Definition of heathen in US English:



  • 1A person who does not belong to a widely held religion (especially one who is not a Christian, Jew, or Muslim) as regarded by those who do.

    • ‘Lost heathen, noble savage, bloodthirsty warrior, dying race, peaceful ecologist - such images have followed one another through the last four centuries.’
    • ‘How could you allow this heathen to insult me so, in my own house, on this, the day of my birth?’
    • ‘If I get any of the various jobs which are not at places of worship, then I'll remain a heathen.’
    • ‘As Kailey made her way to the ornate door, she heard her father hiss to her brother, ‘James, watch that heathen, make sure that he does not leave this room, nor your sight.’’
    • ‘For many missionaries the distinctions between a heathen and a Christian Islander were as strong as those between a lapsed and a Christian European.’
    • ‘He looked as if he could do with a hearty meal, and I sadly acknowledged that he was probably starving, as many of these poor heathen had been this last winter.’
    • ‘My brother and I, were raised, as my grandma puts it, as heathens.’
    • ‘The medieval Europeans divided the world between Christian and heathen, but heathens could convert to Christianity.’
    • ‘The brochure promises hell for heathens and salvation through Christ.’
    • ‘Over a million of us are either not Christians, are a part of some other faith, are heathens, or are Christians who interpret the Bible in a very different way from some members in this Chamber.’
    • ‘Until the age of 16 I attended church regularly, became a Sunday School teacher, and was so fervent, even wanted to become a Missionary in order to spread the Word to the heathens of the world.’
    • ‘We have accepted the notion that we must make our faith credible, reasonable, acceptable, and understandable, so that the grossest heathen might make sense of it and then reject it.’
    • ‘But sssh, we shouldn't talk about those heathens during a Christian festival!’
    • ‘The unbeliever, the heathen will not be judged because they did not hear of Christ, but because they have refused the knowledge that was given to them about God and did not pursue it.’
    • ‘Monotheism leads to wars because everyone presumes their god/ goddess gives them the divine right against all other heathens.’
    • ‘God, he said, if you make me a rich man I'll spend all my time and all my wealth converting faithless heathens and praising your name.’
    • ‘Ahasuerus is the prototype of the worst kind of king: a heathen who gathers possessions and wastes them, for his royal glory and the splendor and pomp of his majesty.’
    pagan, infidel, idolater, idolatress
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    1. 1.1 A follower of a polytheistic religion; a pagan.
      • ‘Whether the spouses are Hindus or Muslims, Christians or Parsis, pagans or heathens, is wholly irrelevant in the application of these provisions.’
      • ‘I am no witch, no heathen; I simply have a clear eye, an eye that is clearer than any human I have encountered.’
      • ‘I think it's got to be - I think the key for politics right now is for politicians to recognize that their God is the one true God, and that all others are heathens and/or pagans and should be scorned.’
      • ‘I never go where the Pagans go and I never do what the heathen do.’
      • ‘Pagan followers can go by the title of witches, Druids, heathens or shamans, and some adhere to the tradition of Wicca.’
      • ‘Biblical pundits call them heathens, primitives or worse; we call ourselves Pagans.’
      • ‘To her, a Pagan is a heathen, a Satanist, an evildoer.’
      • ‘The Republic declared itself as belonging to the order of Nature; it had rebelled against the old Christian God and had so declared itself heathen, ‘pagan’.’
      pagan, infidel, idolater, idolatress
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    2. 1.2the heathen Heathen people collectively, especially (in biblical use) those who did not worship the God of Israel.
      • ‘For the heathen to hear about the Lord is not enough.’
      • ‘We have nothing to do with Sabbaths or the other Jewish festivals, much less with those of the heathen.’
      • ‘This was associated with the idea that the new society was on a special mission from God, to redeem the world and bring light to the heathen.’
      • ‘So Bousset interprets the dogs as ‘an ancient designation for the heathen,’ and Kraft suggests that they might also refer to backsliders, false teachers, and to heretics.’
      • ‘For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land.’
      • ‘In order to extend the idea to provide for the salvation of the heathen, two assumptions must be made.’
      • ‘Such ugly words and sentiments have not been purged from our scriptures, and they need to remain there, to trouble and warn us, lest we think murderous passions belong only to the alien and the heathen.’
      • ‘But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.’
      • ‘According to Irenaeus he claimed to have appeared in Samaria as the Father, in Judea as the Son, and among the heathen as the Holy Ghost, a manifestation of the Eternal.’
      • ‘Edwards made a series of important theological moves beyond his Reformed predecessors that could have opened the door for a more hopeful view of the salvation of the heathen.’
      • ‘Boniface had gone to Germany to convert the heathen, and in a spectacular and courageous gesture he felled the sacred oak at Geismar.’
      • ‘The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved: he uttered his voice, the earth melted.’
      • ‘Landing at Deal on 1 February 1738 he commented, ‘I, who went to America to convert the heathen was never myself converted to God’.’
      • ‘Despite his repeated charges, I do not insist that Edwards argued forcefully for the salvation of the heathen through the prisca theologia.’
      • ‘The early Protestant immigrants to the Southwest generally saw their mission as taming the wilderness and converting the heathen.’
      • ‘He also challenged the denunciatory preaching of the missionaries, which condemned the unrepentant heathen to hell, as intrinsic to the teaching of the Bible.’
      • ‘Our response to this will be that of Psalm 96: 3-6, Declare his glory among the heathen, His wonders among all people.’
      • ‘The assertion that Edwards provided for the salvation of the heathen discounts this fundamental premise of his thought.’
      • ‘Another thing that must be noted in these chapters in Acts was the fact that Paul was in no way going out to evangelise the heathen who had no contact with the good news.’
      • ‘And how is Christ going to ‘inherit’ the heathen and ‘possess’ the earth?’
    3. 1.3informal An unenlightened person; a person regarded as lacking culture or moral principles.
      • ‘This is the woman who in 1866 went with her husband and young son to the island of Aniwa in the New Hebrides - their home for the next twenty years among people known as heathens and cannibals.’
      • ‘‘Don't be ridiculous, you little heathen,’ Bridgett yelled, pulling Abigail off of Desiree's face and putting her down roughly.’
      • ‘Actually the first justification was that these people were savage heathens.’
      • ‘It is the embodiment of the devil and has been sent as a sign that God is punishing us for being soulless heathens with the morals of rabid frat jackals in heat in a shed full of naked Swedish Bikini Team members on Ecstasy.’
      • ‘The European ministers believed that Africans were heathens in need of the civilizing influence of Christianity and western culture.’
      • ‘‘He tried to kill me,’ Ben kept insisting, but the villagers refused to pay attention, merely calling him a traitor and a heathen.’
      • ‘You're not supposed to enjoy it; what are you, some kind of heathen?’
      • ‘First, drawing on longstanding European prejudices, they depicted blacks as heathens and savages unworthy of English liberties.’
      • ‘Predictably, many of these images are caricatures depicting blacks as colonial subjects, savage heathens, entertainers, and promoters and providers of exotic products.’
      • ‘In fiction, we become fascinated with rogues and heathens if we understand how they got that way.’
      philistine, boor, oaf, ignoramus, lout, yahoo, vulgarian, plebeian
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  • Relating to heathens.

