I just wondered, is it bad karma at all to disagree with an arhat? I'm not saying I would, I just wondered, because killing one is phenomenally bad!
What about disagreeing with a Buddha?
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According to the Nibbedhika Sutta:
"Intention, I tell you, is kamma. Intending, one does kamma by way of body, speech, & intellect.
If you see this answer, bad karma or not, is related to the intentions of the individual. The story of the blind monk Ven. Chakkhupala in Dhammapada 1 and the story of the hunter's wife in Dhammapada 124 would serve as good examples from the scriptures.
If the individual has intentions that is insulting, disparaging or malicious towards the Buddha or arahant, then that would be generating bad karma.
However, if someone respectfully disagrees with the Buddha or arahant because he does not have the same view or understanding, then this should not be bad karma. If someone talks to a Buddha or Arahant, he should not incur bad karma, if he does so based on the principles of Right Speech (samma vaca), even if he disagrees with the opinion of the Buddha or the Arahant.
As said in the famous Kalama Sutta by the Buddha, just because a certain person is your teacher, it does not mean that you should simply accept what he or she says. Rather, it is preferable that you should accept the teachings only after you have known for yourself that it is good.
"So, as I said, Kalamas: 'Don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, "This contemplative is our teacher." When you know for yourselves that, "These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering" — then you should abandon them.' Thus was it said. And in reference to this was it said.
"Now, Kalamas, don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know for yourselves that, 'These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness' — then you should enter & remain in them.
Despite this, SN25 does have a provision for "faith followers" to meet a good end simply by having conviction and belief in the teachings of the Buddha, because it would lead them down the right track.
"One who has conviction & belief that these phenomena are this way is called a faith-follower: one who has entered the orderliness of rightness, entered the plane of people of integrity, transcended the plane of the run-of-the-mill. He is incapable of doing any deed by which he might be reborn in hell, in the animal womb, or in the realm of hungry shades. He is incapable of passing away until he has realized the fruit of stream-entry.
Nevertheless, the Buddha was a great teacher who managed to convince those who insulted and verbally abused him (see Akkosa Sutta), mocked him (see Kasi Bharadvaja Sutta) and intended to challenge or test him (see Dhananjaanii Sutta and Acela Sutta). Of course, there are also times when the Buddha knew when to give up trying to convince someone (see Kesi Sutta).
The Buddha also understood and empathized that the truth he discovered may not be easily understood by everyone (see Ariyapariyesana Sutta):
"Then the thought occurred to me, 'This Dhamma that I have attained is deep, hard to see, hard to realize, peaceful, refined, beyond the scope of conjecture, subtle, to-be-experienced by the wise. But this generation delights in attachment, is excited by attachment, enjoys attachment. For a generation delighting in attachment, excited by attachment, enjoying attachment, this/that conditionality & dependent co-arising are hard to see. This state, too, is hard to see: the resolution of all fabrications, the relinquishment of all acquisitions, the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding."
A second time... A third time, the group of five monks said to me, 'By that practice, that conduct, that performance of austerities you did not attain any superior human states, any distinction in knowledge & vision worthy of a noble one. So how can you now — living luxuriously, straying from your exertion, backsliding into abundance — have attained any superior human states, any distinction in knowledge & vision worthy of a noble one?'
"When this was said, I replied to the group of five monks, 'Do you recall my ever having spoken in this way before?'
While the Buddha may be omniscient, the Arahants may not even recognize that the other is also an Arahant (see Bhaddiya Sutta). So, Arahants are not omniscient. They are only enlightened or freed from suffering.
Of course it is! Almost by definition. Buddha's words are true and beneficial. Therefore by disagreeing you are setting yourself up for suboptimal results in the best case, if not for disaster. With lesser realization levels - once-returners, stream-enterers etc., the same general rule also applies, although mathematically speaking the odds that they are at least partially wrong are progressively higher, so your bad karma is correspondingly less severe.
The only loophole here that I can see, is if you disagree with Buddha due to misunderstanding of his way of expression - but then arrive at the same conclusions yourself and act accordingly. But if you actively disagree and act contrary to the teaching, you are most definitely setting yourself up for trouble.
One thing to keep in mind is that the pluralistic society that the Buddha lived in had a very strong tradition of religious freedom and freedom of speech in religious matters. Lay people could listen or not listen to arhants and wanderers; they could donate or not donate. They freely disagreed and debated among each other. Secular rulers allowed all of the sectarian teachers to operate in their dominions, and would not punish or persecute even contemplatives whom they knew were wrong.
Perhaps the only difference between his culture and the west today is that we have written laws protecting religious liberty, due to the religious wars of European history; whereas in his culture such laws were unnecessary.
In light of this, consider how the Buddha gladly debated anybody who cared to debate him. Surely, in his great compassion, he would not have debated the adherents of other sects, and their teachers, if doing so put them at risk for unfortunate karma.
Generally, we do not know any arahants.
However, in respect to the Pali suttas, it is not bad kamma to disagree with a sutta teaching if you have experienced what the sutta is asserting to be untrue.
But if you reject the words of a sutta blindly & also somehow think you are a Buddhist, this is bad kamma.
A Buddhist should defer faith or trust to the suttas unless they have strong grounds to reject something in the suttas.
For example, I reject many things in the suttas and what I reject I consider to not be the words of a Buddha or arahant.
Ultimately, the suttas say to only believe what you have realised for yourself. To quote:
Knowing thus and seeing thus, would you say, 'The Teacher is our respected mentor. We speak thus out of respect for the Teacher'?"
"Knowing thus and seeing thus, would you say, 'The Contemplative says this. We speak thus in line with the Contemplative's words'?"
"Knowing thus and seeing thus, would you dedicate yourselves to another teacher?"
"Knowing thus and seeing thus, would you return to the observances, grand ceremonies, & auspicious rites of common contemplatives & brahmans as having any essence?"
"Is it the case that you speak simply in line with what you have known, seen, & understood for yourselves?"