing in my kitchen. And within ten minutes, I felt like God had revealed to me all of the wrong things that I was doing and all of the wrong things that I needed to stop doing. And this secular humanist that I was, all of my beliefs had just changed in a matter of ten minutes, which was weird. So I no longer wanted to be a part of the toxic groups that I was a part of. Being with the atheists, the only thing that we could really agree on was that religion is toxic, and we should get rid of it. That was the only thing that we could unite on. But everything else. I just really had no support system. I had these online atheists that I could message any time and get some feedback, and they would have affirmed me on a lot of things, but I didn’t have anybody that I could meet with on a regular basis and say, “Hey, I’m having this issue. Can you give me some wisdom?” So I realize that the best way to get this is in the church, because I can’t get this at a bar with alcohol. I can’t get this at a party where there’s drugs around me. I can’t get this from a bunch of people. So many of these atheists are struggling with severe mental health issues. They’re talking about wanting to kill themselves, too, and I try to give them wisdom, too, but it’s just not working. Something’s missing here in my life. Something is missing in their lives. And I just need to go find a good group of adults who are not going to gaslight me all the time and not going to feed me toxic garbage. So I started going back to church, and yeah.

Wow. I mean, there’s a lot there. You reached a point. It sounds like there were some things that were happening in your life that that were very disappointing or disturbing, and so you were humbled to a point where you actually saw your need for God and that you realized that God really was the One who could provide the life that you were longing for-


… and the love that you were longing for and being valued. All of the things…. You know, I think sometimes there’s an idea, or at least it used to be, especially with the New Atheists, that they’re debating all of these things about reality and the universe outside of our own humanity. And those are worthy of debate. I think that the evidence and the rationality and the science and everything falls on the side of the Christian worldview, but yet, there seems to be an ignoring of what’s the best explanation for you, for your life, for human flourishing. And I think that we’re in a meaning crisis right now, where people are really looking for: What’s life all about? I want to applaud you for reaching a point where I think atheists would say it’s weak. But I think it’s the most wise thing that you could have done, is to recognize the Author and Giver of life, Who has a purpose for you and a value of you that so far surpasses the indifference of the atheistic worldview, that it makes sense of all reality when you believe in God Who is actually there. And Who loves you.

I mean, we know that He exists, and we also know that He matters. It matters. And I think that that’s what you realized, that you realized that you needed to go back to the One Who is the source of all. And so that was a very courageous thing to do, especially picking up the phone and calling your mom, the one that you had battled with those four years.


That you were humble enough. You didn’t do this on your own. You actually went to your mom, someone you trusted, who was safe, and who loved you. And you started that journey back towards God. So talk to us now. That was pretty recent, last year. I’m just wondering about your belief in God now. I mean, all of those arguments that you felt were put down when you were kind of convinced by the atheists for a while. How are things now, both intellectually and emotionally, since you’ve made this step back towards belief?

Emotionally, I feel better. I still struggle with depression and anxiety. I still have the symptoms, but I have something to lean on now. I have purpose. I have meaning, because I feel it. That’s my anchor, is that I feel it, but I know that the skeptics are going to say, “Well, wait a minute. A feeling is not evidence,” and they’re right, but I think because of the way that our brains are wired, we need those defaults to fall back on, and I have to do that. In my private life, when I lay my head down at night and when I’m in a position where I’m not at my best intellectually, and I can’t come up with this sophisticated amazing stuff to really captivate people. When I can’t do that, who am I beneath that? That is one of the most important things that I could ask about myself and our listeners could ask about is, because that’s who you really are. So if I’m a nihilist and I don’t have that foundation, there’s nothing that I can do.

So I keep this in mind on a daily basis, when I’m struggling in my mind. And I hold on to what Jesus says. He says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by Me,” and I just see so much metaphysical beauty in that. I couldn’t appreciate that as an atheist, but now I look at that, and I say to myself, I cannot wait to spend all of eternity examining and exploring the meaning of that with God. I want to do that. I can’t wait for that. It’s amazing.

Yes! Yes.

And when I feel that, when I think about that, I feel like I’m having this conversation with the Creator of the universe. And I don’t have to struggle anymore to try to make sense of a nihilistic universe. And so intellectually, I feel like, because of God, I have more motivation now to research things in neuroscience and psychology and consciousness, philosophy of mind. I have more motivation now to explore the extent to which… Is the universe… What is it made out of? How did God do it? Is consciousness fundamental to the universe, or is matter and energy fundamental to the universe? And I think consciousness. There’s more evidence emerging in science to show that consciousness is fundamental to the universe, and in quantum mechanics, we’re seeing, science is seeing, that the universe operates more like a mind. It doesn’t operate like something static. Does that make sense?

Mm-hm. Mm-hm. Yeah. There has to be a transcendent mind that informs and sustains the universe. I mean consciousness, it precedes matter and energy, right?


