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As May 21 Doomsday Looms, What's Behind Armageddon Appeal?

Spencer Platt/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- This Saturday in Times Square, amidst bewildered tourists and hot dog vendors, Robert Fitzpatrick will be waiting for the world to end.

The 60-year-old MTA retiree from Staten Island joins the hordes who follow the Biblical calculation of Family Radio preacher Harold Camping.  Camping predicts that the end of days is near -- in fact, it's May 21, at about 5:59 p.m. ET.

"Judgment day will begin very shortly before midnight Jerusalem standard time.  I think it's going to be instantaneous.  Everything will be destroyed and God is going to create a new heaven and a new earth," says Fitzpatrick, who spent his $140,000 life savings to have 3,000 posters put up in New York City's subway and bus system, warning of this impending End of Days.

Though many are chalking up this May 21 hysteria to religious zeal, leaders among mainstream Christian denominations have largely condemned date-setting, citing Bible verses that say no man can know the time of The Rapture.

Why are Fitzpatrick and those on Family Radio's recent proselytizing tour convinced that the end is upon us, despite centuries of failed predictions?

That's hard to answer, but psychologists and religious scholars say it derives from a number of very human urges: from the fear of death to the desire for justice to the fatalistic despair that this world is too broken to ever be fixed.

Although there's no way to gauge how many people actually think the world will end with a bang (or a whimper) on Saturday, doomsday is big in the U.S.

"Thirty to forty percent of Americans report believing that the end times are coming eventually, so while most reject the teachings of Camping, there is a strong strain of this kind of thinking in this country," says Christian Lane, author of The Age of Doubt: Tracing the Roots of Our Religious Uncertainty.

So for some, anxiety spurred by the recent natural and economic disasters makes apocalyptic thinking more appealing, he says.

"It becomes easier to convince people that things are getting worse and that the answer will come through divine dispensation, rather than have them face the fact that humanity must fix its own problems."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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