Nov 1, 2016

Why Val Kilmer's Faith Probably Won't Help Him If He Has Oral Cancer

Mark Woods
November 1,  2016

Val Kilmer has been "outed" as suffering from oral cancer by fellow actor Michael Douglas, who suffered from the disease himself.

Speaking about the film The Ghost and The Darkness, in which the two appeared together, Douglas said that "things don't look too good" for Kilmer. Kilmer's only response was a Facebook post that reports of his death had been "greatly exaggerated".

But Kilmer's treatment may be complicated by the fact that he's a Christian Scientist, and Christian Scientists' views of medicine are decidedly ambivalent.

The movement was founded in the 19th century by Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910), who taught in her book Science and Health that all reality is spiritual and that disease is an illusion. It is to be dealt with by prayer rather than medicine.

She came to this revelation after slipping on ice and injuring herself. Eddy said in Science and Health that she had read a Bible passage and "the healing Truth dawned upon my sense". She later wrote that "Dr Cushing of this city pronounced my injury incurable and that I could not survive three days because of it", though Cushing flatly denied it.

Eddy taught that sickness was a mental error, and that a right attitude could heal anything including cancer, diphtheria and tuberculosis. Disease was an illusion.

Christian Scientists say this healing is "not faith healing, positive thinking, or self-hypnosis. It calls for Christian faith in and understanding of God as unconditionally and dependably good, to whom nothing is impossible."

They also say that "Christian Scientists are always free to choose for themselves and their families the kind of health care that meets their needs. However, by practising Christian Science, many have lived happy and healthy lives free of drugs and other systems of physical care."

In practice, Christian Scientists are happy to have broken bones set and to wear glasses, but they believe prayer is most effective when it's not combined with medicine. Christian Scientists have been prosecuted for not providing medical care for their sick children.

What approach Kilmer is taking to his illness is not known. However, Christian Science has long been described by orthodox believers as "neither Christian, nor scientific". It doesn't work, in terms of curing people, and Eddy's rejection of the material world and belief that suffering is an illusion reflect early Christian heresies. It departs from orthodox Christianity at every significant point in its doctrines.

On the other hand, in terms of his own faith, Kilmer has said: "I am a religious person. I do pray for specific needs. I do read the Bible every Sunday. I've read the Bible all of my life. I also pray for things that are going on in the world; it has given me a deeper sense of responsibility as a person." And we shouldn't assume someone has to believe exactly the right things before God will hear their prayers.

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