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Tinder is the (current) night

Each of us these days is lost, not in the cosmos as Walker Percy says, but in the pneumopathological unreality we have made in place of it.

(Image: Mika Baumeister/

It’s a good thing Pope Francis never actually said, “Tinder is normal.” Nobody wants to have to write: “No, Holy Father, Tinder is not normal.” That’s a sentence for an opening line to a parody.

I skipped the Donnybrook over the Disney+ documentary the week it came out – Holy Week of 2023, it happened – in which Pope Francis discussed the use of dating apps like Tinder. I skipped it because, well, it was Holy Week. I hope everyone is calm now.

In order to watch the whole thing, which I did eventually, I had to take out a Hulu sub. It’s on a 30-day free trial now, but we all know exactly what will happen. So, Disney, my wife and daughter salute you.

What Francis actually said was, “I don’t [know what Tinder is], my dear,” in response to a query from one of his interlocutors, Celia, a young person who identifies as non-binary and Christian. “[Tinder] is mostly about sex,” Celia explained, “but in some cases it is useful for meeting people.” Tinder is where Celia found her partner.

Asked point-blank by another interlocutor what he thinks about what Celia said about Tinder, Francis replied, “I don’t know. It’s fine that people meet each other. It’s normal.” It is normal to meet people. It is normal to want to meet people. It is normal to want to get to know people.

“I feel embarrassed,” Pope Francis also said of his ignorance, “I feel antiquated,” and it’s tough to blame him. There’s ample evidence to support the idea that the world in which late millennials and Gen Z live makes those very normal human desires ever more difficult to pursue, much less to satisfy.

A 2015 Vanity Fair piece exploring what passes for the “dating” landscape in young professional New York painted a bleak and gruesome picture:

“I’m on [several hookup apps],” Nick says. “It’s just a numbers game. Before, I could go out to a bar and talk to one girl, but now I can sit home on Tinder and talk to 15 girls—”

“Without spending any money,” John chimes in.

Neither Nick nor John has had a girlfriend in the last few years; Brian had one until recently but confesses, “I cheated…. She found out by looking at my phone—rookie mistake, not deleting everything.” Some guys, they say, in order to hide their multiple sex partners from each other, will assign them fake names in their phones, such as “Crazy Mike.”

Back in 2015, at least, the fellas were not getting it done for the ladies, who were not enjoying themselves:

“A lot of guys are lacking in that department,” says Courtney with a sigh. “What’s a real orgasm like? I wouldn’t know.”

They all laugh knowingly.

“I know how to give one to myself,” says Courtney.

“Yeah, but men don’t know what to do,” says Jessica, texting.

That’s where we are. At least, it’s where we were eight years ago. Things do not appear to have improved very much. Society does tend to correct itself, eventually, though not infrequently only after significant damage is done.

Basically, the TinderScape is the epitome of end-stage sexual revolutionary culture. That project has given us women who are chronically disappointed and men who cannot please them even when they can perform. By its own premises and measures, the project has failed.

“The Rake” is a stock character. Think of a Don Juan or Casanova figure, whose aptitudes in seduction were largely owing to cultivated reputation for nearly limitless capacity to please women. With apparently increasing frequency, however, perfectly healthy 20-something men in 2015 were experiencing erectile dysfunction. “I have to say, that happens a lot,” says one young woman interviewed.

Just so we’re clear on the point, no one should be pining for the days of the prodigious Venetian. Civilization has been really rapey for a really long time, and the unwillingness of the #metoo generation to tolerate bad behavior or excuse it with “boys will be boys” nonchalance is welcome and long overdue.

The psychological pressure of such a partial awakening to personal dignity must provoke profound disorientation.

The Vanity Fair piece cites copious research tending to corroborate what everybody knows: That women generally experience greater and more frequent sexual pleasure when they are in relationships. Maybe – just maybe – the fellas have a … difficult time negotiating the world we’ve made, too? Maybe – just maybe – a weighty portion of the reason is that men as well as women naturally crave the very real human connections that Tinder and similar tools tend to preclude rather than facilitate?

Erica Jong gave us the Myth of the Zipless F— in her 1973 Fear of Flying. There’s a pretty straight line segment to be drawn from there to the tragicomic turn of Steve Howey’s Kevin Ball character on Shameless as an ersatz gigolò catering to a clientele of overprivileged and chronically underserviced college coeds. Kevin’s business is derailed when the campus bro contingent put a stop to his enterprise. The ladies, having experienced Kevin’s more practiced attentions, began to demand better from the bros. The bros were having none of it.

The collective “we” has known for no fewer than fifty years that something is wrong.

In reality, we’ve known something is wrong for a whole lot longer than that. The real danger in the virtualization of our culture is its tendency to make it more difficult for us to see what is wrong with us. The collective “we” of our culture is so thoroughly besotted with our pathological premises, that we cannot recognize them as such. This, too, has been a long time coming.

