Patrick Toner comments:
. . . as I'm reading your post on Nietzsche, you make a mistaken claim about salvation's implications: namely, that "If we need salvation from our predicament in this life, then human life, taken on its own terms, and without appeals to hinterworlds, is of negative value."
Professor Toner's criticism offers me a welcome opportunity to develop further some of my thoughts on this topic.
1) The logically first question is whether human life is a predicament. I say it is. A predicament is not just any old situation or condition or state but one that is deeply unsatisfactory, extrication from which is both needed and difficult to attain. There are of course predicaments in life. For example, you are hiking in a slot canyon with sheer walls when it begins to rain. You are in a dangerous mundane predicament. But my claim, as you would expect, is philosophical: human life as such is a predicament. I take that to be a datum, a given, a starting point. If you don't experience human life as a predicament, your life and that of others, then what I have to say on this topic won't mean anything to you.
2) Now if human life is a predicament as I have defined the term, then it follows straightaway that some sort of extrication, solution, rescue, or relief is needed, whether or not it can be had. That is, someone in a predicament needs to be saved from it. He needs salvation. Considerations anent salvation are called soteriological. Soteriology, as I use the term, is the general theory of salvation in some appropriately spiritual or religious or mystical sense. Our canyon hiker may end up needing to be physically saved. But the salvation under discussion here, though it may involve some sort of physical transformation, as in bodily resurrection, is very different from being saved from drowning.
3) Now distinguish three questions that any soteriology worth its salt would have to answer: What is saved? From what is it saved? For/to what is it saved? A schematic Roman Catholic answer would be that the soul is saved from venial and mortal sin and the just punishment for such sin (purgatory and hell) so that it may live for all eternity in the presence of God. Toner quotes the Catholic Encylopedia: "As sin is the greatest evil, being the root and source of all evil, Sacred Scripture uses the word 'salvation' mainly in the sense of liberation of the human race or of individual man from sin and its consequences."
4) On a Roman Catholic soteriology, then, sin is what makes our human predicament deeply unsatisfactory, and such that we both need relief, but will have a hard time attaining it. (I should add that on Roman Catholicism, salvation cannot be attained by our own efforts: grace is also needed.) Sin explains why our condition is deeply unsatisfactory. But of course other explanations are possible. Please note that unsatisfactoriness is the datum; sin is the explanation of the datum.
For Buddhists it is suffering that makes our predicament deeply unsatisfactory. Buddhist soteriology is accordingly very different from Christian soteriology. For Buddhism it is not the soul that is saved since there is no soul (doctrine of anatta), and it is not saved from sin since sin is an offense against God and there is no God (anatta again). And of course the salvific state is not the visio beata as on Thomist Catholicism, but nibbana/nirvana.
And of course Nietzsche's aesthetic soteriology is different from both of these. For more on that I refer you to Giles Fraser.
5) I do not understand why Toner balks at my claim quoted above, namely, that "If we need salvation from our predicament in this life, then human life, taken on its own terms, and without appeals to hinterworlds, is of negative value." This strikes me as obviously true. If this life were wholly satisfactory, we would not seek salvation from it. It is precisely because it is of negative value that we seek salvation in the various ways humans have sought salvation by the practice of austerites, sacrifice, good works, prayer, meditation, and so on. It is precisely the realization that this life is marked by sickness, old age, terrible physical and mental infirmity and suffering, greed, delusion, ignorance, war, folly, torture, death . . . that sets us on the Quest for nirvana, moksha, eternal life. What drives monks to their monasteries and nuns to their nunneries is the realization that ultimately this life has nothing to offer that could truly satisfy us.
Why does Toner fail to understand my simple point? It is because he accepts Roman Catholicism in toto and accordingly he takes the Roman Catholic soteriology to be the last, and perhaps only, word. On this view, this world as we experience it in this life, though fallen, is a divine creation. As the product of an all-good God, it is itself good. This is why he doesn't like my talk of this life as of negative value. He ignored my qualification: "taken on its own terms, and without appeals to hinterworlds."
That is: taken apart from its interpretation in the light of an antecedently accepted worldview such as Roman Catholicism. An appeal to a hinterworld -- Hinterwelt is a term Nietzsche uses -- is an appeal to a world behind the phenomenal scenes, a true world in whose light the horrors of this world are redeemed. Absent that appeal, this world is obviously of negative value.
I am sure Patrick is capable of understanding my point since he himself invokes the classic Catholic phrase "vale of tears." It is because we experience this world as a vale of tears that we seek salvation from it. Obviously, to see it as a vale of tears is to see it negatively.
6) As for Nietzsche, he was indeed a homo religiosus who experienced our way through this life as a via dolorosa. The horror of existence tormented him and he sought a solution. What my post exposed was the tension between Nietzsche's negative assessment of life, which motivates his ill-starred attempts at salvation, and his doctrine that life, as the standard of all evaluation, cannot be objectively evaluated.