This question has come up time and time again. As an intern, we joked about how the townsfolk nearby thought we were a cult. It was funny, because of course we weren’t a cult!
It wasn’t until several years later, when I came across a long list of cult characteristics that I began to seriously ask this question. I was really suprised to find that many of the characteristics on that list were present in the Honor Academy. Unfortunately, I can’t find that exhaustive list, but here is one provided by the International Cultic Studies Association – with my Teen Mania specific comments in italics.
– The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and (whether he is alive or dead) regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law.
True. Whether or not its explicitly encouraged by the leadership, interns highly venerate both Ron Luce and Dave Hasz. In fact, I’ve seen an Honor Academy Alumni website forum where interns felt the need to clarify that Ron Luce is not God. Of course, nobody “says” he is God, but his teachings and personality (as well as Dave Hasz, the director of the Honor Academy) have become so synonomous with God and with God’s will that it becomes very hard to make a distinction. If anyone criticizes or questions anyone in leadership, they are immediately pounced on by fellow interns and told they should only speak about it privately to the person in question. The assumption is always that the concerned party must have misunderstood or that the leadership has a valid (unknown) reason for doing/saying whatever they did.
– Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.
True. This was exceedingly true during my time there. When I brought up legitimate questions about what the leadership was doing, it was made very clear to me that I was “in rebellion” and “not submitted” or that I was “stirring up division.” This kind of attitude further reinforces the point above that whatever the leaders say is God’s will and you shouldn’t go against it.
- Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, and debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s).
True. Debilitating work routines are the norm at Teen Mania. Nearly every moment of an intern’s day is scheduled, usually leaving less than 6-7 hours for sleep. I wouldn’t say that meditation, chanting, etc were used to suppress doubts so much as the teaching that you need to obey the leadership.
Click to Read: Is Teen Mania a Cult? Part 2