Original post on the Metropolitan Grand Lodge site
Freemasonry is a society of like-minded men who meet regularly in a fraternal and social environment, share a common desire to give charitable support to the community and attach importance to a high moral code. It was established many centuries ago and now has more than 300,000 members in England and Wales, and millions worldwide. It was founded as a male-only society and has been happy to continue as such, though there are now parallel Orders of Women Freemasons in the UK and abroad.
The three key principles of Freemasonry are Neighbourly Concern, Charity & Moral Standards. Masons refer to these as Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth.
Freemasons exercise their Neighbourly Concern for the communities in which they live, as well as for each other. They are encouraged to play an active role in society as individuals, in whatever way their interests and abilities lead them. Many Masons are active as unpaid volunteers in churches (and synagogues, mosques etc), the Red Cross, the Scouting movement, local hospitals, local politics, the Magistracy and other community groups. In doing so and in their everyday life, Freemasons do not give preferential treatment to other Masons and do not seek financial or other undue advantage from their membership. Masons do not advertise their membership in case it is wrongly seen as seeking special treatment. The discussion of politics and religion are banned in Masonic meetings, to avoid causing disharmony among friends. Freemasonry as an institution has no view on political theories or party politics.
Charity is in many ways a visible expression of Neighbourly Concern. We direct our charitable fundraising at both Masonic and non-Masonic recipients. Our major beneficiaries include hospices, air ambulances, medical research and smaller community projects which require substantial sums to enable them to thrive. The Metropolitan Grand Lodge runs national and London-wide co-ordinated charitable efforts, but individual Lodges and Masons also have their own pet projects which they support. Freemasonry also supports Masons and their dependents of all ages in time of need, through Masonic charitable institutions which were established before the advent of universal education and the NHS.
Freemasonry is a secular society not a religious one, but an essential requirement for all our members is a belief in God. Belief in God but without denominational distinctions enables men of different religions to meet together in co-operation and friendship, and to use the symbolism of Masonry to reinforce and underpin the moral standards which are taught by all religions and shared by all right-thinking people. Thus, in Freemasonry there are Christians (Anglicans, Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Salvationists and many others), Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Zoroastrians and other believers. However, discussion of religion is not allowed in Masonic meetings because, like politics, it could be divisive