“The corrosion of Western civilization,” wrote Eric Voegelin in 1953, “is a slow process extending over a thousand years.” Voegelin diagnosed the corrosive element as gnosticism – Voegelin spelled it with a lower-case g – the essential characteristic of which is a conception of the world as evil, benighted, a “labyrinth of torment” into which some obscure power has thrown human being, which experiences corporal existence as captivity.

The gnostic experience is in fact of very ancient origin, and has a broad range of expression, so broad that it is difficult to identify. Whether it is expressed through libertinism or asceticism or both or something in between or something else entirely, the subject experiences the world as irrational.

“The world is no longer the well-ordered, the cosmos,” wrote Voegelin in Science, Politics, and Gnosticism, “nor is it the Judaeo-Christian world that God created and found good.” Each of us these days is lost, not in the cosmos as Walker Percy says, but in the pneumopathological unreality we have made in place of it.

When I say, “Each of us,” I mean it.

We are all infected – it is like the big reveal at the end of season one of The Walking Dead, or the sci-fi trope in which an entire ship is exposed to some strange alien pathogen and the ship’s doctor races to find a cure before succumbing to the illness it causes – and we are all suffering the ill effects of the infection.

So, no.

Tinder is not normal.

Neither is the Church’s teaching on healthy sexuality “in diapers” as Pope Francis said, but our thinking about all this is not ready to come to grips with the gravity of our predicament.

Whatever else one may say about the film – and there is a great deal that one may find unsatisfactory — it offers an opportunity to see and hear young people wrestle with the psychological and spiritual effects of the moral wasteland in which we live. That is something.

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About Christopher R. Altieri 213 Articles
Christopher R. Altieri is a journalist, editor and author of three books, including Reading the News Without Losing Your Faith (Catholic Truth Society, 2021). He is contributing editor to Catholic World Report.


      • For starters, how about a takedown of current-day shibboleths that young people hold dear, such as “love is love”? If they’re willing to listen and engage in dialogue – yes, that’s asking a lot – you hit it straight on. Start with asking them to define love. I would bet large sums that none of the participants in this puerile papal chatfest could muster a coherent response to that one. After letting them stumble around for a bit, you come in with wisdom from Sts. Thomas Aquinas and John Paul II on love’s definition, but don’t reveal them as sources at the outset. The clear logic – again, assuming they’re willing to listen and engage in thoughtful discourse – should at least raise some questions in their minds about what they believe. Then you start asking them about whether “love” as understood by a group like NAMBLA, for example, is a genuine expression of true love. Ask them whether there are some things, like biological age, that can rob the sexual act of its power to be an expression of true love. Now, all of a sudden, “love is love” doesn’t quite ring as true as it once did. You’ve planted questions and doubts in their minds about something they thought they understood. You remind them that doubting and honest questioning can be very powerful motivators for learning. You leave it there for the first session. Take a cue from show business; always leave them wanting more. Invite them to come back for further conversation on the topic.

        Not everyone will return. Some will. Those who return are the ones you’ve got a good chance of reaching. In the next session, you ask them what makes something – anything – good. They’ll stumble around on that one for a bit, as well. Then you come in with more Aquinas – the essence of good is that which perfects another as an end – and use some examples (e.g., the intellect has truth as its natural end; to the extent that the intellect knows truth, it is perfected, such that truth is the intellect’s good, and since the intellect is a power of a person, truth is the person’s good). You need to use a number of examples at this stage. This is challenging stuff that young people are almost never exposed to. You’ll lose them without concrete examples. But use the examples, and tie them into the concepts you’re introducing. The folks who came back for session #2 should be fairly open-minded at this stage, and you should be able to make some real progress. Leave it there for session #2.

        For session #3, you can begin to introduce the concept of the goods of sexual intimacy, and how things like homosexual sex, pre/extramarital sex and contraceptive sex are all in contradiction with the proper ends of the sexual act. Again, by this stage, you’ve laid a strong foundation for the fundamentals of what love is, what is a good, and why a proper and rigorous understanding of those things is important. By now they’re ready to be surprised, and richly so, by the real countercultural radicalism of what the Church teaches on these topics.

        That’s the roughest outline of one way to go about this. There are countless other ways, and certainly better ones than this. But that’s my answer to your question.

        • I agree.
          Love may be love but some expressions of “love” are still against the law. Age and close blood relationship being a couple examples.

  1. Some years back I did professional counseling with a never-married fallen-away Catholic man in his 30’s who sought help regarding the break-up of his latest relationship. We got onto the favorite topic of this Pope – sex – and I asked this young man how many women he’d had sexual intercourse with. He couldn’t remember exactly but guessed it was close to 100! I asked him if he thinks that he told each one of those 100 women that he loved them during the course of the sex act. He agreed in the affirmative. I asked him if, in retrospect, he in fact did love them. He looked at me and smiled as if to say, “What a stupid question.” I asked him if he could remember all their names. He smiled sheepishly.

    I wonder what Francis’ reaction would be if I related this man’s experiences. By now, I can imagine what it might be. But, the Church according to Francis is still in diapers when it comes to sex. I refuse to be guided by a fool.