So, yeah. There’s a lot there, but it sounds like that your world and your worldview are becoming more whole, in a sense that you have found a solid foundation upon which to stand, upon which to land, the way, the truth, and the life, Jesus Christ, and this transcendent, yet imminent Creator Who knows you and loves you personally. It’s just this amazing thing. But you know, I’m listening, and I know we need to really move forward here, but I’m thinking and hearing in my mind the skeptics saying, “Well, you know, you’ve changed your mind a few times throughout your life, trying to figure out, does God exist, does He not? And then you were sure, and then you weren’t, and now you are. And I’m wondering: The skeptic looking on, saying, “Well, are you sure? Are you going to change your mind again?” How would you respond to someone like that?

Well, I really cannot predict the future, but this time around I feel like I have better control. I feel like, because of God, I have better control. The things that I used to worry about, I don’t worry about them as much. Growing up, I really struggled with my certainty of my salvation, but now I don’t feel that as much. And I think also because I went through the atheism, I picked up a lot of science books and biology, psychology, neuroscience, and now I’m dabbling in artificial intelligence and quantum mechanics. I’ve been doing the whole nine yards. Now that I feel like I have a better education in science, I can see through a lot of the philosophical and metaphysical weaknesses of the materialist, metaphysical, naturalistic, nihilistic worldview. I see the weaknesses now, and I have seen the effects that they have had on people, and because of that, because of what I’ve seen in people, I don’t want our society to go back to that.

So I see us moving forward with a better kind of Christianity, a kinder, more compassionate Christianity that is more educated and intellectual. We can find better ways to balance intellectual life with our emotional/spiritual life. So, as Christians, we don’t want to be anti-intellectual, but we also do not want to let the arrogance of the intellect overtake us. So if we can come together and really see the collaboration between science and the Christian faith, we can find that healthy balance, and I think society would be better off that way. Everything is not going to be perfect. But if we keep that balance, and we keep Christ at the center, I see ourselves doing better.

Yeah. That’s really good. A good word for the Christians. And it sounds like you’ve come to a different kind of faith than you had in your upbringing and you childhood, where there are a lot of things expected of you that just didn’t fit with who you were, in a sense, and your understanding of God probably has changed a good bit. It doesn’t sound like to me that He’s kind of the judgmental God of your youth, that you lived in constant fear of. You’re using words like love and compassion. And it seems to me that personal perspective that you have found God to be a lot more loving than perhaps the God of your youth. And I think that comes with maturity and growth and your understanding of scripture and everything else. Obviously, you have grown from childhood ways of thinking, to a mature adult. And that you have a very solid place. It sounds like a lot of confidence, too. Not overly confident or arrogant anyway, but just a solid kind of confidence in what you believe, so that’s really beautiful.

If there were a skeptic or an atheist who’s listening today who has looked at your journey and can relate to you in so many ways, whether it’s feeling the disconcertion that this worldview is kind of empty, it’s meaningless. “There are some self-refuting things I have to believe.” Nihilism is just not a good way to live, and they see something in you that they wish they had or that they wanted. How could you advise someone to become more open or take a step closer to the possibility of believing in God? A God that not only exists, but a God that matters.

Well, first of all, I would want to help the atheist to examine whether or not evidence is really the issue as to why they can’t believe. Is it really evidence, or is it because they have a past history of abuse that they endured, and to distance themselves from that past history, are they feeling the need to deny God, in order to keep themselves distanced from that? I want to help them to realize that they don’t need to deny the God of the Bible in order to protect themselves against abusers, whether they be in the church or in their household or at their job. There are good ways to protect yourself against those things while still believing in Jesus, and together we can work through those intrusive thoughts that like to get in the way of your relationship with God. So I want to invite the skeptic and the atheist and the nihilist to enter into a relationship with God again with a fresh mindset as to how we can embrace the Christian worldview again without fear of being exploited or without fearing that Christians are going to make fun of the skeptics and the atheists for admitting that they’re wrong.

And these conversations that we have about God, it’s not about winning. It’s not about winning a conversation. It’s about finding truth so we can improve ourselves together as people, and move on from our hurtful pasts and heal. We want to heal. We don’t want to be winning, because you don’t really get anything from winning a conversation. So… yeah.

I think that’s a good word, really. We all want to be whole. We all want to be healed. And you’re right. It’s not about winning. And I think that there’s a good piece of advice there for the Christians, too, as they’re engaging with those who are skeptical. Winning isn’t the goal. It’s not about winning the argument or being the one in the right for its own sake. It’s more about we want you to know the God of the universe who loves you.

So how would you best advise Christians to engage with those who are skeptical? You’ve been on both sides, so you know what it feels like. You know what it looks like. And I know, early in your life, you asked questions that weren’t answered. And there’s just so much there. I think that you could advise us now, as someone who’s wise and who’s been on both sides.

