"By "radical hermeneutics" I mean a theory of radical interpretation, and by radical interpretation I mean that interpretation goes all the way down, that there are no uninterpreted facts of the matter that settle silently at the bottom that can be unearthed by patiently peeling away the layers of interpretation. To say that interpretation matters all the way down is not to say that "anything goes;" it is simply to recognize that we are not God. The charge of "relativism" thrown up against theories of radical interpretation is a confusion and an obfuscation. "Relativism" is a red herring used by the God-and-apple-piety crowd; it does service for thinking when the discussion gets too complicated.
When it is rightly framed the debate about interpretation matters is not between "relativism" and "objective truth" but between conditional and unconditional understanding. True understanding is never unconditional, but always a matter of finding the right conditions under which understanding can take place-like possessing the complex preconditions involved in understanding an ancient language and a long gone historical context. Understanding is always interpreting, and to interpret means to locate and acknowledge the relevant presuppositions. Absolutely unconditional understanding means understanding under no conditions. Just so: Under no condition is this possible: we are not hardwired to assume an absolute standpoint. We are not omniscient eternal beings outside every context. We are not God, but what Soren Kierkegaard liked to call "poor existing individuals," people who pull on their pants one leg at a time. Understanding always has a point of view, otherwise it has no point and it has no view.
The radicals who attacked the World Trade Center, for example, were not radicals of the sort I am describing, but exactly the opposite. They had among other things swallowed a bad line about how to read, about how to understand what one reads, and about what it means to say that a text is sacred. The latter is a complicated business. It involves getting to know what the conditions were under which the text was written, what has changed since then, and above all sorting out what is human and what is divine in the text-what has the ring of God about it and what has the ring of men (sic!). Killing in the name of God, killing because God is on your side, is the human-all too human-part of these texts, which has to be sorted out from the divine side.
The Bible itself warns us that idolatry is one of the most fundamental perversions of the God relationship: confusing a golden calf with the living God, confusing humankind made in the image of God with a God made in the image of humankind, confusing our politics, our preferences, our institutions, our hierarchies, our power-plays, our religion, our gender, our egos, or our science with God. That's idolatry. If hermeneuticists could be said to have a religious view of life, interpretation would constitute a powerful and systematic critique of idolatry. Two potential idols to worry about are science and religion, both of which are humanly constructed interpretations, one of the world, the other of the relationship between the world and God. When physicists explain the world in terms of the principles of a mathematical science, that's an interpretation. When the unknown authors of the opening pages of Genesis carved out highly Mesopotamian myths about the genesis of the kosmos, that was an interpretation as well, but it was not a theory. It was an imaginative and poetic act of affirming God's lordship over things, but it was not a testable mathematical theory. They were both interpretations, but only one was a theory. Neither was an uninterpreted fact of the matter. The overarching point in any debate between science and religion is to get one level or layer of interpretation out of the way of the other so that each one can get a clean shot at doing what it does, the one imagining our relation to God in poetico-religious categories, the other calculating (with no little imagination) the way the world runs in mathematical categories. They don't conflict because they don't compete and they don't compete because their interpretative schemas don't play on the same plane.
The problem in scientific interpretation is figuring out what is good science without being too rigidly rule bound, lest you dismiss groundbreaking discoveries as mere anomalies. The problem in religious interpretation is figuring out what is divine and what is human, what is a human construction and what is from God. The solution to these problems is not available in some overarching formula that covers everything. But the precondition to finding a solution is to keep in mind that interpretation goes all the way down, so that the notion of absolute scientific truth or absolute religious truth, as if physicists were but the mouthpiece of nature, or religious people were but the mouthpiece of God, makes no sense."