  2. Unable to find evidence that there is such a word as “pneumopathological”. And I’m a physician. Did you mean pseudopathological?

    • Pneumopathology refers to a “disease of the spirit” or a “spiritual sickness” (Eric Voegelin).

      I think it fits in terms of what the author is trying to portray, as well as what is happening in the world today, but especially in the West.

  3. Altieri laments the spiritual disintegration psychologist philosopher Eric Voegelin called [Voegelin coined the word] pneumopathology, the disease of the spirit. A loss of the sense of one’s identity.
    From this writer’s perspective the current moral disease is the antithesis of existential psychologist priest [Holy Ghost Fathers today Spiritans] Adrian Van Kaam’s and the integrated personality, whose integrity is centered in our psychological, spiritual identity with Christ. Altieri covers Voegelin well, giving us the diagnosis. Van Kaam offers us the treatment for recovery. The remedy integration of our desires, expectations, sense of self, the eventual psychological dimension of our life realized in and with Christ’s revelation. A Christian anthropology that includes the sciences.
    Pope Francis can be excused because of his ignorance of the sexual transactions Altieri typifies in Tinder. Virtually all social contact apps degrade human relationships because today’s morality is itself degraded into various forms of self masochism, men finding this in their repetitious inadequacy, women in their dissatisfaction – indicative of the cultural trend of finding satisfaction in self inflicted annihilation. We don’t love ourselves. It goes with the utter eradication of the first principle of all truth, God. Faith in God the antidote.
    Added to the dilemma is Church emphasis on sanctification of the result of the spiritually disintegrated person, the trans, LGBT and all the increasing new sexual disorders. Francis’ dream Synodal Church of radical inclusion.

    • “Pope Francis can be excused because of his ignorance of the sexual transactions Altieri typifies in Tinder.” Not really. If he is going to go with Disney to speak to the world this calls for wisdom to know what you are getting into. Wisdom, one of the seven gifts of the Holy Sprit it seems Francis ignores.

    • I won’t argue with the responses since I respect your opinions. However, it seems fitting that I further elaborate what I mean by self masochism, the textbook definition, a purposeful intent for failure. That’s one. From my long experience I’ve perceived a self hatred in some due to persistent failure, anguished frustration with one’s inadequacy, the persistence of a form of self punishment.
      As to dysfunction, our senses are constantly flooded with erotica from all quarters in an eroticized, jaded culture. The extraordinary becoming bland. That’s true for many though as usual in life not all. Others seem to thrive in the world of illicit erotica as evident in Jeffrey Epstein’s Little Saint James [Virgin Islands] isle of pleasure. The draw it had on so many, including notables. The shameless, heartless sexual exploitation of young girls.
      Wealth, glamour, pleasure can purchase souls, though not all. A heart enshrined with Christ cannot be bought at any price. It’s this steadfast witness that will save us in the days to come.

  4. We have spent many decades allowing society to devalue men in ANY traditional role( educational, occupational, sexual).And we convinced women that the more like a man she could be, the better. Women now have devalued themselves, by too often choosing a path of sexuality without commitment with MANY sexual partners. That makes an average man wonder WHO he is being compared to,not a comfortable place for a man to find himself, hence the rise in sexual dysfunction. And not to stereotype, but many men, even in this “liberated” day and age, are not super interested in a woman who has slept with the entire football team. “Sleeping around” in fact, was never a good role model for either sex. Society at large has been invested in “sexual liberation” for a long time now and is unlikely to switch back to traditional values. I still say it has to be the the church to push back in this arena. The church must engage on this subject online, in social media, with clever effective ads, to gather the attention of young people. Ditto, having the church defining the value of one’s sexuality, not to be squandered or given lightly, must be taught in the schools ( Catholic schools at least, since no public school will now do so). And the clergy need to start tackling the issue of premarital sex and it’s damage from the pulpit again, the cranks and offended whiners be damned. TALKING about appropriate sexuality is the ONLY way to begin to get people THINKING and to effect a change. Trust and love go a long way toward helping a committed married couple find a good sexual relationship together, as something they can explore together. Sexual moves learned from an old flame, not so much.

  5. These are certainly “interesting times” for Catholics trying to be faithful. What with the things the Pope says and Cardinals spouting talking points from NAMBLA, it’s hard not to just turn the entire Church off. It’s an Athanasian moment to stand by what we know is right.

  6. It is interesting that the Pope’s diaper comment, Cardinal Müller’s s***storms comment, and this article indicate a problem with continence. It would appear that there is a movement that is trying to replace the word temptation with the word orientation. The world today has pretty much cornered the market in the consumption of forbidden fruit.

  7. Just reading the first paragraph or two made me feel like I had just walked through a sewer pipe. Sad.

    And what, you can’t tell your wife and daughter to say “no” to disordered media consumption desires?

  8. Pneumopathology refers to a “disease of the spirit” or a “spiritual sickness” (Eric Voegelin).

    I think it fits in terms of what the author is trying to portray, as well as what is happening in the world today, but especially in the West.

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