In a nutshell; ...a system of morality... veiled in allegory...

From WBro D Hudson

One of the examinations a candidate for the second degree must know is;

Question: “What is Freemasonry?”

Answer: “A peculiar system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.”

When the general public asks the question “What is Freemasonry”, some will reply with the above response from our ritual. It is an excellent way of describing the Craft, but not a particularly accessible nor a transparent answer. Give an inquiring person that answer and you are more likely to sound evasive rather than helpful. My answer in response to “What is Freemasonry?” is generally short and clear; that Freemasonry is the oldest and largest fraternity in the world. Short n’ Simple. Easily understood. Describing Freemasonry with a few words will always fail to convey its power and effect. The best way to describe Freemasonry is to live it and by daily aspiring to its values, particularly those of honour, benevolence and self improvement. That said, every Freemason should grow to understand and implement the answer given in ritual and I recently discovered a good explanation of it, given below;

An extract from a letter from Chase William Kruppo as appearing at

http://toddecreason.blogspot.com.au/2011/12/regarding-freemasonry.html

Freemasonry is a system of morality (a code of ethics), veiled in allegory (expressed in a way that can be interpreted subjectively by the recipient), and illustrated through symbols (taught in a way that hearkens back to the time when most people were illiterate and learned from masters drawing in the dirt on the floor to teach an apprentice). It is the oldest and largest fraternity in the world and exists in every corner of the free world and underground in countries where such organizations are illegal (Iran, North Korea).