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Heretic vs. Infidel — What's the Difference?

By Tayyaba Rehman & Fiza Rafique — Updated on March 29, 2024
Heretic refers to someone who opposes or rejects the orthodox beliefs of their own religion, while infidel denotes a person who does not believe in the religion that is considered the prevailing faith.
Heretic vs. Infidel — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Heretic and Infidel


Key Differences

A heretic is typically someone within a religious group who deviates from established doctrines or practices, challenging the orthodox beliefs of their own faith. On the other hand, an infidel is viewed from the perspective of one religion regarding individuals who do not subscribe to its beliefs, often implying a complete outsider.
The concept of heresy is rooted in the idea of dissent against the core doctrines of a religion, suggesting a deliberate departure from accepted teachings. Heretics often arise from within a religious community, advocating for interpretations or beliefs that contradict the mainstream. In contrast, the term infidel historically originates from the Latin "infidelis," meaning "unfaithful," and has been used to describe those outside the faith, without any necessary implication of dissent from within.
Dealing with heretics often involves formal processes within a religious community, aimed at addressing the doctrinal deviations and potentially reconciling the differences. This may include trials, excommunication, or other forms of censure. Infidels, being outside the fold of the religion, are not subject to such internal processes, but their treatment varies widely across different faiths and historical contexts, ranging from tolerance to persecution.
The notion of heresy is more specific and can vary greatly among different religious sects, depending on what is considered orthodox in each. Infidelity, however, is more about the relationship between different religions or belief systems and the boundaries that define them. An individual considered a heretic in one context may be seen as an infidel from the perspective of another religion.
In contemporary discussions, the terms heretic and infidel are sometimes used more broadly or metaphorically to describe dissent from non-religious orthodoxies or to denote outsiders to a particular belief system or ideology. However, their historical and theological implications remain significant, reflecting deep-seated beliefs about faith, loyalty, and identity.

Comparison Chart


Opposes orthodox beliefs within their own religion
Does not believe in the prevailing faith


From within a religious group
Considered outsiders to a faith


Dissent and deviation
Lack of faith or different faith


Subject to internal censure or reconciliation
Treatment varies, often seen as outside concern

Contextual Use

Specific to doctrines of a particular faith
Broadly used across different faiths

Compare with Definitions


Arises from within the faith community.
As a heretic, she challenged the church's traditional teachings.


Someone who does not adhere to the dominant religion.
Medieval crusaders often called their enemies infidels.


May face formal religious censure.
The heretic was excommunicated for persisting in his beliefs.


Indicates an outsider status.
The term infidel was used to justify exclusionary practices.


Someone who diverges from established religious doctrines.
The council deemed him a heretic for his unconventional beliefs.


Viewed as external to the faith community.
In his travels, he encountered cultures and religions that regarded him as an infidel.


Dependent on the specific orthodoxies of a faith.
What is considered heretical varies significantly across sects.


Applies broadly across different religious contexts.
The concept of the infidel can foster interfaith misunderstanding.


Represents internal dissent.
His heretical views caused a schism in the congregation.


Not subject to religious processes of the faith they're outside.
Infidels were often subjected to conversion efforts in history.


A person who holds controversial opinions, especially one who publicly dissents from the officially accepted dogma of the Roman Catholic Church.


Infidel (literally "unfaithful") is a term used in certain religions for those accused of unbelief in the central tenets of their own religion, for members of another religion, or for the irreligious.Infidel is an ecclesiastical term in Christianity around which the Church developed a body of theology that deals with the concept of infidelity, which makes a clear differentiation between those who were baptized and followed the teachings of the Church versus those who are outside the faith. The term infidel was used by Christians to describe those perceived as the enemies of Christianity.




A person who has no religion or whose religion is not that of the majority
A crusade against infidels and heretics


Someone who believes contrary to the fundamental tenets of a religion they claim to belong to.


Adhering to a religion other than that of the majority
The infidel foe


Someone who does not conform to generally accepted beliefs or practices


Often Offensive An unbeliever with respect to a particular religion, especially Christianity or Islam.


(archaic) Heretical; of or pertaining to heresy or heretics.


One who has no religious beliefs.


One who holds to a heresy; one who believes some doctrine contrary to the established faith or prevailing religion.
A man that is an heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject.


One who doubts or rejects a particular doctrine, system, or principle.


One who having made a profession of Christian belief, deliberately and pertinaciously refuses to believe one or more of the articles of faith "determined by the authority of the universal church."


Rejecting a specific religion.


A person who holds religious beliefs in conflict with the dogma of the Roman Catholic Church


Of, characteristic of, or relating to unbelievers or unbelief.


A person who holds unorthodox opinions in any field (not merely religion)


One who does not believe in a certain religion.


One who does not believe in a certain principle.


One with no religious beliefs.


Not holding the faith; - applied by Christians to one who does not believe in the inspiration of the Scriptures, and the supernatural origin of Christianity; used by Mohammedans to refer to those who do not believe in Islam.
The infidel writer is a great enemy to society.


One who does not believe in the prevailing religious faith; a heathen; a freethinker; - used especially by Christians and Mohammedans.


A person who does not acknowledge your God

Common Curiosities

Can someone be both a heretic and an infidel?

Contextually, yes. A person might be considered a heretic within their faith and an infidel from the perspective of another religion.

Is infidelity solely related to religion?

While primarily used in religious contexts, "infidel" can metaphorically describe someone who rejects any dominant belief system.

Why is the term infidel considered controversial?

It has historically been used pejoratively to justify discrimination or violence against those of different faiths.

How are heretics identified within a religious community?

Through formal processes that assess adherence to established doctrines, often involving theological debate or trial.

Can the label of heretic change over time?

Yes, what is considered heretical can evolve as religious doctrines and societal norms change.

How do digital media affect the spread of heretical or infidel ideas?

Digital media can both amplify and challenge such ideas, providing platforms for diverse beliefs and facilitating broader discussions.

How do modern religions view heretics and infidels?

Views vary widely, but there is a general trend towards greater tolerance and understanding in many contemporary religious communities.

Do all religions have concepts of heresy and infidelity?

Most organized religions have concepts of orthodoxy and thus implicitly or explicitly define heresy and outsider status, though the terms and treatments differ.

How does secular law treat heretics and infidels?

In secular societies, law is generally neutral on matters of religious belief, focusing instead on actions and behaviors.

What role does dialogue play in addressing issues of heresy and infidelity?

Interfaith and intrafaith dialogue can foster understanding and mitigate conflicts arising from accusations of heresy or the labeling of others as infidels.

Are there modern examples of individuals labeled as heretics or infidels?

Yes, though often more symbolic or rhetorical, these labels are still used in religious and ideological disputes.

What impact does globalization have on perceptions of heresy and infidelity?

Globalization has increased interactions among diverse faiths, potentially leading to greater tolerance but also to conflicts when differing beliefs collide.

Can heresy lead to positive changes within a religion?

Historically, some heretical movements have prompted reform and renewal within religious traditions.

Can heresy and infidelity concepts apply to non-religious ideologies?

Yes, these concepts can be applied metaphorically to describe dissent within any strongly held belief system.

How do educational institutions handle teachings about heretics and infidels?

They generally aim for a balanced approach, presenting historical and contemporary perspectives while promoting critical thinking and tolerance.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Tayyaba Rehman
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.
Co-written by
Fiza Rafique
Fiza Rafique is a skilled content writer at, where she meticulously refines and enhances written pieces. Drawing from her vast editorial expertise, Fiza ensures clarity, accuracy, and precision in every article. Passionate about language, she continually seeks to elevate the quality of content for readers worldwide.

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