2.20.2010

Will somebody explain freemasonry now to me?

A recent query in Yahoo Q&A.
Some of the most recent replies.

Teachings and practices of the fraternal order of Free and Accepted Masons, the largest worldwide secret society. Originating with the guilds of medieval stonemasons, the organization became an honorary society in the 17th and 18th century, adopting the rites and trappings of ancient religious orders and chivalric brotherhoods. The first association of lodges, the Grand Lodge, was founded in England in 1717, and Freemasonry soon spread to other countries in the British Empire. Freemasons took an active role in the American Revolution and later in U.S. politics, and in the 19th century popular fears of their influence led to the Anti-Masonic movement. Membership is extended only to adult males willing to express belief in a Supreme Being and the immortality of the soul. In Latin countries, the lodges have often attracted freethinkers and anticlerical types; in Anglo-Saxon nations, membership has mostly been drawn from white Protestants. Freemasonry has also given rise to social organizations such as the Ancient Arabic Order of the Noble Mystic Shrine, or Shriners.


and:

I think that your question could use a little elaboration.
In the meantime, the Freemasons are a fraternal organization (with several satellite organizations for youth and women) that has been around for ages.
In the beginning the Masons were a guild of stone workers. The guild protected the secrets of the trade and membership was the only way to acquire that knowledge. Over the years, the organization became a social organization dedicated more to community and less (or not at all) to cutting rocks.
Sadly, at least in America, the last few generations have seen a decline in membership for most fraternal organizations including the Freemasons and Grange. Many children are not brought up to have the same feelings of community that our grandparents had, and many of these organizations are dying out slowly.