He has put his faith out for the world to see, co-ordinating an advertising campaign proclaiming that the end of the world is coming on May 21.
His group, Family Radio, has billboards in 17 Canadian cities, he said, including Toronto, Calgary, Kingston, Windsor, Saskatoon, Ottawa, Quebec City and Montreal. They have thousands more across the United States and overseas in such countries as Iraq, Turkey and Lebanon, Mr. Garcia said.
A travelling caravan of believers is scheduled to be in Calgary and Vancouver next week, according to the group’s website.
“The doors to salvation are open. They are open today and they will be shut on May 21,” said Mr. Garcia, who lives in Oakland, Calif.
The founder of Family Radio, Harold Camping, reportedly came up with the May 21 date based on a mathematical formula he created one night.
“This is not the first time the end of the world has been predicted, nor is it the last time,” said Richard Ascough, who teaches about apocalyptic beliefs at Queen’s University.
The information revolution and pop culture’s fascination with the end of time — played out in movies and books — gives rise to groups and people professing to know the exact date of the apocalypse, Mr. Ascough said. Even though they cite biblical verses at will — like Mr. Garcia — there are problems with their doomsday arguments, Mr. Ascough said.
“When they rattle it off, it sounds so logical and coherent, but when you break it down… you realize that’s not what they’re saying,” he said.
Generally, people are drawn to apocalyptic beliefs because they want to believe that there is something beyond death.
“People like to sense some sort of meaning in life, that things are heading towards some kind of denouement, some kind of culmination,” said Thomas Robbins, an American scholar in religious beliefs.
Doomsday preachers are marginalized from mainstream culture and mainstream religion, Mr. Ascough said, but are appealing because it creates an us-versus-them mentality for those who feel like outsiders.
“What apocalyptic literature and language does is reinforces that dichotomy,” he said.
Prof. Robbins said groups of people tend to grow over time and also thrive. Early Christians had apocalyptic beliefs, he said, and those beliefs have remained part of the world’s most powerful religion.
The repeated failure of these prophecies doesn’t seem to shake people’s beliefs.
The original researchers who looked at this issue believed people would disregard facts if it conflicted with deeply held beliefs. Instead of accepting facts, the theory predicts people will find ways to verify what they already feel.
“They typically blame themselves that they caused this not to occur and so they’ve got to do better,” said James Richardson, a noted expert on religious movements from the University of Nevada.
Mr. Richardson said it’s easier to accept failure when numbers are involved, such as in this case.
Mr. Camping’s math has been wrong before. The preacher’s followers gathered in an auditorium on Sept. 6, 1994, the day Mr. Camping predicted the rapture. Despite nothing happening, Mr. Camping’s following has continued to grow.
“I understand that other people have been wrong, but the fact is that eventually God is going to revisit us,” Mr. Garcia said.
Mr. Richardson said there’s nothing to worry about — he believes the world will still be turning on May 22. “I want to see someone interviewing these folks on May 22,” he said. “I think they’ll still be around.”