I remember being at some sort of the Catholic youth day around when I was 9 or so when I first was asked the question. If I recall correctly, a friend and I had just been caught teasing another boy by one of the adult chaperones. Rather than remonstrating us for our transgressions and cutting us off from the lemonade (which is a harsh and brutal punishment considering the hummidity of mid-summer Ontario), this overly pleasant woman simply asked us, What Would Jesus Do?
What Would Jesus Do? pretty much summarizes my catechesis from ages 9 to 18. Stole some pencils at school? What Would Jesus Do? Confessed that you had lied to your parents about doing your chores? What Would Jesus Do? Initially I took the question seriously. I did know that Jesus would not have intentially roofed little Chris Mackay's tennis ball during lunch time recess. But by the time I was 10, the effect had worn off. I had realised that I could easily rationalize What Would Jesus Do? into whatever sort of justification I needed at the time. Sure, I would think, Jesus wouldn't have roofed the tennis ball, but Jesus knew I was just having fun with my friends, which is OK. And besides, Jesus forgives, right?
It's wasn't long after that I completely lost whatever relationship I had with Christ as a child. The hardwork my parents had done teaching me the faith was undermined as my religious education became more and more the domain of well-meaning but woefully mistaken elementary school teachers. If Catholicism boiled down to What Would Jesus Do?, well then Catholicism as I perceived it became What Would Colm Do? and What Would Jean Chretien Do? It's not as if I actually knew all that much about Jesus in the first place. I had read some of the Gospels, but I had never studied them. I knew some of the Commandments, but it was never an educational requisite to have to learn them by memory. What Would Jesus Do? became incredibly detrimental to my development into a Catholic adult because I didn't know what Jesus would have done in anycase. The assumption is that children know that Jesus is an all around good guy who didn't do anything wrong, which is true at a very base level. Yet the assumption forgets that the definition of wrong is subjective to every single person. Without a properly formed conscience or at least the strength of a vigorous catechetical program, What Would Jesus Do? becomes one of the most destructive philosophies to hand down to children.