Servetus' capital offense was his failure to be orthodox. Specifically he opposed child baptism and didn't accept the doctrine of the trinity.
Michael Servetus' death was shunning in the extreme.
Over the centuries there have been thousands condemned to death for the crime of disagreeing. Jon Hus was burned at the stake in 1415, nearly a century before the killing of Servetus. Hus was known as the first reformer and was killed for disagreeing with the Catholic church. In 1482 the knight of Hohenberg and his servant were accused of engaging in disagreeable behavior (sodomy) and burned. An unknown number of people have been executed for witchcraft; most falsely accused. Twenty-year-old Thomas Aikenhead was executed in 1697. He was the last person to be executed in Britain for the crime of blasphemy. He was an atheist.
Fortunately Western culture has abandoned the practices of lynching, head lopping, and burning those whose views violate the norm. We still punish them, however. In lieu of killing we slander, scorn, scold, shame and shun. Victims may lose their minds; but not their heads.
The above thoughts were prompted after I discovered some church folks were refusing to speak to me. I was being "shunned."
It occurred to me that, had we lived a few generations in the past, these shunning saints would have tied me to a stake and burned me alive; or lynched me.
Shunning, however, is fun. At least from the shunner's perspective.
Shunners enjoy being jerks (polite term) while retaining a sense of spiritual superiority.
Imagine how holy the saints of old pretended to be as they watched wicked detractors endure the agony of death by fire. Consider the hanging of Aikenhead. Had the church interceded in his behalf, the twenty-year-old's life would have been spared. Instead, The Church of Scotland’s General Assembly demanded "vigorous execution" to discourage "the abounding of impiety and profanity in this [Scotland] land".
Thomas Macaulay later recalled, "the preachers who were the poor boy's murderers crowded round him at the gallows, and . . . insulted heaven with prayers more blasphemous than anything he had uttered."
The blood lust that drove thousands to the Roman coliseums compelled churchmen to delight in pious dignity at the torture and deaths of their disagreeable victims.
What happened then still happens today.
Framing Macaulay's sentiments in contemporary terms, "The killing of Thomas Aikenhead, like the hounding of Salman Rushdie for the same ‘offence,’ was a disgrace. . . a prime example of a God-fixated state killing a man in an attempt to stop the spread of an idea." That statement is attributed to George Rosie in the newspaper The Scotsman.
When I gaze into the eyes of one who is shunning me, I see the face of one who fantasized of self-righteousness as he witnessed the horrid burning of Servetus, one who crowded close as the young Mr. Aikenhead gasped for life, and one who seeks the death of Mr. Rushdie. What I seldom see is the shunner making eye contact.