This is part 2 in examining the characteristics of a cult in relation to the Honor Academy as listed by the International Cultic Studies Association. My comments are in italics.
– The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (for example, members must get permission to date, change jobs, marry—or leaders prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, whether or not to have children, how to discipline children, and so forth).
True. The Honor Academy has very strict rules that you must agree to before joining, and adhere to throughout your year(s) there. Some of these are to make community life easier and are not harmful in themselves. What I believe makes them harmful is the idea that if you violate any of these rules (watching an R rated movie, listening to secular music – or God forbid kissing an old boyfriend/girlfriend on your Christmas break) that you have committed a serious act of disobedience which necessitates varying degrees of punishment. During my time there, that could range from a simple dish duty to being kicked out.
In addition, there are very strong teachings that encourage you to ignore your physical limitations and often induce serious physical injury. Interns learn that admitting pain or tiredness is a form of spiritual weakness. They even chant things like “My body is not my body!” and are constantly told, “You will pass out before you die,” or “You can sleep when you die.”
– The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members (for example, the leader is considered the Messiah, a special being, an avatar—or the group and/or the leader is on a special mission to save humanity).
TRUE. Oh my gosh is this true. The big mantra there is being a worldchanger and an “elite warrior.” The interns are constantly fed that they are the cream of the crop, they are God’s best Christians and are being trained to lead everyone else. Their year at Teen Mania prepares them in special ways that other people just can’t understand. I know of many stories, and I’m sure hundreds more exist, of interns returning home to “fix” everyone else in their church and community. But their arrogance and pride is so overwhelming that people can hardly stand being around them.
– The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society.
True. See above.
- The leader is not accountable to any authorities (unlike, for example, teachers, military commanders or ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations).
I think this is true. I know that Teen Mania has a board of directors that meets once or twice a year. However, I really question how much they know about what really goes on day to day on campus. I suspect they deal with the bigger picture of missions and conferences and are really out of touch with the day to day lives of interns. Other than that, leadership is not accountable to any denomination, governmental institution or any other form of supervision.
Click to read: Is Teen Mania a Cult? Part 3