Grand Master Raffi begins by explaining what, exactly Freemasonry is. He does so primarily by stating what Freemasonry is not. It is not a religion. It is not a political system. It is not in contention with Rome, Mecca, or any other faith-center. "Well we already knew that" you say, fellow Freemason. Yes, but the arguments of GM Raffi are presented in a way that give them new life and light. Consider the following, from page 51:
Freemasonry is not a religion and this is why we have neither a "Masonic God" nor a "Masonic Theology." The Great Architect of the Universe is only a broad and universal concept that Freemasonry cannot and should not define because it is in itself inexpressible and indefinable in the context of an Institution that considers itself a place for diversity to meet. This divine and supreme entity is a key concept that has to be individually interpreted by each Brother, according to his faith and conscience. A Masonic God would instead be completely absurd because this would de facto impose a religious doctrine on all the members of the Masonic brotherhood, destroying each Brother's individual and different opinion about religion, theology, and philosophy.A Masonic God cannot exist because He/She/It would violate the very principles Masonry espouses. Given that Masonry explicitly prohibits one man from forcing his beliefs upon another, how could it then go on to expect its members to believe in its own concept of Deity?
Clearly, every single Freemason has his own personal convictions, including his own religious beliefs, which he should always maintain. Initiation does not corrupt his prior beliefs. On the contrary, it is an opportunity to learn more thanks to the mutual differences and complexities of the members of the Lodge... This brotherhood of imperfect beings working to make each other better is a magnum opus in the history of Humanity. (p. 53)Masonry does not impose a system of religious belief upon its members. Rather, it forces a system of tolerance and acceptance of differing views. It, being a neutral party in all, requires its members to "leave differences at the door" and see others upon the level.
GM Raffi asks a number of philosophical questions, such as "what is happiness?" Treated with the typical Masonic focus on the mortality of man, he concludes that it is not a hedonistic pleasure enjoyed at one's own will. Rather, happiness, in its true sense, is freedom. The freedom to live without hunger or need. The freedom to live a meaningful life which isn't wasted. The freedom to live a life which isn't exploited for the enrichment of another. From page 82:
...so long as we are alive, we should fight to protect life and the happiness and joy to which every living being has the right to aspire within the limits accorded him by fate and nature, but also with the potential and effective guarantees offered by science and reason.... we are Freemasons and expert builders. We are not afraid of building great works even if we know and understand the difficulties.We, as Freemasons, he states, are to ensure the construction of a free and open society. The latter third of the book outlines what GM Raffi sees as a harmonious world, and what role he feels Freemasonry should take in establishing it. He takes aim at globalization and the ways in which it exploits smaller, poorer nations. He takes aim at religious fundamentalism and how it unnecessarily pits its followers against those of other belief systems. He speaks harshly against public schooling which teaches any curriculum other than one which is free of religious dogma and indoctrination.
The modern-day American may be quick to toss this book aside and erroneously label it as a socialist manifesto. It is anything but. The goals and values outlined within are perfectly in line with the same philosophy which gave birth to America itself. While it is exceptionally wordy, it is no worse than typical Masonic literature and has nothing to be unexpected in that regard.
While What is Freemasonry? does not advocate against any particular economic or political system, it is quick to state what the ideal Masonic alternative would be. GM Raffi even states that perhaps Masons go too far in not being political, and should, essentially, stop being so worried about avoiding the topic completely. He advocates an open, accepting place of discourse where views can be discussed by open-minded men looking for truth. Rather than avoiding arguments in lodge by not broaching topics, we should talk about them while being big enough men to be offended.
While I don't entirely disagree with much of what What is Freemasonry? has to say regarding globalization, public education, and organized religion, I fear that some of the proposals put forth regarding Freemasonry taking an active role in the public sphere in these areas risk Freemasonry's reputation as an apolitical organization. Freemasonry itself is not a force or organization for change. The members of the Lodge, influenced by the goodwill and acceptance of their Brothers, should be the catalyst for change, not the Masonic hierarchy which oversees the organization.
All in all, this book is a good read for the experienced Mason who knows the ins, outs, and philosophies of Freemasonry. I wouldn't recommend it for a new Mason who's yet to be steeped in Masonic instruction. Nor would I recommend this book for a non-Mason, as the impression likely to be taken away will only confirm the conspiratorial pipe-dreams of one who sees Masonry as a global political conspiracy.