This episode of This American Life is worth listening to, if only for the first 7 minutes when host Ira Glass talks about his Jewish upbringing in Baltimore and saying prayers as a non-believer!
“And reading and calling around in the days since we had that conversation, I’ve learned that other clergy– Christian, Jewish, Muslim– some of them say the same things, especially that God doesn’t need our prayers. The prayers are for us. One of them told me the Kaddish is supposed to comfort me after my mom’s death by pointing me to this idea of God’s presence in the world, the goodness in the world, which, if I believed in God, I guess could be a comfort.
But I don’t believe. But weirdly, even without that, without believing any of the words, I do find it’s a comfort to say the prayer. It’s just it’s familiar. It’s familiar as the nursery rhymes my mom sang to me as a kid, as the Shema, the prayer that she had me and my sister say every night before we went to sleep. It’s comforting, despite the fact that it’s in another language and part of a doctrine I don’t believe anymore.”