[Disclosure: I wrote a series of four articles about media and advertising for the Christian Science Monitor about 15 years ago.]
Val Kilmer (below), the actor who starred in Batman Forever, Top Gun, and Tombstone, was hospitalized a week ago. Details are sketchy, but TMZ reports that Kilmer, a follower of Christian Science, started bleeding from the throat prior to his hospitalization. According to the site, Kilmer had known something was seriously amiss for the past half a year, but refused medical treatment for a tumor, as Christian Scientists believe that disease is a lie and that only God has the power to heal.
Val Kilmer’s family believes the actor is killing himself by not dealing with a serious tumor … because of his religious beliefs.
Val was rushed to the hospital Monday night after he started bleeding from the throat. Doctors at UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica operated immediately and found a tumor. We’re told the surgery was invasive … they needed to enlarge a path to facilitate breathing.
Family members tell TMZ … Val has known about the tumor since Summer. He had trouble speaking and his neck swelled to the point he covered it up with scarves and other clothing items.
The family members say they urged Val to seek treatment but he would have none of it because of his Christian Science beliefs. They say he shunned medical treatment and anyone who persisted got cut out of his life.
Christian Science followers generally believe prayer heals, not medical treatment.
The family says Val would never confess to pain because it was an admission that prayer didn’t work, but when he started coughing up blood Monday his options ran out.
On Saturday, the actor updated his Facebook page with this clear-cut message:
Again, no tumor, no surgery. We are waiting for x ray results and will stay close to my doctors advising, my family and Christian Science practitioner when all the facts are in. Then I’ll do what’s best and be back at it sooner than u can shake a gossip column at an out of work actor.
So, what does a Christian Science practitioner do? Not much, it appears.
Christian Science practitioners are certified by the church to charge a fee for Christian Science prayer. There were 1,271 listed practitioners worldwide in 2014; in the United States in 2010 they charged $25–$50 for an e-mail, telephone or face-to-face consultation. … There are also Christian Science nursing homes. They offer no medical services; the nurses are Christian Scientists who have completed a course of religious study and training in basic skills, such as feeding and bathing.
One Christian Science practitioner, Frank Prinz-Wondollek, said in 2011 that
… [A]ll healing is a metaphysical process. That means that there is no person to be healed, no material body, no patient, no matter, no illness, no one to heal, no substance, no person, no thing and no place that needs to be influenced. This is what the practitioner must first be clear about.
New Yorker writer Caroline Fraser, who grew up in a Christian Science household and wrote a book-length exposé about the religion in 1999, described spiritual treatment by practitioners as
…. silently arguing about the nature of reality. The practitioner might repeat, “the allness of God using [founder Mary Baker] Eddy’s seven synonyms — Life, Truth, Love, Spirit, Soul, Principle and Mind,” then that “Spirit, Substance, is the only Mind, and man is its image and likeness; that Mind is intelligence; that Spirit is substance; that Love is wholeness; that Life, Truth, and Love are the only reality.” She might deny other religions, the existence of evil, mesmerism, astrology, numerology and the symptoms of whatever the illness is. She concludes by asserting that disease is a lie, that this is the word of God and that it has the power to heal.
The history of Christian Science is too rich to go into at length here, but to give you the briefest flavor, much of it revolves around Eddy, a sickly, paranoid 19th-century New Englander and likely charlatan. She was prone to alleging that she and her husband were being mentally attacked by enemies practicing witchcraft, mesmerism, and “malicious animal magnetism.”
While such delusions seem faintly amusing (Mark Twain, for one, had a field day mocking Christian Science and its neurotic founder), Eddy’s legacy led demonstrably to many deaths, including those of children.
A 1998 study in Pediatrics examined 172 child deaths between 1975 and 1995 where parents had withheld medical care for religious reasons; 28 involved Christian Science, the second highest number from a single group.
Author Rennie B. Schoepflin examines many of those cases in his 2002 book Christian Science on Trial: Religious Healing in America.