Well, I think number one is to get firm grounding in your salvation in Christ, and that is there’s nothing, there’s nobody that can steal your salvation from you. Your salvation in Christ is irrevocable. The only way you can lose it is if you say that you don’t want it. That’s really the only way, but I think even then God really still tries to keep a hold of you. So my advice for Christians, anybody who’s in apologetics, if you’re struggling. If you’re struggling with doubts about your salvation, you need to remember that your salvation is in Christ. Your salvation is not rooted in anything that you really say or do. So your salvation cannot be revoked. It’s not like you can slip up and accidentally say or want… “I no longer want to be in the family of Christ any more.” That’s not it. The scriptures say that there’s nothing in heaven or in earth that can steal your salvation from you, because Christ keeps us. I guess the only exception would be that if you don’t want to be in the family of God anymore, you can choose to leave, but that’s really it. It’s up to you. But I think that even then, maybe there’s another exception. Christ still tries to keep a hold of us. He’s constantly pursuing after us.

And I feel like my story is a testament to that, because I left. I left more than once. And each time that I left, I felt certain that, if God exists, He’s either evil, impotent, or He’s definitely not the God of the Bible. So the fact that I could come back around this time for the third or fourth time makes me believe that Christ is still pursuing after me, even when I try to leave. Which gives me this fresh perspective on what scripture says about our salvation and the degree to which it is revocable or irrevocable. And I feel like this time around, I don’t have to be anxious about my salvation anymore. Christ has got me. I’ve got it. I want it.

So, I think, for the Christians who are doing apologetics, do not get wrapped up too much in these online conversations. When you feel that it’s getting toxic, when you feel yourself getting frustrated, step back. Take a break. You cannot possibly answer every single objection there is on the internet. Do not let your mind get mired in these debates. These debates are good to have, but you need to keep firm boundaries. You need to figure out where those boundaries are. Pray about it. Converse with some support group, preferably a support group of Christians who can coach you on how to do healthy apologetics, and stay away from people who you feel are toxic. Don’t let people twist your words. Don’t let people distort and straw man your arguments. If you feel like that’s going on, I would step away. That’s what I’m starting to do with myself is, when I feel anybody, whether they’re Christian or not Christian, if I feel like they’re distorting my arguments, and if I can’t negotiate with them, I just step away. And I think that has a lot to do with what Jesus says about not casting your pearls before swine. And I know in today’s language that sounds very offensive. But I think Christ is making a point, that we should not waste our time with people who are not genuine, who are not genuine in the conversation with us.

So definitely take time for prayer, the reading of scripture, make relaxation time, a time where you don’t have to make your mind work so much. You need to take time to rest. Just rest in Christ and realize that He is the ultimate one who keeps everything together and sustains everything. If you’re the Christian trying to persuade people, you are not the one who ultimately persuades. Christ is the one who persuades. You’re just being used as a tool.

That’s tremendous. That really, really is wonderful, Matthew. As I’m thinking about your story, there’s just so much there, but the word that is surfacing for me right now is the word hope. And I think that’s because I can see from both sides. As you were in and out of faith, you were lost, but yet I think you’re able to demonstrate to the skeptic that there is hope for something more. There’s hope for something better than a nihilistic life. There’s hope for something better or more than just a meaningless existence. That there is something there, something there worth holding onto, worth believing in, and actually there are good reasons for belief. And I think you also give hope for those of us who know people who seem to be wandering, I guess you could say, away from belief or from faith. Or we have friends or family members or loved ones whom we would love to see come, and you think, “Oh, no. They’re over in the wilderness. They’re not interested.” Just like those four years with your mom, battling verbally. And I’m sure at some point she thought, “He’s gone,” but yet I’m sure she held onto hope, and here you are.

I think that it’s a very powerful thing, but more than that is Who we place our hope in. And that’s Christ. I love the way that you kind of wrapped it up, that we can be secure in who we are in Christ and that He’s constantly pursuing. So whenever there’s that, whenever there’s Christ, there’s always hope.


So, thank you so much, Matthew, for coming and telling your story. I know that so many people are going to listen and be encouraged by it.

Oh, that’s awesome. I’m very glad to hear that.


Thanks for tuning in to Side B Stories to hear Matthew Sabatine’s story. You can find out more about his podcast, The Common Caveat, and his blog and recommended resources in the episode notes. For questions and feedback about this episode, you can contact me through our email at

This podcast was produced through the C.S. Lewis Institute through the wonderful help of our producer Ashley Decker and audio engineer Mark Rosera. You can also see these podcasts in video form on our YouTube channel through the excellent work of our video editor Kyle Polk. If you enjoyed it, I hope you’ll follow, rate, review, and share this podcast with your friends and social network. In the meantime, I’ll be looking forward to seeing you next time, where we’ll see how another skeptic flips the record of their life.

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