Why Do People Do Bad (and Good) Things? That’s the fall focus of the Sinai and Synapses Discussion Forum. Each week, we’ll gather some of the most interesting articles on the topic from across the online world. We hope they make you think—and share your thoughts with us in the comment section below.

What ISIS Really Wants

It’s impossible to understand the violent and seemingly inexplicable behavior of the Islamic State unless we understand that they sincerely believe in an apocalyptic theology rejected by most Muslims. (Graeme Wood, The Atlantic)

Are We Becoming Morally Smarter?

Michael Shermer: Today, the moral arc of the universe may be bending in the right direction, in part because of something like a “moral Flynn effect,” a term coined by the psychologist Steven Pinker in The Better Angels of Our Nature. Pinker said “the idea is not crazy,” but I would go further. I believe that our improvement in abstract reasoning generally has translated into a specific improvement in abstract moral reasoning, particularly about other people who are not our immediate kith and kin. (Reason)

Your Co-Workers Are Mean to You for a Reason

There’s something about the workplace that breeds—and perhaps even rewards—the very self-interested behavior that people who hate their jobs often complain about. The study found that just thinking about being in the workplace is enough to make people act more calculating. (Akane Otani, Bloomberg Business)

The Wall Between Church and State Can Erode Both

Brutal consequences follow when coercive state power and religious zealotry are joined. But the divide between church and state should not be celebrated without confronting its one profoundly negative consequence—a privatizing of religion that infantilizes faith and exempts politics from serious moral criticism. (James Carroll, The Boston Globe)

No Atul, Religion is More Than Morality Tales for Grown-Ups

Religion is an area of human culture, just like architecture, music, painting and politics. It is a structural element of all societies and should be examined as such. Religion is not simple, just as science and music are not simple. (Peter Isackson, Fair Observer)

Literature and the Moral Question

There is no morality in art except the morality of speaking honestly. (David L. Ulin, Los Angeles Times)