    ‘heathen gods’
    • ‘This also tends towards the distinction of ‘white’ being what I'm doing, and ‘black’ being everything else those heathen monkies busy themselves with.’
    • ‘McDermott writes that unless Edwards meant that these heathen men might be the beneficiaries of eternal life, the idea of a ‘benefit to their souls’ is incoherent.’
    • ‘Especially since the person who barges in most often these days is my highly conservative, self-proclaimed fundamentalist Christian roommate, who tries his damnedest to stop my heathen ways.’
    • ‘It was not at first by any means a Christian Church, but a mere adaptation of those heathen rites which we roughly designate by the term Obe Worship, or ‘Voodoism.’’
    • ‘At first glance one would say that these apostles were to go to all the heathen world and proclaim a message of salvation as we think of it.’
    • ‘Instead of confronting and dislodging the heathen world, now the White man's mythology as the King called it, has a parallel story, to vie with the heathen version, for attention and authority.’
    • ‘Christianity could not content itself with building up its own altar; it was absolutely forced to undertake the destruction of the heathen altars’
    • ‘If heathen philosophers grasped something of the three transcendentals and of the law of human nature, they grasped nothing of these three virtues.’
    • ‘The result is a blurring of the boundary between the sanctioned Christian creed and the heathen practices associated with magic and the devil.’
    • ‘The heathen nations used sorcery and divination but the Lord said that the people were not to go down that route.’
    • ‘Those who sent these men to burn themselves and others are the high priests of this present-day heathen cult.’
    • ‘We're fully armed, and protected against heathen magics.’
    • ‘As the Jews began to make contact with their heathen neighbors, they took their Scriptures and prophecies of a Messiah with them.’
    • ‘They have abandoned their cannibalism and heathen ways and in those thirteen years since missionaries entered the area, the Biami church has grown so strong that at present over fifteen outreach churches have been formed.’
    • ‘If we look at carved gods on heathen temples we see fearful, gruesome, repulsive demonic representations that millions bow down to and worship.’
    • ‘It is interesting to find that the root of smoking tobacco came from heathen religions.’
    • ‘And he had, if not a revulsion towards the pagan priesthood, then a fear of them and their devotion to their heathen religion.’
    • ‘The newcomers, while likely to baulk at a holy dress little distinguished from heathen bests, proved receptive to clean-cut neo-traditional ensembles.’
    • ‘What was it that made Pastor Carl Strehlow such a devoted cataloguer of the heathen traditions he was meant to eradicate?’
    • ‘I don't know how enlightening you've found it, but I hope I have given something of the heathen perspective.’
    pagan, infidel, idolatrous, heathenish
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Old English hǣthen, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch heiden and German Heide; generally regarded as a specifically Christian use of a Germanic adjective meaning ‘inhabiting open country’, from the base of heath.