I seem to have started quite a discussion here...
Thanks especially to Lindariel for her long and interesting post.
Well, yes, I think I do get the "removing of religion". Tolkien reduced his Christian (to be more specific: Catholic) faith to the underlying values that really matter and discarded all the rituals like mass, sacraments etc as well as the persons appearing in the Bible, in order to make place for a new mythology. He used what he valued greatly himself about Christianity, which was not the superficial word-perfectness of believing in every single bloody letter of the Bible, but rather what resides in it when you look past the words on the surface, so he calls his works Christian in spirit (and it is a liberal spirit), but theorld he creates is not a Christian world in the sense one would understand it when first hearing the word, because the stuff by which you identify a religion usually, mainly the names and rituals, have been discarded as unnecessary to the underlying values. To me there is no contradiction.
So, if Galadriel is based on Mary in some way (I don't know the quote), she is based on an archetypal figure, an "unearthly" woman who is protector and "mother figure" (and here we may find a Catholic element, if we want to see it thus: Protetants don't worship Mary as some kind of heaven queen, after all), but without the unnecessary elements like angels, the virgin birth thing and whatever.
Iolanthe, even if you see Tolkien as something much deeper than your average fantasy book, LotR still is what created the genre. It still is
fantasy. And lack of depth, compared to Tolkien, doesn't mean the genre in itself is bad. Your average book generally lacks such depth, no matter which genre. Tolkien has high quality, is real literature, but still remains fantasy, since there is no contradiction; those are different categories.
There are other fantasy novels with some background and depth, too, by the way - take "Der Weiße Wolf" (The White Wolf) by Käthe Recheis for example, or Michael Ende's "Neverending Story" or "Momo" (the latter is a bit "beside the main genre", but a lot is crossover nowadays, and it matches fantasy most), they all have a message, and so do Astrid Lindgrens fantasy books (mainly thinking of "Brothers Lionheart" and "Mio" there). While not exactly so "message-laden", Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series certainly is rich and deep with its huge variety of cultures and characters (he does not use elves and dwarves, by the way) as well as a detailed background history and mythology. And I find Sergei Lukianenko's Watch series interesting too, in that aspect - it is writen in a very light, colloquial style, but contains certain insights about the world; he clearly put quite a lot of thought into it.
So, since Tolkien pretty much defined the genre (there were earlier fantasy works, but not many), and since he removed all blatant Christianity from it, the genre does not go well with Christianity, for my taste. Legends about knights and similar have that, since they were, if you want to put it like that, "the fantasy of medieval times", when religion was much more part of people's life, and in a much less liberal sense - whereas the actual fantasy genre stems from a time where one can state freely that a virgin birth is not necessary for the creation of a kind of philosophy to make people live together in peace, that hell is just a metaphor noteven contained in the Bible, that what the Bible says about Egypt is, historically speaking, mostly rubbish, and that the consuming of body and blood of Jesus seems to be some archetypal ritual with certain cannibalistic elements (drawing power from the blood... that one's a common legend, actually, if you just look around) of which it would be interesting to know the origin. Back then, I would most likely have been killed for stating that (dependign on exact time and place), and Tolkien would certainly have been accused of heresyand blasphemy, no matter if the underlying values of LotR match the Christian ones or not.
But times have changed (luckily) and religion has been reduced to those values mostly, because many see them as really enough to live with, and I think this is mirrored in the fantasy genre as well, where a Christian world was no longer necessary because there are "alternatives" nowadays that have become eligible.
And now I hope nobody takes offence at that.