AskDefine | Define unbeliever

Dictionary Definition

unbeliever n : someone who refuses to believe (as in a divinity) [syn: disbeliever, nonbeliever]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. One who does not believe, particularly in a deity.


Extensive Definition

catholic InfidelInfidel (literally "one without faith") is an English word meaning "one who doubts or rejects central tenets of a religion or has no religious beliefs", especially in reference to Christianity or Islam.
The Arabic word kafir (literally the one who "covers", in the sense of hiding) is the Muslim term for an infidel. The term technically applies only to atheists and polytheists and to those who subscribe to faiths other than Christianity, Judaism and Zorastrianisms. In common use, however, the term is also applied to Christians, especially in English fiction and poetry.
In the Roman Catholic Church the term was traditionally used to refer to one who did not believe in the divinity of Jesus, knowingly held beliefs that contradicted Catholic dogma, or one who had not been baptized, or to by Christians in general to describe non-Christians or those perceived as enemies of Christianity, including Muslims. Current English speaking ecclesiastical usage however distinguishes between non-Christians and non-believers (persons without religious affiliations or beliefs). The current preference for these terms over the pejorative "infidel" reflects the modern Roman Catholic Church's commitment to engage in dialog with persons of other, or no faith. In recent years, Christian thought has avoided the use of this term, especially in reference to Muslims and Jews. thus Muslim scholars discourage its usage due to the Quran's command to use kind words. It is even a punishable offense to use this term against a Jew or a Christian, under Islamic law. He also held that he had an obligation to send missionaries to infidel lands, and that if they were prevented from entering or preaching, then the pope was justified in dispatching Christian forces accompanied with missionaries to invade those lands, as Innocent stated simply "If the infidels do not obey, they ought to be compelled by the secular arm and war may be declared upon them by the pope, and nobody else." This was however not a reciprocal right and non-Christian missionaries such as those of Muslims could not be allowed to preach in Europe "because they are in error and we are on a righteous path."
A long line of Papal hierocratic canonists, most notably those who adhered to Alanus Anglicus's influential arguments of the Crusading-era, denied Infidel dominium, and asserted Rome's universal jurisdictional authority over the earth, and the right to authorize pagan conquests solely on the basis of non-belief because of their rejection of the Christian god. In the extreme hierocractic canonical discourse of the mid-twelfth century such as that espoused by Bernard of Clairvaux, the mystic leader of the Cisertcians, legitimized German colonial expansion and practice of forceful Christianisation in the Slavic territories as a holy war against the Wends, arguing that infidels should be killed wherever they posed a menace to Christians. When Frederick the II unilaterally arrogated papal authority, he took on the mantle to "destroy convert, and subjugate all barbarian nations." A power in papal doctrine reserved for the pope. Hostiensis, a student of Innocent, in accord with Alanus, also asserted "... by law infidels should be subject to the faithful." and the heretical quasi-Donatist John Wyclif, regarded as the forefather of English Reformation, also held that valid dominium rested on a state of grace.
The Teutonic Knights were one of the by-products of this papal hierocratic and German discourse. After the Crusades in the Levant, they moved to crusading activities in the infidel Baltics. Their crusades against the Lithuanians and Poles however precipitated the Lithuanian Controversy, and the Council of Constance, following the condemnation of Wyclif, found Hostiensis's views no longer acceptable and ruled against the knights. Future Church doctrine was then firmly aligned with Innocents IV's position.

Colonization of the Americas

During the Age of discovery, the Papal Bulls such as Romanus Pontifex and more importantly inter caetera (1493), implicitly removed dominium from infidels and granted them to the Spanish Empire and Portugal with the charter of guaranteeing the safety of missionaries. Subsequent English and French rejections of the bull refuted the Popes authority to exclude other Christian princes. As independent authorities such as the Head of the Church of England, they drew up charters for their own colonial missions based on the temporal right for care of infidel souls in language echoing the inter caetera. The charters and papal bulls would form the legal basis of future negotiations and consideration of claims as title deeds in the emerging Law of nations in the European colonization of the Americas.
The rights bestowed by Romanus Pontifex and inter caetera have never fallen from use, serving as the basis for legal arguments over the centuries. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the 1823 case Johnson v. M'Intosh that as a result of European discovery and assumption of ultimate dominion, Native Americans had only a right to occupancy of native lands, not the right of title. This decision was upheld in the 1831 case Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, giving Georgia authority to extend state laws over Cherokees within the state, and famously describing Native American tribes as "domestic dependent nations." This decision was modified in Worcester v. Georgia, which stated that the U.S. federal government, and not individual states, had authority in Indian affairs, but it maintained the loss of right to title upon discovery by Europeans.
In recent years, Native American groups including the Taíno and Onondaga have called on the Vatican to revoke the bulls of 1452, 1453, and 1493.


According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the church views Marriage as forbidden and null when conducted between the faithful (Christians) and infidels, unless a dispensation has been granted. This is because marriage is a sacrament of the Catholic Church, which infidels are deemed incapable of receiving.

Influence upon medieval civil law

Laws passed by the Catholic Church governed not just the laws between Christians and Infidels in matters of religious affairs, but also civil affairs. They were prohibited from participating or aiding in infidel religious rites, such as circumcisions or wearing images of acknowledge non-Christian religious significance.
In the Early Middle Ages, based on the idea of the superiority of Christians to infidels, regulations came into place such as those against forbidding Jews from possessing Christian slaves; the laws of the decretals further forbade Christians from entering the service of Jews, for Christian women to act as their nurses or midwives; forbidding Christians from employing Jewish physicians when ill; restricting Jews to definite quarters of the towns into which they were admitted and to wear a dress by which they might be recognized.
These rules have now given way to modern legislation and Catholics, in civil life, are no longer governed by ecclesiastical law.



  • Robert A. Williams, The American Indian in Western Legal Thought: The Discourses of Conquest, 1990, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0195080025
  • Christopher L. Tomlins, Bruce H. Mann, The Many Legalities of Early America, 2001, UNC Press, ISBN 0807849642

External links

unbeliever in Czech: Nevěřící
unbeliever in Danish: Vantro
unbeliever in German: Unglaube
unbeliever in Spanish: Infiel
unbeliever in Persian: کافر
unbeliever in French: Mécréant
unbeliever in Dutch: Ongelovigen
unbeliever in Swedish: Hedning

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Pyrrhonist, Sabbath-breaker, apostate, atheist, backslider, blasphemer, deserter, disbeliever, doubter, doubting Thomas, gentile, giaour, goy, heathen, infidel, kaffir, minimifidian, non-Christian, non-Jew, non-Mohammedan, non-Mormon, non-Moslem, non-Muhammadan, non-Muslim, nonbeliever, nullifidian, pagan, recidivist, recreant, renegade, sacrilegist, secularist, shegets, shiksa, zendician, zendik, zendikite, zetetic
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