Freemasonry is often described as a “secret society,” but Freemasons themselves believe it is more correct to say that it is an esoteric society, in that certain aspects are private. The most common phrasing being that Freemasonry has, in the 21st century, become less a secret society and more of a “society with secrets.” The private aspects of modern Freemasonry are the modes of recognition amongst members and particular elements within the ritual. For instance Masons might ask newcomers they meet “are you on the square?”
In an open society such as the United States, one is left to wonder why the need for secrecy? The task of describing Freemasonry is a daunting one. Saying that it is the largest fraternal organization in the world with over 3 million members in the United States and seven hundred thousand in Great Britain and a million more around the Earth, and that it has been the study of fifty thousand books and pamphlets is only the beginning.
Since it was revealed in 1717, Freemasonry has engendered more hatred and enmity than any other secular organization in the world. It has been constantly subjected to unremitting attack by the Catholic Church, its membership forbidden to men of the Mormon Church, the Salvation Army and the Methodist Church. It is outlawed in a number of countries.