Somewhat enigmatically, Freemasonry describes itself as "A peculiar system of morality, based on allegory and illustrated with symbols." A system of morality because Masons are expected to exhibit strong moral principles; these principles are explained by means of short, allegorical "plays", which use the symbolism of operative stone masons to illustrate the points being made.
It encourages men to act fairly and honestly in all their undertakings; to respect the rights and aspirations of others and to attempt to relieve suffering wherever possible. Charitable giving, whether of money or time, is a major activity. However, no Freemason is ever expected to make any commitment to Freemasonry which is beyond the means of him or his family. All Freemasons are taught that any duties which they have as a Freemason come only after their duties to family, work, and faith. In no circumstances should their membership interfere with these aspects of their lives.
Freemasonry is the UK's largest secular, fraternal and charitable organisation. Under the auspices of the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) it has over 300,000 members working in nearly 8000 lodges throughout England and Wales and 30,000 more members overseas. Scotland and Ireland each have their own independent Grand Lodges with a further 150,000 members between them. Worldwide there are probably more than 5,000,000 freemasons.