"The Hare Krsnas have a holier-than-thou attitude," some people say. And whenever I hear that kind of talk, I start to reflect on why someone would think that. True, the devotees strongly condemn things most people think normal: illicit sex, meat-eating, intoxication, and gambling. That's bound to cause a reaction. And one reaction may well be to label us "holier-than-thou." This charge, however, is unfair, and I would like to explain why.
First of all, from studying the Vedic scriptures and the lives of great saints, devotees learn to respect and aspire for the quality of humility. So although a devotee understands that what he's doing serving the Supreme Lord is the best activity a person can perform, he doesn't think himself superior to others. When Lord Krsna appeared as Caitanya Mahaprabhu to teach the science of devotional service, He advised every devotee "to think himself lower than the grass, to be more tolerant than a tree, and to expect no personal honor but always to give all respect to others."
A devotee is humble because he understands his position as an eternal spirit soul who, as a result of false pride, has fallen from his original home in the eternal, spiritual world. Rebelling against God, he has chosen to come into this material world to try to enjoy apart from Him. Now, by the grace of God and the spiritual master, he has again taken up his spiritual activities of devotional service. So he is very grateful. Understanding that he is a fallen soul, saved by the Lord's causeless mercy, he remains humble.
In the Bhagavad-gita (5.18), Lord Krsna explains that a devotee sees all living entities equally: "The humble sages, by virtue of true knowledge, see with equal vision a learned and gentle brahmana, a cow, an elephant, a dog, and a dog-eater." This vision frees the devotee of prejudices based on race, sex, nationality, or social status. The devotee cannot consider himself superior, because he sees that all living beings are equal in spiritual identity.
The virtues of humility and equal vision are certainly exalted, and only a few devotees attain them to the highest degree. Nevertheless, all devotees in the Krsna consciousness movement strive to develop these virtues. So they never look disdainfully on any creature man, woman, devotee, nondevotee, animal, plant. How, then, can a devotee be labeled "holier-than-thou"?
Of course, a sincere devotee of God will strongly condemn materialistic life. Yet even while condemning, he "hates the sin, not the sinner." A devotee doesn't have to abandon humility to decry godlessness. It is his duty to speak out against illusion, blindness, and deceit not to demean others but to uplift them. The Srimad-Bhagavatam (5.5.7) enjoins every devotee who is truly merciful to try to enlighten those who are ignorant of spiritual science and addicted to the path of materialism. "If a blind man is walking down the wrong path," the Bhagavatam says, "how can a gentleman allow him to continue on his way to danger? No wise or kind man can allow this."
Sometimes a devotee is blasphemed or even physically attacked while trying to spread God consciousness. (Jesus Christ is the perfect example.) Still, many devotees have gladly taken the risk and done God's work. A holier-than-thou attitude could hardly sustain such a person. An uncompromising teacher of God consciousness must have real conviction, humility, tolerance, and faith in the ultimate protection of the Lord.
And he must also have knowledge. He must know that since each spirit soul has free will, one person cannot force another to take up Krsna consciousness. It is a matter of love, not force. So the devotee sees everyone as part and parcel of his beloved Lord, approaches as many people as possible, and attempts to introduce them to Krsna consciousness.
Some people argue that the missionary spirit itself is a holier-than-thou attitude. They say that people should be allowed to do as they like, without being bothered by any preaching or proselytizing. Of course, such critics are themselves "preaching" by putting forward their hedonistic ethic.
Every intelligent person wants the best for himself and for society, and simply wanting to improve society doesn't necessarily mean one is arrogant or prideful. The real question should be. Who has the best program for improving society? Srila Rupa Gosvami, a great devotional saint and scholar of the sixteenth century, answered this question by declaring that Lord Caitanya is the most munificent person because He distributed love of God freely to society at large.
The devotees of the Hare Krsna movement share this view. Whereas other programs may partially or temporarily relieve the sufferings of humanity, Lord Caitanya's gift pure love of Krsna is best because it gives complete relief, for eternity.
The root cause of suffering is material life itself, which we have brought on ourselves by turning away from God. The best welfare work, therefore, is to inform people of their spiritual nature, their relationship with God, and how to act in that relationship so they can return to their eternal home in the spiritual world. When people are God conscious, this material world is like the spiritual world: free from anxiety.
The devotees of Krsna are convinced that they have the real solution to the problems of the world. Following the lead of great devotees since time immemorial, they accept the Vedic conclusion that Krsna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead and that serving Him with devotion is the best activity for all mankind. They are ready to discuss these views with others on the basis of philosophy, logic, and scripture. Because they see every living being equally and because they understand that forgetfulness of God is the root of all suffering, they work selflessly to educate humanity.
Holier-than-thou? No. The devotees of Krsna are serving the best interests of everyone.