The Oct. 4 arts section of the New York Times has a thought-provoking article titled, “Heroic Tale of Holocaust, with a Twist.” It’s about a film that depicts how a Paris mosque sheltered Jews during World War II.

I usually share the Times with friends. Most of us are well into our final decades. Some of us were in World War II, most have traveled extensively, all have concerned interests in current events, and we occasionally speculate about the future of humanity as well as the global environment.

My interest in religion is that of a general observer. Growing up on a rural farm in Maine we had a community chapel that served as the local grange, social center, and place to exchange everything. The community had no crime, no one locked their doors, and everyone helped everyone else.

Then I attended high school in a small manufacturing town which had lots of Christian churches, and I visited all of them. They each claimed to be the “real” or “proper” church. To me they all seemed to be about the same, although I thought the Catholic ceremonies must be what an opera must be like.

Surviving World War II as a carrier pilot I didn’t find a great number of praying pilots. Most of us were more concerned in the operating status of our planes. Attending college I was impressed by Toynbee’s “Study of History,” and a course on comparative religions.

During the 1970s I spent several years in Iran. I had an appointment with the University of Tehran and the Plan Organization to conduct an environmental impact assessment of economic development in Isfahan. I brought a team of five multidisciplinary scientists with me. We worked with Iranian counterparts.

One of my team members was a bright young man with degrees from MIT and Harvard, who had a Jewish heritage. Shortly after arrival he excitedly came to me and said, “You will never believe what I found.”

He had found a Jewish synagogue that separated from regular Judaism more than 2,000 years ago. It seems that when Cyrus the Great freed the Jews who were in Babylonian captivity by the Syrians, some of the Jews chose to remain in Persia — and now they have spread into India, along the Silk Route to India and China. Marco Polo rediscovered them again a thousand years later.

Shortly thereafter the religious researcher made contacts with Christians who had had nothing to do with either Eastern or Western Christianity for 2,000 years. It seems one of Jesus’ brothers quarreled with Peter and led his followers into the Middle East and their descendants have taken their Christianity along the Silk Route, China and the Far East.

And there are the Ba-hai’s that advocate the spiritual unity of mankind — much as do the Quakers. Toynbee taught us that civilizations come and go. Just consider the abandoned temples at Ankor Wat, the Mayan and Incan cities overgrown by jungle, or the eternal vigil of Easter Island’s statues. How can anyone look at such ruins and not wonder, “Could the same thing happen to us?”

It would appear that both tribal organizations and sophisticated cultures experienced tensions between religious and political authority. It seems probable that Confucianism did the best job of providing rational standards with which to evaluate and establish how to understand and judge existing reality.

More recently science has identified how everything changes — this is called evolution. Human cultures seem to have moved through three stages: survival, mystic and rational. The emergence of the human capacity to observe, think in theoretical terms and speculate why and how things happen in the world was a significant human accomplishment.

Looking back over the last century I remain inspired by perspectives of Benjamin Franklin and his generation that inspired democracy and rational thinking. Now we understand how complex elements are created, that continents drift, that humans migrate, the benefits of industrial technologies — and how it all fits together.

We now trace everything back to the Big Bang that created all the energy and elements we need to exist. Over time innovation was possible as human ancestors took up residence near sources of water and traded ideas.

When grassland appeared some seven million years ago it forced some of our early ancestors out of trees, with spectacular consequences. It created a landscape better suited for primates who can walk on two feet, and they learned to keep their heads above the tall grasses and watch for predators. Also, standing on their feet freed their hands — which in turn has shaped human history.

It seems like a good idea to have some familiarization of science in order to better understand what the world is made of and how it works.

Good luck.

Dr. Lloyd V. Stover is an environmental scientist. He has served as a consultant to the World Bank and United Nations for environmental matters. He can be reached via email at: