I have enjoyed listening to snippets of the discussion around the confirmation hearings of Sonia Sotomayor this week. One of the primary issues that has garnished a great deal of media attention has been the speculation in regards to how her personal background affects [or doesn't] her reading of the law. I find this fascinating in that it is clearly a question of hermeneutics, one that apparently affects government as much as it does the church. While obvious differences exist, they are similar struggles to interpret historical texts for current contexts. Both assume that the document is bears relevance and can speak into our context. But both often fail to keep in mind how it is that the interpreter brings context with her and thus has a lens through which the text is read. Her most famous and controversial statement was made in 2001- "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life" [source/context]. While this may or may not be true (in regards to the conclusion being "better"), Sotomayor highlights that interpretation does not occur in a vacuum: it requires wisdom, and wisdom is always acquired through experience- thus, our experience clearly shapes our wisdom. Hermeneutics is by definition a contextual art. We all have lenses, even if we fail to or are unwilling to acknowledge them.
Later, however, Sotomayor was forced to clarify/qualify that statement with the acknowledgment that while life experience shapes who one is, "ultimately and completely" a judge follows the law regardless of personal background [source/context]. Ok, sure. I can appreciate that response, because it indicates a degree of interpretive elasticity inherent in the law. But it must be noted that it is the anxiety around the loss of absolutes that drives the need for said qualifier to be offered. The same is true for the Biblical text- while meaning and truth can be found with the guidance of the Spirit in an interpretive community, the text is alive enough to speak to any context, through each of our unique lenses. This interpretation "from below" sends absolutism packing and opens theology up for contextual readings of the text.