While vacationing in Germany recently, I noted many beautiful and now largely untenanted churches. Elegant, majestic against the sky, they are potent symbols of a religious system no longer observed by many. They are maintained now largely as historic and cultural artifacts. I also noted, framed against the German landscape, the “temples” of today’s eco-theocrats—gigantic engineering marvels dominating almost all ridge lines, the modern version of the technologies of the 15th Century—windmills. As a technocrat, I did appreciate their aesthetic nature and can only marvel at the deep beliefs that have encouraged the German government to spend hundreds of billions on their construction and on the electrical interconnections necessary to get that power to market.
As a result, energy costs have gone up dramatically, threatening the competitiveness of German industry (particularly the chemical and manufacturing sectors), encouraging firms to expand in nations with more affordable energy and raising consumer energy bills. Understandably, political opposition has mounted to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s grand “Energiewende” plan for moving Germany to greater dependence on wind and solar power. The current system is non-sustainable.
But, when something can’t go on forever, it will stop. Thus, the question—how will these modern temples be treated when rational energy policies lead to their obsolescence and abandonment? A friend and I were joking about possible uses—as clothes lines, as dramatic Ferris wheels, as elevated sites for bird feeders. But, more likely, they’ll be dismantled and recycled into something more useful, perhaps cell phone towers. But almost certainly some will also be preserved as monuments to beliefs that, while at one time powerful, will in the future be defunct.
Churches, even in their abandoned state, are more aesthetically pleasing and functional, whether as meeting places, locations for a possible resurgence of belief, or as sites for the cultural practices of an earlier era—marriages and funerals. Those roles will not as easily be fulfilled by tomorrow’s abandoned windmills.